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The 2014 Midterm Elections

The Future of the Republican Party

In America

Introduction

The upcoming 2014 Midterm elections will be one of the most important in American political history. This is because we, as Americans, are coming to a crossroads as far as where we want the country to go in the future. After six years of gridlock, the country as a whole is fed-up with politicians. This anger the public feels might be translated into a larger voter turnout in November or not (people staying home on election day).

At the moment I can’t predict which way that might go. Efforts to get people to vote will be critical in this midterm election. Traditionally, weak voter turnout occurs in midterm elections more than in years where both parties are running candidates for President.

However, the country has placed more blame on the Republican Party and their Tea Party sidekicks for the debilitating government shutdown that occurred in late 2013. Consequently, the probability that many Republicans and Tea Party members will be re-elected to the House or Senate in 2014 is slim to none. I base this prediction on four major factors:

  • Changing Ethnic and Racial Demographics
  • The Tea Party in America: Gridlock and the Legacy of Conservatism
  • Age-Related Generational Perspectives
  • Hypocrisy of Republican Political Values (smaller government and lower taxes)

Changing Ethnic and Racial Demographics

One reason it is difficult to predict elections is something called changing demographics.

Early evidence suggests that, based on changing demographics, The Republican Party is fast on the track to becoming a defunct political party in the United States. It is conceivable that one day soon there may be just two major parties in the United States: The Democratic Party and perhaps an Independent Party. The more ethnically and racially diverse a political party is, the more likely they will receive a greater number of votes during election time.

     The following information was obtained on the Internet by writer Frank Newport. Please notice the lack of diversity in the Republican Party.

PRINCETON, NJ — Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 89% of Republican self-identifiers nationwide in 2012, while accounting for 70% of independents and 60% of Democrats. Over one-fifth of Democrats (22%) were black, while 16% of independents were Hispanic.

These results are based on more than 338,000 interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking in 2012, and clearly underscore the distinct racial profiles of partisan groups in today’s political landscape.

  • Republicans are overwhelmingly non-Hispanic white, at a level that is significantly higher than the self-identified white percentage of the national adult population. Just 2% of Republicans are black, and 6% are Hispanic.
  • Seventy percent of Americans who identify as independents are white, but independents have the highest representation of Hispanics (16%) of the three groups. Eight percent of independents are blacks.
  • Democrats remain a majority white party, but four in 10 Democrats are something other than non-Hispanic white. More than one in five Democrats is black, roughly twice the black representation in the adult population.

Racial and Ethnic Groups Gravitate Toward Different Parties

Looked at differently, these party composition patterns reflect major differences in the way Americans in various racial and ethnic groups identify their political affiliation.

  • Almost two-thirds of blacks identify as Democrats, with most of the rest identifying as independents. Only 5% of blacks nationwide identify as Republicans.
  • Half of Hispanics identify as independents, although the majority of the rest identify as Democrats. This is despite their high level of approval and strong majority voting support for Democratic President Barack Obama. Relatively few Hispanics (6%) identify as Republicans.
  • Whites are the most politically diverse of the three major racial and ethnic segments, with between 26% and 38% identifying with one of the three partisan groups. Whites tilt slightly toward being independents or Republicans rather than Democrats. The large white concentration of Republican identifiers, in short, is caused by a dearth of nonwhites self-identifying with the GOP, rather than a monolithic Republican orientation among whites.

Although Asians and other races make up a small proportion of the U.S. population, the data show that the political pattern they follow is quite similar to that of Hispanics: they are most likely to identify as independents, second-most likely to identify as Democrats, and least likely to identify as Republicans.

Racial Breakdown of Independents and Democrats Has Shifted Most Since 2008

The racial and ethnic composition of the Republican Party today is similar to what it was in 2008, the year when Gallup began its daily tracking. There have been essentially no changes in the percentage of GOP identifiers who are white, black, and Hispanic.

Independents have become more Hispanic since 2008 (and slightly more black), while Democrats have become more black and more Hispanic. Phrased differently, the independent and Democratic segments of the U.S. population are now less white than they were in 2008, reflecting the uptick in the U.S. nonwhite population over these five years.

Implications

One of the more important realities in American politics today is the substantial divergence in the racial and ethnic composition of the major political parties. Almost nine in 10 Republicans are white, in stark contrast to the racial and ethnic composition of the overall adult population. On the other hand, the Democratic Party is disproportionately nonwhite.

The future of the two major political parties depends on two factors. The first is whether these patterns of party identification change in the years ahead. The ability of the Republican Party to make inroads among nonwhites has been much discussed in recent months, particularly the GOP’s efforts to improve on the 13% allegiance that Gallup data show it obtains from Hispanics. Another path to growth for the Republican Party would be an increase in its penetration into the white sector of the population, only 35% of which now identifies as Republican. On the other hand, the Democratic Party will grow if it too can extend its identification among whites, and maintain or strengthen its position among nonwhites.

     A second factor that will affect the future of the political parties in the U.S. is straightforward demographics. Projections show that the nonwhite proportion of the American adult population will grow in the years ahead. This means that if current partisan allegiance patterns prevail, the size of the Democratic base will be in a better position to grow than will the Republican base.

The Tea Party in America: Gridlock and the Legacy of Conservatism

Many organizations in society, including political organizations, engage in what is called sub-optimizing behavior. That’s when stated goals are not the real goals.

The real goals of organizations, political groups, or individuals are often hidden and not stated publicly. Words from politicians often disguise their real motives. The Tea Party is no exception, especially when backed by Big Business and the Billionaire Koch Brothers and Koch Industries.

Based on the behavior of Tea Party members in Congress, my assumption is that the Tea Party in America is a lunatic fringe and, at the same time, is the new face of the Republican Party.

Currently only 8% of Americans identify themselves as Tea Party members. Nevertheless, the Tea Party in Congress has a stranglehold on all other Republicans. It’s okay for people to cling to their values and beliefs. But when such values and beliefs threaten the United States with financial disaster and ruin, then it’s time for other stronger forces to counter such attacks on the integrity of the United States and its people.

As much as I’d like to see it, it’s unlikely these congressional reprobates will ever be tried for treason or brought up on criminal charges by the U.S. Department of Justice. The best thing the people can do is toss the Tea Party members out of Congress in the next mid-term election. Another option is to petition their immediate recall from office.

The Ongoing Problem of Gridlock     

The vast majority of Americans are moderate “Middle-of-the-Road” independents, Democrats and Republicans. When one has different values from their fellow citizens, it naturally creates tension, suspicion, distrust, and polarization. Since 2008 we’ve witnessed the worst of these political differences acting out as irreconcilable gridlock when it comes to carrying out the various duties of the government (passing a budget on time, passing legislation to help our citizens, properly defending the country, etc.). For several years now, gridlock has created and prevented very little from being accomplished.

Politics has always been called, “the Art of Compromise.” This is an old saying that no longer appears applicable in modern day politics.

The primary function of politicians should be to honestly represent their constituency. But at the same time politicians need to make prudent, critical choices in the handling of scarce resources (taxpayer dollars). That latter function is an awesome responsibility that needs careful attention to detail. But the overriding responsibility of those in Congress today should be to help their fellow citizens live better, more prosperous lives. With the exception of President Barack Obama, that does not seem to be the case.

The Legacy of Conservatism

Unfortunately, the legacy of conservatism has never aligned itself with helping people.

During the last 160 years conservatives were opposed to the abolition of slavery, and were responsible for promoting racism and Jim Crow, particularly in the old South. They fought against giving women the right to vote, opposed the New Deal during the Depression of the 1930s, and opposed the Social Security Act in 1935 and later, minimum wage laws. In the 1950s they fought against integration, desegregation and later busing. Conservatives were a major voice against the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s; During the 1970s conservatives opposed affirmative action and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.

In more recent years, conservatives have opposed amnesty for illegal aliens, and they want to cut entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Now, with strong Tea Party support and a strident attitude, they oppose the President’s Affordable Care Act that promotes universal healthcare.

One way of characterizing all this political history is that, if legislation was going to help a lot of people and improve their lives, conservatives were “hell-bent” to oppose it. That collectively is their ugly legacy.

At this point in history the Tea Party has been at the center of Washington’s gridlock. The only real option for Americans in the 2014 and 2016 national elections is to totally limit their access to power. This also applies to all Republicans seeking public office in the mid-term elections, and in 2016 as well.

This doesn’t mean that creating jobs, cutting spending or raising or lowering taxes aren’t important issues; they certainly are. But Tea Party members who take a simplistic ideological viewpoint of how the economy works lack insight into the complexities of the economy and its basic business cycles.

 Come the Next Election Just Remember These Statistics

Since Democrat John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, non-government payrolls in the U.S. swelled by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents, according to Labor Department figures. Though they occupied the oval office for 23 years since Kennedy’s inauguration, Democrats hold the edge, compared to 28 years for Republicans. In addition, over the past 50 years, Republican administrations oversaw the largest decline in wages as measured as a percentage of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Age-Related Generational Issues

It has long been said that “our children are our future.” And, given the fact that political perspectives vary by generation, it is incumbent upon society in general to recognize that voting patterns among the various generations will be very important to the future of politics in America and the 2014 mid-term elections. Nowhere is this truer than with the Millennial Generation. So what can we expect to happen in November 2014? The following is a fine article written by Jonathan Chait. He refers to the Millennials as “those kids with Obama posters on the wall.”

The Millennial Generation: Our Liberal Future

How doomed are conservatives? Pretty doomed, if you look carefully at the Pew Research Survey’s close analysis of the youth vote in the 2012 elections. The Republicans’ long-term dilemma has generally been framed in racial terms, but it’s mainly a generational one.

The youngest generation of voters contains a much smaller proportion of white voters than previous generations, and those whites in that generation vote Republican by a much smaller margin than their elders. What’s more, younger voters supported President Obama during the last two election cycles for reasons that seem to go beyond the usual reasons — social issues like gay marriage and feminism, immigration policy, or Obama’s personal appeal — and suggest a deeper attachment to liberalism. The proclivities of younger voters may actually portend a full-scale sea change in American politics.

More than four decades ago, Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril identified the core of Americans’ political thinking as a blend of symbolic conservatism and operational liberalism. Most Americans, that is, oppose big government in the abstract but favor it in the particular. They oppose “regulation” and “spending,” but favor, say, enforcement of clean-air laws and Social Security. The push and pull between these contradictory beliefs has defined most of the political conflicts over the last century. Public support for most of the particulars of government has stopped Republicans from rolling back the advances of the New Deal, but suspicion with “big government” has made Democratic attempts to advance the role of the state rare and politically painful.

This tension continues to define the beliefs of American voters. Among the 2012 electorate, more voters identified themselves as conservative (35 percent) than liberal (25 percent), and more said the government is already doing too much that should be left to the private sector (51 percent) than asserted that the government ought to be doing more to solve problems (44 percent). But this is not the case with younger voters. By a 59 percent to 37 percent margin, voters under 30 say the government should do more to solve problems. More remarkably, 33 percent of voters under 30 identified themselves as liberal, as against 26 percent who called themselves conservative.

What all this suggests is that we may soon see a political landscape that will appear from the perspective of today and virtually all of American history as unrecognizably liberal. Democrats today must amass huge majorities of moderate voters in order to overcome conservatives’ numerical advantage over liberals. They must carefully wrap any proposal for activist government within the strictures of limited government, which is why Bill Clinton declared the era of big government to be over, and Obama has promised not to raise taxes for 99 percent of Americans. It’s entirely possible that, by the time today’s twenty something’s have reached middle age, these sorts of limits will cease to apply.

Obviously, such a future hinges on the generational patterns of the last two election cycles persisting. But, as another Pew survey showed, generational patterns do tend to be sticky. It’s not the case that voters start out liberal and move rightward. Americans form a voting pattern early in their life and tend to hold to it. That isn’t to say something couldn’t shake these voters loose from their attachment to the liberal worldview. Republicans fervently (and plausibly) hoped the Great Recession would be that thing; having voted for Obama and borne the brunt of mass unemployment, once-idealistic voters would stare at the faded Obama posters on their wall and accept the Republican analysis that failed Big Government policies have brought about their misery.

But young voters haven’t drawn this conclusion — or not many of them have, at any rate. So either something else is going to have to happen to disrupt the liberalism of the rising youth cohort, or else the Republican Party itself will have to change in ways far more dramatic than any of its leading lights seem prepared to contemplate.

Hypocrisy of Republican Political Values (smaller government and lower taxes)

The following is an interesting article that was posted on AlterNet on September 20, 2014 by Alex Henderson.

 

10 Red States that Mooch off the Federal Government

Republicans claim they’ve had it with American socialism. Maybe they should return the tax dollars subsidizing them

One of the most hilarious talking points coming from far-right Republicans and the Tea Party is that when “red states” like Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are asked to bail out California or Massachusetts, that’s when they will finally become “fed up with socialism” and secede from the Union once and for all.

The problem with that meme is that it has no basis in reality: the more prosperous and Democrat-leaning areas of the United States are likely to be subsidizing dysfunctional “red states,” many of which are suffering from insufficient tax revenue and an abundance of low-wage workers who don’t have much to tax.

Tea Party Republicans like to point out that poor cities like Detroit, Baltimore and Camden, New Jersey are run by Democrats, but they neglect to mention that some of the most affluent parts of the United States—from Manhattan to the Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area to Cambridge, MA to Seattle to Chicago’s North Shore suburbs—are dominated by the Democratic Party. People in those heavily Democratic areas pay a lot of federal income taxes, and quite often, their tax dollars go to red states.

Earlier this year, the personal finance website WalletHub.com conducted an in-depth study of the amounts individual states are paying in federal taxes compared to the amounts they are receiving. WalletHub analyzed data from the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Commerce Department and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. WalletHub’s research demonstrates that, as a rule, the states that are the most likely to rail against “big government” are the most likely to be benefiting from it.

A few of the states in WalletHub’s study that were receiving the most tax revenue from the federal government are states that President Barack Obama won in 2012 (most notably, New Mexico and Hawaii), but most were hardcore “red states.” And most of the states that, according to WalletHub, are taking less from the federal government than they are paying in are “blue states” that Obama won in both 2008 and 2012, including California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Minnesota. WalletHub’s research bears out comparable figures released by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation in the past: analyzing IRS data, Tax Foundation has found, more than once, that red states are likely to be the biggest recipients of federal tax money.

Summary and Conclusions

Back in the late 1960s I used to vote for liberal democrats and sometimes well-meaning moderate republicans, particularly in local elections. Moderate republicans today, unfortunately, are only a thing of the past. In 2000 when Al Gore was cheated out of becoming President of the United States, I knew it was time to close the chapter on ever voting for a republican again. Today, politics seems to be more about ideology than doing what’s right for the country.

The Republican Party, along with its bastardized Tea Party, is a national disgrace to the people of the United States. With changing racial and ethnic demographics they are fast becoming defunct as a political party. Many factors have and will contribute to their demise:

  • gridlock and the shutting down of the government in 2013 caused by a recalcitrant and belligerent Republican Party and their Tea Party affiliates in Congress
  •  a legacy of conservatism that has shamed the people of the United States in the eyes of the world
  • the hypocrisy of their own values regarding the size of government and lowering taxes
  • changing racial and ethnic demographics
  • Generational changes in voting patterns

     Republican and Tea Party members everywhere have no business representing anyone, anywhere, anytime. It’s time to get the country moving forward again. Please remember to vote this November in the Midterm elections. It is critical that you do.    

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Under the Microscope: Understanding Economics and the Unemployment Rate   

“She Sat like Patience on a Monument, Smiling at Grief.”

Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare

Introduction

     The unemployment rate is but one factor or variable in our economy. There are many others including:

  • Inflation
  •  consumer aggregate demand for goods and services
  •  governmental fiscal policy (spending and taxes)
  •  monetary policy (policies around the expansion or contraction of the money supply)
  •  private sector business practices including business contraction or expansion
  •  population expansion or contraction
  •  different industries
  •  technological development
  •  national and global politics
  •  Entrepreneurship
  •  skill sets and educational level of Americans today.

Then there is one important “juice of the economy” that affects everyone, and is known as Credit Availability. All these factors or variables affect each other to one degree or another.

A Sense of Bewilderment and Frustration

     Understanding the unemployment rate has never been a simple task. Complex interactive variables and a constantly changing economy sometimes seem to conspire to give the public a sense of bewilderment when trying to understand or figure out what is going on. It’s sad and disappointing when your close friends and/or family members just can’t seem to find a job. The Unemployment Rate is more than a statistic; it’s about real people, their lives, and their livelihood.

This bewilderment and frustration does cause anger creating a kind of collective social consciousness where everybody agrees on only one thing, namely: Let’s point a finger and play the “Blame Game.”

People want to blame the Congress, the President, or Democrats and Republicans in general, the Federal Reserve or its chairman, or the global economy when jobs are viewed as leaving the United States.

Economists aren’t too helpful sometimes because they cannot always agree on what is the best course of action for creating jobs or achieving full employment in the United States. Others prefer to blame labor unions, illegal immigration, Wall Street, or big business and/or small business.

As a blogger I can’t extricate the public from their frustrations, lack of knowledge, or prejudices.  However, one way I can help is to provide a more factual and theoretical basis for understanding what unemployment really is, and how it fits within the overall framework of what we call the economy. Under the microscope, here is some background which should help with understanding the economy.

Background

       Generally, astute observers might suggest that the problem of unemployment is somehow tied to the economy or business cycles such as (Expansion and Growth, Prosperity, Recession [or contraction], and finally Recovery). Other economists prefer the following descriptive terms: (Prosperity, Recession, Depression, and Recovery). The guy on the street might suggest that our economy simply involves only three cycles (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly). All of this will become clearer later in this Blog.

Economic cycles, however described, do account for the lion’s share of the explanation of how the economy works, including how the Unemployment Rate fits in. Economic forces seem to have a life of their own. Nevertheless, other forces besides economic cycles are important.

The other explanation for the economy and unemployment rate relates to politics and government actions to deal with the economy and unemployment.

Current Economic Environment

     In the current economy the country does seem to be in a very long recovery cycle. Although business cycles always occur in the same order, the length of each cycle cannot easily be predicted.

Since much unemployment or underemployment occurs among the poor and the working poor, some people feel the replacement of lower skilled jobs with better technology and more jobs requiring higher skill sets has left the poor and working poor holding the bag. However, given that almost every profession experiences unemployment during a recession (engineers, scientists, teachers, highly skilled technicians, etc.) a reasonable person might conclude that unemployment affects everyone, not just the poor and the working poor.

Other targets for blame include: the rich and wealthy in society, poor planning of the job-seeker himself, and finally—the consumer for not spending enough money that would support and stimulate business. When business suffers as consumer demand ebbs, it creates the conditions that allows  a higher than normal unemployment rate.

How best can one unravel the various complexities of understanding the economy and begin to shed light on the unemployment rate? In an ideal world we all want full employment for our citizens. Unfortunately, no society ever lives in an ideal world.

     So what is the best course to understanding the complexities of the economy and the unemployment rate?

In a cosmic sense every variable affects every other variable to some degree. But in a down-to-earth way we have to remember the famous words of Jack Webb’s character Joe Friday in the hugely popular television series, Dragnet. “Just give me the facts, mame!”So, what are the facts?

     First we need to start with a few facts on the unemployment rate in America followed by an explanation of the various phases of the business cycle.

 

Unemployment Rate Data

 

The Unemployment Rate in the United States (January and December 2003-2013)

 

                               January                 December

2003                            5.8                            5.7

2004                            5.7                            5.4

2005                            5.3                            4.9

2006                            4.7                            4.4

2007                            4.6                            5.0

2008                            5.0                            7.3

2009                            7.8                            9.9

2010                            9.8                            9.3

2011                            9.1                            8.5

2012                            8.3                            7.8

2013                            7.9*

*As of August 2013 the unemployment rate in the United States was 7.3%, a level not seen since December, 2008. It went from a high of 9.9% in December 2009 to a low of 7.3% in August, 2013. This 2.6% drop in the unemployment rate occurred during the administration of President Barack Obama, who said “Yes We Can” while Republicans blamed him for the high unemployment. This was despite the fact they created the conditions that caused the unemployment rate to jump from 5.0% to 7.3% during the catastrophic economic collapse of 2008 which occurred during the last year of the Bush Administration.

Definitions and Concepts

    

 

Unemployment

 

There are four types of unemployment:

 

Structural Unemployment

     Structural unemployment is caused by the types of production and laws of an economy that govern whose skills are valuable in the marketplace.

Frictional Unemployment

     Frictional unemployment is associated with changing jobs, often because workers are searching for better opportunities or moving to new locations.

Cyclical Unemployment

     Cyclical unemployment is caused by changes in real GDP that are associated with the business cycle.

Seasonal Unemployment

     Lastly, seasonal unemployment is caused by changes in employment associated with changes in the seasons.

 

The Basic Business Cycle

The four phases of a business cycle are briefly explained as follows:

1. Prosperity Phase

When there is an expansion of output, income, employment, prices and profits, there is also a rise in the standard of living. This period is termed as Prosperity phase.

The features of prosperity are:

  1. High level of output and trade.
  2. High level of effective demand.
  3. High level of income and employment.
  4. Rising interest rates.
  5. Inflation.
  6. Large expansion of bank credit.
  7. Overall business optimism.
  8. A high level of MEC (Marginal efficiency of capital) and investment.

Due to full employment of resources, the level of production is Maximum and there is a rise in GNP (Gross National Product). Due to a high level of economic activity (buying and selling goods and services), it causes a rise in prices and profits. There is an upswing in the economic activity and economy reaches its Peak. This is also called as a Boom Period.

2. Recession Phase

The turning point from prosperity to depression is termed as the Recession Phase.

During a recession period, economic activities slow down. When demand starts falling, the overproduction and future investment plans are also given up. There is a steady decline in the output, income, employment, prices and profits.

The businessmen lose confidence and become pessimistic (Negative). It reduces investment. The banks and the people try to get greater liquidity, so credit also contracts. Expansion of business stops, stock market falls. Orders are cancelled and people start losing their jobs. An increase in unemployment occurs with or following a sharp decline in income and aggregate demand. Generally, recession lasts for a short period.

Many people talk about a “mild recession” and even “severe recession.” These are all matters of degree and economists can endlessly debate which is which. However, almost no one wants to consider or talk about the more devastating type of decline called a Depression.

3. Depression Phase

When there is a continuous decrease of output, income, employment, prices and profits, there is a fall in the standard of living and depression sets in.

The features of depression are:

  1. Fall in volume of output and trade.
  2. Fall in income and rise in unemployment.
  3. Decline in consumption and demand.
  4. Fall in interest rate.
  5. Deflation.
  6. Contraction of bank credit.
  7. Overall business pessimism.
  8. Fall in MEC (Marginal efficiency of capital) and investment.

In depression, there is under-utilization of resources and fall in GNP (Gross National Product). The aggregate economic activity is at the lowest, causing a decline in prices and profits until the economy reaches its Trough (low point).

4. Recovery Phase

The turning point from depression to expansion is termed as Recovery or Revival Phase.

During the period of revival or recovery, there are expansions and rise in economic activities. When demand starts rising (many economists assert that consumers are the driving force of any economy), production increases and this causes an increase in investment. There is a steady rise in output, income, employment, prices and profits. The businessmen gain confidence and become optimistic (Positive). This further increases investments.

The stimulation of investment brings about the revival or recovery of the economy. The banks expand credit, business expansion takes place and stock markets are activated. There is an increase in employment, production, income and aggregate demand, prices and profits start rising, and business expands. Revival slowly emerges into prosperity, and the business cycle is repeated.

Thus we see that, during the expansionary or prosperity phase, there is inflation and during the contraction or depression phase, there is deflation.

Economics and Employment in a Nutshell

     As our population increases there is more consumer demand. And, there are those that say that the driving force behind any economy is the consumer. This aggregate demand for goods and services causes businesses to have to keep up with consumer demand. Business does this by expanding or creating more products (inventory) and needed services.

This creates more money for businesses through profits and may require credit and acquiring loans to expand a business as well. In turn, business must hire more people.

Hiring people involves more money for salaries, insurance, office space, vehicles, etc. But here is the rub: In order for business to pay for all this expansion, they must raise the prices on goods and services. This, as everyone knows, is Inflation.

 As prices go higher consumer demand begins to lessen, and people get laid off when consumer demand begins to really tank. The sad truth is—as prices come down (deflation), the unemployment rate goes up. When the economy heats up again, then the expansionary business cycle causes businesses to once again hire more people. Near full employment (not real full employment) is achieved during the economic cycle known as “Prosperity.” The variability one finds in the unemployment rate is a direct result collectively of the four business cycles, and political factors as well.       

Political Influences on the Economy

     In the final analysis, a high unemployment rate is due to both political factors and the recessionary/depression economic business cycles. Economic business cycles are inevitable, but very difficult to predict how long each cycle will last. However, political factors make their own contribution to a high unemployment rate. And, everyone should be aware,  the order of economic cycles cannot be altered. Although timing of economic cycles can’t be predicted, they can be influenced by political factors. Such timing is heavily influenced by which political party dominates fiscal and monetary policies. These policies can be narrowed down to party-related tax policies, spending policies, monetary policies, and policies dealing with the availability of credit. All of these factors affect the unemployment rate.

Explanations for all these governmental actions can be found in a seven part series I blogged called, “Election Year Politics and the Economy,” back in 2012.

The Current Political Environment

     One question the public needs to think about is whether Republicans or democrats are better at tinkering with the economy and the unemployment problem?

At the present time that question is difficult to answer because the U.S. Government is in a state of crisis where efforts to help the unemployed or improve the economy have taken a back seat to politics and the shutting down of the government.

A hand full of Republican Tea Party members in Congress wanted and decided to hold the American people, and its government, hostage. It was a strategy created in lieu of the normal legislative process. As a result this caused a government shutdown. They did so primarily over just one issue—The Affordable Care Act. Until the government shutdown is really over, plans and resources to stimulate the economy and lower the unemployment rate—are evidently on hold.

So the public needs to start asking questions of Tea Party members now, long before the public goes to the polls in 2014. They might take this approach. Like Inspector Harry Callahan (played by Clint Eastwood) in the 1971 movie Dirty Harry, they might ask Tea Party members something like this: “So, you have to ask yourself this question. Do you feel lucky? Well, do you punk? The serial killer thought he was lucky. He reached for his gun and Inspector Harry Callahan blew him away.

Tea Party members, like Dirty Harry’s serial killer, may think they just might get lucky by holding the country hostage. Unfortunately, with recalcitrant Tea Party members controlling The House of Representative like domestic terrorists, they just might succeed. Polls indicate the Republican Party is going to get the most blame for the failed ill-conceived strategy to shut down the government and government services. The country is really pissed over the government shutdown!

Metaphorically speaking, the public after having been raped in 2013 by Tea Party members is going to get the last word, and perhaps poetic justice and revenge. It is my fondest hope that during the upcoming 2014 elections, the public, like the Terminator or Dirty Harry, is going to end the political careers of all Tea Party members who shouldn’t have been elected to Congress in the first place. However, the public has a very short memory. So, we’ll see what happens in 2014.

But a bigger question remains. How should sensible moderate Republicans or Democrats in general be viewed as to their ability to help improve the economy or help to lower the unemployment rate via job creation? In the upcoming congressional and senatorial elections in 2014 how should you vote if unemployment and a thriving economy is your uppermost concern?

To understand and answer the question, one needs only to look at past behavior of either political party. Again, who best can tinker effectively with the economy and the unemployment problem, Democrats or Republicans?

 

The Answer

     Since Democrat John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, non-government payrolls in the U.S. swelled by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents, according to Labor Department figures. Democrats hold the edge though they occupied the Oval Office for 23 years since Kennedy’s inauguration, compared with 28 for the Republicans. In addition, over the past 50 years, Republican administrations oversaw the largest decline in wages as measured as a percentage of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

If you really care about data and facts (not just value judgments), then it should be very clear to you who to vote for during the 2014 and 2016 elections.

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ELECTION YEAR POLITICS

AND THE ECONOMY

 

[Part VI-B]

 

 

Background

This is the last of my six part series on Election Year Politics and the Economy. And, as most people know, the number one issue during this presidential run for the White House in November, 2012 is the economy.

Before I reveal who I am voting for (if you haven’t already figured it out) I’ll make a few comments on the economy itself, especially since I provided a lot of information related to it.

First, I have tried to drive home the point that the economy has a life of its own and has predictable cycles. They are: expansion, prosperity, contraction, and recession. They always occur in that order; what isn’t known is just how long each cycle will last. And, the only tools the government has to deal with the economy, regardless of which party is in office, is Fiscal Policy having to do with spending and taxes, and Monetary Policy (which is set by the Federal Reserve) having to do with controlling the amount of money (including interest rates and credit) in the economy at any one time.

I think it’s fair to say that the last four years of the previous Bush administration was rather complicated and chaotic, particularly with respect to fiscal policy. Following Keynesian economic theory, Bush lowered taxes to stimulate growth but that also added to our national debt by lessening revenues to cover other spending needs. But with two wars initiated by his administration, he also increased huge amounts of spending (like floating a big check my late father would have said) at the same time, thus once again adding to our national debt. Being the “compassionate conservative” that he is (and I take him at his word) he did pass legislation to increase more Medicare Prescription Drug Benefits. A wonderful thing to do—but it nevertheless added another $300 billion dollars to our national debt.

During the last two years of the George W. Bush administration (2007-2008) all of us watched the development of the most severe financial crisis and meltdown in United States history since the great depression.

The financial crisis was triggered by a complex interplay of valuation and liquidity problems in the United States banking system in 2008. The bursting of the U.S. housing bubble, which peaked in 2007, caused the values of securities tied to U.S. real estate pricing to plummet, damaging financial institutions globally. Questions regarding bank solvency, declines in credit availability and damaged investor confidence had an impact on global stock markets, where securities suffered large losses during 2008 and early 2009. Economies worldwide slowed during this period, as credit tightened and international trade declined. Governments and central banks responded with unprecedented fiscal stimulus, monetary policy expansion and institutional bailouts. Although there have been aftershocks, the financial crisis itself ended sometime between late-2008 and mid-2009.

In the U.S. the government responded by a stimulus package and avoided a double-dip recession. In the E.U. the U.K. responded with austerity measures and it has since slid into a double-dip recession. Although the Bush Administration left us with tremendous national debt, the administration did not cause the financial meltdown per se (unless you want to speculate about errors of omission). The major players in the financial meltdown in the United States were Wall Street and the Banks.

President Barack Obama did not create any of the above situations—he inherited them on January 20, 2009. Through his leadership the financial crisis was averted and turned the corner into the next economic cycle—expansion. Yet, there was an enduring residual problem created by the financial crisis. That problem turned out to be a rather stubborn unemployment rate. The unemployment rate represents the civilian work force, 16 years of age and older.

Lingering Unemployment Problem

Just before the financial meltdown, the unemployment rate was 4.6 % in 2007, but climbed to 9.3% in 2009, then reached a high of 9.6% in 2010. Then the President’s stimulus package and fiscal policies began to kick in. However, even the president increased our national debt during his time in office trying to meet a multiplicity of needs and concerns. But once his stimulus package kicked in the unemployment rate began to drop significantly to where it is now at 8.2%. As our expansion cycle begins to come into full view in the months ahead, the unemployment rate will decline even further.

But please remember—as we achieve the desirable goal of near full employment—there is an inescapable trade-off. And that trade-off is inflation and higher prices. One way you can be certain that the current administration is succeeding in lowering unemployment, is that you know the demand for good and services are increasing. Why? Because increases in employed people mean that consumer spending will likely increase causing businesses of all types to expand.

What happens when there is increased demand? You guessed it—inflation and prices increase. It’s no secret we are now paying higher prices for commodities like food and gasoline. I happen to shop at Raleys. I like the store but I’ve definitely noticed my vegan food choices from the health section have slowly crept up in price the last year and a half. And, I don’t need to remind you that gas prices are very high. In my neighborhood it is currently $4.29 a gallon.

 

Three Factors Needing Evaluation

It is important to know how the economy works. I considered the need for casting an informed vote in Part I; at a minimum, the following information should be recognized and reflected upon:

Knowledge of the Presidential Election Cycle Theory

Business cycles

Fiscal and Monetary policy

Basic Keynesian Economic Theory

Knowledge of our National Debt

Collectively, such knowledge will allow one to make a sensible judgment in any election. For me, this knowledge, combined with my own values, will help determine my vote. Consequently, I’ve used the combination of knowledge and values to evaluate three areas of concern.

These areas of concern are:      

 

IMPACT OF POLITICAL PARTY   ON WALL STREET

ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF DEMOCRATS VERSUS REPUBLICANS

THE ROAD AHEAD WITH OUR NATIONAL DEBT PROBLEM

Impact of Political Party on Wall Street

 For me this area of concern is very personal. I’ve been trading stocks on Wall Street since I was a young man of 25 in 1968. Today, a greater proportion of the electorate, and others in the population, are investing money in the stock market where they hope, over time, to get a decent return.

I have been a day trader as well as an ordinary investor over the last 44 years. Perhaps it is a selfish motive, but I want whoever is in the White House not to screw things up. No one can predict who might do that. Therefore, I needed to consider how well the stock market did with either a Republican or a Democratic administration. So, I reported in Part II whether it was better to have a Republican administration in the White House, or a Democratic one. The following were the findings:

 Although Republicans are generally considered to be more pro business than democrats, studies suggest that when a Democratic president is in the White House, it may be generally better for the stock market.

A research study called “The Presidential Puzzle: Political Cycles and the Stock Market” (2003) done by Pedro Santa Clara and Rossen Valkanof of the University of California, Los Angeles, demonstrated that the stock market performs better under Democratic presidents.

 Using data from 1927 to 2003, they found that the excess returns have been about 2% for Republican presidents, but 11% for Democratic presidents. Among small cap stocks, the difference is even greater. The bottom 10% of stocks as measured by market cap showed a difference of excess returns of about 22% for Democrats compared to when a Republican held the presidential office.

Furthermore, on average, the stock market volatility during a Republican administration was more pronounced than that during a Democratic administration.

Accomplishments of Democrats versus Republicans

In Part I of the series I said accomplishments should be the primary basis for evaluation. This means comparing the President’s accomplishments while in office to those of the Republican Party during the same time frame. But it also means making one-on-one comparisons between the President and his opponent, Mitt Romney. I make that latter comparison in the final conclusions section. This and the previous section are influenced heavily by my “value judgments.” In the last section I am influenced much more by knowledge of the economy and analysis of our national debt.

Where the President is concerned, there are 234 accomplishments so far during his first term in office according to Florida professor of American Studies Robert P. Watson. But ten of his accomplishments really stood out for me as having great value and importance to the United States. You may feel differently, or value things in a different way, but here is my take and what I found that trumps anything the Republicans (The party of NO) have accomplished either in terms of proposed Legislation, or their ideas during the last four years.

These ten accomplishments of the President include:

  • The new effort to bring the country closer to universal health care through passage of the Affordable Health Care Act, outlawing denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, and extending coverage of health care for children under parent’s plans, steps toward “Medicare for All;”
  • Saved the auto industry from bankruptcy which included General Motors and Chrysler;
  • Obama persuaded BP to put up $20 billion, a guarantee of compensation for the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the spill.
  • In 2011 President Barack Obama gave the order for Navy Seals to take out Osama Bin Laden, the principal architect of 911. They were successful and Osama Bin Laden is dead.
  • Pulled troops out of Iraq and began drawing down troops in Afghanistan;
  • Approved the Lily Ledbetter “Equal Pay” for women rule;
  • Ended “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” discrimination in the military;
  • Expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) health care for children. This helped to cover 4 million children of lower-income families;
  • Signed an omnibus public lands bill that allowed for 2 million more acres to be declared wilderness. It added 1,000 miles designated for scenic rivers, and added lands for national trails;
  • Pushed through a $789 billion economic stimulus bill that saved or created 3 million jobs and began task of repairing the nation’s infrastructure

.

 

The Road Ahead With Our National Debt Problem

Related to the issue of the general economy, is the problem of our staggering national debt. Most voters react to this issue on an emotional level without fully comprehending what a national debt problem is really all about. In 2012 our national debt looms over everyone in society and has done so through many governmental administrations. I have some suggestions and am confident that the future solution to our national debt is sound; I’m equally confident that many people will balk at “the austere cod liver oil” solution to our national debt.

Analysis

In the United States, national debt is money borrowed by the Federal government. Debt burden is usually measured as a ratio of public debt to gross dpmestic product. Debt as a share of the US economy reached a maximum during Harry Truman’s first presidential term (121.7% of GDP).

Public debt as a percentage of GDP fell rapidly in the post-WWII period, and reached a low in 1973 under President Richard Nixon (23.9%). The debt burden has consistently increased since then, except during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In recent years sharp increases in deficit spending and Bush’s tax cuts has resulted in larger debt. This has led to heightened concern about the long-term sustainability of the Federal government’s fiscal policies.

So what can be done to get us out of this mess? We did it after World War II. So is it possible to reduce the national debt? The question we need to be asking ourselves is —How did we go from 121.7% of GDP in 1946, then 27 years later achieve a ratio of debt to GDP of 23.9%. The debt burden fell rapidly after the end of World War II because the United States and the rest of the world experienced a post-war economic expansion.

The main reason the country dug its way out a crippling public debt at the end of World War II is that there occurred a huge economic expansion in the country. Millions of men returned home from the war. Many Americans feared that the end of World War II, and the subsequent drop in military spending, might bring back the hard times of the Great Depression.

But instead, pent-up consumer demand fueled exceptionally strong economic growth in the post war period. The automobile industry successfully converted back to producing cars, and new industries such as aviation and electronics grew by leaps and bounds. A housing boom, stimulated in part by easily affordable mortgages for returning members of the military, added to the expansion. The demand for goods and services was absolutely profound. Huge social and business changes began to occur. These changes included the baby boom generation, conversion of manufacturing of war material back to high demand useful products of every kind. Also, there was a revolution in new business concepts like large shopping malls (early 1950s).

There were also great cultural changes in entertainment and music, changes in clothes, and that wonderful new babysitter—the television set. Conservatism wasn’t dead, but the nails to its casket were being pounded in every day by a changing much more liberal society. Change wasn’t just economic; WWII changed us as a people as to how we viewed the world in the post-war era. Consequently, all these changes led to a boom in suburban development, urban sprawl, and the need to own an automobile.

The nation’s gross national product rose from about $200,000 million in 1940 to $300,000 million in 1950 and to more than $500,000 million in 1960. At the same time, the jump in postwar births, known as the “baby boom,” increased the number of consumers. More and more Americans joined the middle class. What lessons can we all learn from this? I’ll explain shortly.

Current Debt History

The national debt reached or exceeded 100 percent of GDP only twice since 1900. The first time was during World War II and the second time was in the aftermath of the Crash of 2008.

From 2000 to 2008 debt held by the public rose again from 35% to 40%, and to 62% by the end of fiscal year 2010. During the presidency of George W. Bush, the gross public debt increased from $5.7 trillion in January 2001 to $10.7 trillion by December 2008, due in part to the Bush tax cuts and increased military spending caused by the two wars in the Middle East. He also bailed out the banks in the crisis of 2008.

Under President Barack Obama, the national debt also increased from $10.7 trillion in 2008 to $15.5 trillion by February 2012, caused mainly by decreased tax revenue due to the late-2000s recession and stimulus spending.

However, this President recognized the problem and put into effect a plan of action to deal with the national debt. The President set a goal of reducing Federal deficits by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. He called on Congress to establish a mechanism that would trigger across-the-board spending cuts in 2014 if the nation’s debt as a share of gross domestic product hasn’t stabilized. He even proposed to cut spending on Medicare and Medicaid, two safety-net programs held near and dear by Democrats. While I applaud this effort, it’s obvious $4 trillion dollars deficit reduction is not the same thing as bringing 15.5 trillion dollars back down to zero debt.

 

Proposed Solution

 

If we did it once the country can do it again.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that the United States ought to bring down its deficit from 100% of GDP (that it currently is) to a more comfortable level of 40% of GDP, or be even more ambitious and drop it to 23.9% as it was at the end of Richard Nixon’s  term in office. Nixon left in 1974 but I’m referring to the actual end of his elected term in office.

Our goal should be somewhere between 3.7 trillion and 6.2 trillion dollars of national debt. Let’s further say that the President and the U.S. Congress woke up one morning to its collective senses and said “Let’s Do It.” In fact, how should they do it? How did the Federal government tackle the national debt problem in 1946, at the end of WWII?

All of this comes back to what was covered in Parts II and IV on Fiscal Policy and Monetary Policy. Now our President has made a good faith effort to deal with the national debt. His plan is thoughtful in terms of considering the nation’s future and current needs; but at the same time, he developed a strategic approach to trimming the national debt.

Fiscal Policy and Monetary Policy are still the answer but what is the real question? Can we repeat the events following World War II? No! Those events aren’t going to repeat themselves because the social conditions affecting the country at that time would not be the same now.

So the point is how does the country stimulate massive growth and produce the revenues necessary to pay off, stabilize, and put a cap on, our national debt? This question brings us back to creating new economic events that stimulate expansive growth and rely once again on—Keynesian Economic Theory. The following material was covered in Part II of this series but I repeat it here.

The government began to use fiscal policy in the 1930s during the Depression, not just to support itself or pursue social policies, but to promote overall economic growth and stability as well. Most importantly policy-makers were influenced by John Maynard Keynes, an English economist who argued in The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936) that the rampant joblessness of his time resulted from inadequate demand for goods and services.

According to Keynes, people did not have enough income to buy everything the economy could produce, so prices fell and companies lost money or went bankrupt. Without government intervention, Keynes said, this could become a vicious cycle. As more companies went bankrupt, he argued, more people would lose their jobs, making income fall further and leading yet more companies to fail in a frightening downward spiral.

Keynes argued that government could halt the decline by increasing spending (The preferred Democrat Approach) on its own, or by cutting taxes (The Preferred Republican Approach). Either way, incomes would rise, people would spend more, and the economy could start growing again. If the government had to run up a deficit to achieve this purpose, so be it, Keynes said. In his view, the alternative—deepening economic decline—would be worse.

For many years the Federal government has pretty much adopted the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes and, indeed, we have run up a very sizable deficit. Personally, I think the country needs a new twist on Keynesian economics. Demand side (Keynesian) economics is probably better in the long run for the country than Supply side economics (trickle-down economics just doesn’t work like we’d like it to). But Keynesian economic theory still needs to be twisted a little to include things that were not part of his theory in 1936. By this I mean, rather than lowering taxes, they should be raised instead (not because of continuing class warfare but in terms of simple citizenship—everybody needs to pay his/her fair share).

So, how do we stimulate growth, lower unemployment and, at the same time, obtain significant revenues to pay down and stabilize our national debt? How do we achieve all this and meet all of the needs of the American people at the same time? Well folks, we can’t.

Economic Explosion in Growth

I always liked the expression, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” How do we stimulate growth? We do this by spending large amounts of money to target selected areas where new jobs can be created [our near full employment goal]. My ideas for targeting would be total gentrification of our cities, new infrastructure projects in suburban and rural areas of the country such as better highways, dams, and bridges; modernize and overhaul energy alternatives such as natural gas, solar, wind, and start a massive program of building “Green Friendly” homes nationally and overseas by contract.

Lower Unemployment

Many types of jobs would need to be filled if we did all this. We would need every occupation from laborers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, supervisors, building inspectors, architects, engineers, secretaries, small business owners, managers, waitresses, cooks, doctors, nurses, sales staff, clerks, dentists, police, and firemen. We need to construct more modern large buildings in urban areas where buildings are falling apart due to age.

Massive energy projects are needed, than shortly thereafter smaller peripheral and supporting projects would be needed: new gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, motels, and medical facilities. This may not be 1946—but look around you—there is much to be done (and redone) in this country of ours right now.

If these things were done in earnest, huge economic growth would certainly occur. With changes in monetary policy occurring at the same time, more credit, lower interest rates, and greater loan activity would provide the cash needed for economic expansion in almost every part of the country.

Precipitously Bring Down the National Debt

This is the hard, unpopular part of my plan. First, reduce government spending of all government agencies across the board by 10%. What will government agencies do? I was in government for 32 years and experienced several 10% cuts. We adjust, we improvise, yet we still managed to get the job done. It was no big deal. I went without an annual increase in pay as well. Trust me! Cutting government services can be done.

Now very tough decisions will need to be made if we, as a nation, want to simultaneously (besides economic expansion and lowering unemployment) reduce our national debt by 10+ trillion dollars. To achieve this will require pain and sacrifice on everyone’s part. What do we do? We make major changes to our system of taxation.

Instead of replacing the current income tax system with a national sales (consumption or fair tax), I propose the country simultaneously do both an income and a consumption tax. You pay your income taxes as you currently do, but also pay a federal sales tax on all goods and services that is tied to the GDP. If GDP currently is 16.5 trillion dollars, we need to generate an additional 9% in revenues each year through a consumption tax. That would add approximately 1.48 trillion dollars (.09 X 16.5 trillion) each year in theUnited States.

And from this time on, the Federal budgetary process would need to have what I call a “soft cap.” That is, the annual Federal budget needs to be tied to the growth rate of GDP. If the GDP increased 2.0% in one year, then the President’s budget could not increase beyond the 2.0% in the GDP.

My modified Keynesian approach doesn’t favor a Democrat or Republican approach to fiscal or monetary policy. It’s just what needs to be done to stabilize this country’s financial situation now and into the future. When I run for the United States Senate next year I plan to propose this solution for our economic woes (JUST KIDDING!).

You probably have thought all this out yourself, and have ideas of your own as to how to revitalize the economic growth of the country and bring down the national debt. However, you’re probably scratching your head right now asking yourself—how can he propose tremendous spending for economic expansion and, at the same time, put a “soft cap” on government spending?  The soft cap is more about controlling any future short-fall between government spending and revenues generated (How else are we going to prevent government borrowing and generating more debt each year?). The answer to the question is easing monetary policy (i.e., easier borrowing, credit, and lower interest rates) combined with dramatic increases in taxation (income plus a national sales tax) should provide the funds for a tremendous spike in economic growth and expansion without putting us further in national debt. I’d be more than delighted to hear your ideas on these topics or my general plan.

In the meantime, President Barack Obama has implemented a moderate plan to trim 4 trillion dollars from our national debt over the next 12 years. If my aggressive approach isn’t wanted by giving the country its austere cod liver oil to courageously attack our economic woes, then I suggest the country embrace his plan for dealing with the problem of our national debt.

What I’ve been saying is that it is time to increase spending to create growth and achieve near full employment and raise taxes by aggressive measures such as a national sales tax on top of our income tax. Substantial increases in spending should occur only if large tax increases are implemented at the same time.  Inflation would occur under my plan but would be countered by raising taxes. It could be done with monetary policy but wouldn’t work because of the need to ease monetary policy to help stimulate growth.

Fighting inflation requires government to take unpopular actions like reducing spending or raising taxes, while traditional fiscal policy solutions to fighting unemployment tend to be more popular since they require increasing spending or cutting taxes. My plan does not involve cutting spending to fight inflation. And yet inflation is like an unintended tax measure resulting in greater tax revenues for the country. To that extent, inflation would directly raise revenues and indirectly help to pay down the national debt.

The downside of my proposal is that the individual will have to pay more in taxes at the same time inflation eats away at any money he has left after taxes; it’s a bitter pill to swallow. The upside to my proposal is that tremendous economic growth in the country would occur, near full employment would be achieved, and our national debt would stabilize and be reduced significantly, and finally controlled by a “soft cap.” Some employed people, and government workers, and retirees would probably hate my proposal, while the unemployed and the business community would probably love it.

The bottom line is—“the country gets what it pays for.” Unfortunately these are times when the country has to pay a lot more to get what it wants. I think the readers of this six part series can now clearly see that tinkering with the economy is no simple matter. I suppose that in the end I have a great deal of respect for those we elect to office. They have to be “all things to all people” and, at the same time, have to struggle with prioritizing economic objectives along side with doing what’s best and right for the country. During these tough economic times—that is no easy task.

Conclusions

This fall I’m voting to re-elect President Barack Obama to a second term as our president. While Mitt Romney appears to be a good and decent man, he does not have the experience, attitudes, or mental acuity to convince me he is more qualified to be the President than Barack Obama.

Regardless of how you arrive at your decision as to who to vote for, I want to thank you for reading this six part series on Election Year Politics and the Economy. I’ve given it my best shot in deciding who to vote for, now it’s time for you to do the same.

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ELECTION YEAR POLITICS

AND THE ECONOMY

[Part VI-A]

The final segment of my six part series will be composed of a Part VI-A and a Part VI-B. In Part VI-A I present the accomplishments of the Republican Party and provide a biography of their candidate in 2012—Mitt Romney.

In Part VI-B I will suggest who I think should be elected  president of the United States on November 6, 2012. I will post Part VI-B a few days after people have had a chance to digest the data in Part VI-A. I am not going to tell you who to vote for; that is now up to you. What I will do is explain, in detail, the reasons why I’m voting as I am.

I will explain as best I can both the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate in a final conclusions section. Everyone may or may not come to the same conclusion as I have. Hopefully, since the economy is the main issue, I hope everyone makes intelligent use of the material I’ve provided about how the economy really works, and integrates such knowledge into each person’s value framework and political preferences. No one can predict the future but as voters, let’s give it a good shot as to who we think will best serve as president of the United States during the next four years.

                                Accomplishments of the Republican Party

In this author’s opinion the accomplishments of the Republican Party fall into two areas: (1) signed legislation that became law, and (2) bills introduced giving you some idea as to what they wanted to do for the American people.

The Republican Party, of course, did not have control of the White House between 2008-2012. However, they did regain control of the House of Representatives in November, 2010. And, they did propose major legislation in a number of areas. Many of their Bills they proposed failed to pass muster in the Senate, and on several occasions President Obama promised to veto many of the major types of legislation proposed by the Republicans.

If one defines accomplishments as bills that become laws, then by that standard they failed miserably in terms of doing something useful for the American people. It may be one of the reasons why the Republican Party is often called “the Party of No.”

 I believe, in all fairness, the voter needs to evaluate The Republican Party in a different way. Since you are comparing a party with lots to show for it, the only other remaining way to evaluate Republican contributions to the country is to usefully look at their ideas as reflected in the Bills they put forward. If you agree with those ideas you’ll still have a basis for comparison to President Obama’s accomplishments. If you don’t like what was proposed by the Republicans, then perhaps you have a clear choice in November, 2012.

So what major legislation did the Republican Party propose before the Congress during the last four years.

MAJOR LEGISLATION PROPOSED BY THE REPUBLICANS

 I found five major pieces of legislation proposed by the Republican Party during the last four years. A sixth bill actually became law in 1998. That law was the Defense of Marriage Act. It is discussed here because it was followed during the last four years as the Respect for Marriage Act, which failed to become law.

Most Republican bills seem ideological in nature. Only two seem to relate to economics. Along with the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 the bills are the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion, the Protect Life Act, and the Respect for Marriage Act which was a new version of the original Defense of Marriage Act.

One bill was actually bi-partisan in nature and was the Stop Online Piracy Act. The one bill that tackled spending issues, the debt ceiling, and balancing a budget was the only truly economic bill proposed by the Republican Party. That bill was the Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011.

Collectively, these legislative efforts are the ideas of the Republican Party.

Defense of Marriage Act

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Public Law 104-109, 110 Statute 2419, enacted September 21, 1996, 1 U.S.C. & 7 and 28 U.S.C. & 1738C is a United States federal law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. The law passed both houses of Congress by large majorities and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.

Under the law, no state or other political subdivision of the U.S. may be required to recognize as a marriage a same-sex relationship considered a marriage in another state. Section 3 of DOMA codified the non-recognition of same-sex marriage for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors’ benefits, and the filing of joint tax returns. This section has been found unconstitutional in two Massachusetts court cases and a California bankruptcy court case, all of which are under appeal.

The Obama administration announced in 2011 that it had determined that Section 3 was unconstitutional and, though it would continue to enforce the law, it would no longer defend it in court. In response, the House of Representatives undertook the defense of the law on behalf of the federal government in place of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Respect for Marriage Act

The Respect for Marriage Act, or RFMA (H.R. 1116, S. 598), was a proposed bill in the United States Congress that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and allow the U.S. federal government to provide benefits to couples in a same-sex marriage; the bill would not compel individual states to recognize same-sex marriages. It was supported by former U.S. Representative Bob Barr, original sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, and former President Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

Until 1996, the federal government customarily recognized marriages conducted legally in any state for the purpose of federal legislation. Following an unsuccessful law suit aimed at legalizing same-sex marriage in Hawaii, the United States Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act one section of which forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

H.R. 3567

a) repeals section 1738C of title 28 of the United States Code

b) amends Section 7 of title 1 in the United States Code to read:

(a) For the purposes of any Federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a State. (b) In this section, the term ‘State’ means a State, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any other territory or possession of the United States.

No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3) is a bill that was introduced to the 112th Congress of the United States in the House of Representatives by Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) and Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois). Although the bill is a bipartisan effort, most of the 173 co-sponsors were Republicans. The bill’s stated purpose was “[t]o prohibit taxpayer funded abortions and to provide for conscience protections, and for other purposes.”

In large measure, it would render permanent the restrictions on federal funding of abortion in the United States laid out in the Hyde Amendment. The bill passed the House on May 4, 2011 by a vote of 251-175; however, because it was not expected to pass the Senate, the bill was largely a symbolic one.

Controversy over language about rape

The text of the most recent version of the Hyde Amendment provides an exception for cases of rape, stating that its prohibitions shall not apply “if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.” The rape exception in H.R. 3 uses somewhat different language, stating that its limitations shall not apply “if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest.” Some women’s rights groups have questioned the addition of the qualifier “forcible” to the word “rape” in H.R. 3, noting that it excludes many forms of rape and “takes us back to a time where just saying no was not enough.”

One critic, Mother Jones, alleged that the bill is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Republican Party to change the legal definition of rape.

Another critic, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) criticized the legislation, too. An article in The Raw Story had this to say about her reaction to HR 3. “The Florida Democrat, a rising star in her party and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, is a leading voice on women’s issues.

And she didn’t mince her words in an interview with The Raw Story, fiercely denouncing GOP colleagues over H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” ‘It is absolutely outrageous,’ Wasserman Schultz said in an exclusive interview late Monday afternoon. “I consider the proposal of this bill a violent act against women…” She continued, “It really is — to suggest that there is some kind of rape that would be okay to force a woman to carry the resulting pregnancy to term, and abandon the principle that has been long held, an exception that has been settled for 30 years, is to me a violent act against women in and of itself,” Wasserman Schultz said.” “Rape is when a woman is forced to have sex against her will, and that is whether she is conscious, unconscious, mentally stable, not mentally stable,” the four-term congresswoman added.”

Critics insist that HR 3 would directly diminish the rights of women who have fallen victim to rapes that are not considered “forcible” by the bill, as well as increase the danger of these types of sexual abuse occurring.

TalkingPoints Memo reported, “In an interview with the anti-abortion site LifeNews, Douglas Johnson, the legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, admits the language in the House’s No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act “would not allow general federal funding of abortion on all under-age pregnant girls.”

However, the bill’s text does not offer a definition of “rape” nor of “forcible rape.” Responding to the criticism about the language used in the rape exception clause, bill co-sponsor Dan Lipinski (D) stated, “The language of H.R. 3 was not intended to change existing law rearding taxpayer funding for abortion in cases of rape, nor is it expected that it would do so. Nonetheless, the legislative process will provide an opportunity to clarify this should such a need exist.”

Protect Life Act

The Protect Life Act (H.R. 358) is a bill introduced to the 112th United States Congress in the House of Representatives by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA). The bill had 121 co-sponsors, including 6 Democrats. It would make several amendments to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The bill was initially referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Health, of which Pitts is the ranking majority member. The committee approved it 33 to 19.

On October 13, 2011, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill; however, it was judged unlikely to pass the Democratic Senate, and President Obama stated that he would veto it if it reached his desk.

The following are the provisions of the bill.

Provisions

  • Ban the use of federal funds to cover any costs of any health care plan that covers abortions. (This would extend previous restrictions on abortion coverage, which currently ban the use of federal funds for abortion and require federal funds and abortion-related funds to be kept separate.) Require the Office of Personnel Management director to make sure no health plans that fall under the Exchange cover abortions.
  • Require any entity offering, through a federal exchange, a health care plan that covers abortions to also offer an otherwise identical one that does not cover abortions.
  • Prohibit government agencies from “discriminating” against health care providers who refuse to undergo, require, provide, or refer for training to perform abortions.
  • Allow remedies to be sought in court for violations of PPACA abortion provisions.

Stop Online Piracy Act

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a United States bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison. A similar bill in the U.S. Senate is titled the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).

Proponents of the legislation state it will protect the intellectual-property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites. Claiming flaws in present laws that do not cover foreign-owned and operated sites, and citing examples of “active promotion of rogue websites” by U.S. search engines, proponents assert stronger enforcement tools are needed.

Opponents state the proposed legislation threatens free speech and innovation, and enables law enforcement to block access to entire internet domains due to infringing content posted on a single blog or webpage. They have raised concerns that SOPA would bypass the “safe harbor” protections from liability presently afforded to Internet sites by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Library associations have expressed concerns that the legislation’s emphasis on stronger copyright enforcement would expose libraries to prosecution. Other opponents state that requiring search engines to delete a domain name could begin a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship of the Web and violates the First Amendment.

On January 18, 2012, the English Wikipedia Reddit, and an estimated 7,000 other smaller websites coordinated a service blackout, to raise awareness. In excess of 160 million people viewed Wikipedia’s banner. Other protests against SOPA and PIPA included petition drives, with Google stating it collected over 7 million signatures, boycotts of companies that support the legislation, and a rally held in New York City.

In response to the protest actions, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) stated, “It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users and arm them with misinformation,” and “it’s very difficult to counter the misinformation when the disseminators also own the platform.”

The sites of several pro-SOPA organizations such as RIAA, CBS.com, and others were slowed or shut down with denial of service attacks started on January 19. Self-proclaimed members of the “hacktivist” group Anonymous claimed responsibility and stated the attacks were a protest of both SOPA and the United States Department of Justice’s shutdown of Megaupload on that same day.

Opponents of the bill have proposed the Online Protection and Digital Trade Act (OPEN) as an alternative. On January 20, 2012, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Smith postponed plans to draft the bill: “The committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation … The House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011

The proposed Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011 (or HR 2560) was a bill put forward in the 112th United States Congress by Republicans during the 2011 U.S. debt ceiling crisis. The provisions of the bill included a cut in the total amount of federal government spending, a cap on the level of future spending as a percentage ofGDP, and, on the condition that Congress pass certain changes to the U.S. Constitution, and an increase in the national debt ceiling to allow the federal government to continue to service its debts.

The bill had the support of Republicans and much of the Tea Party movement. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 19, 2011, but was rejected by the President and the Senate. The Senate voted to table the bill on July 22. President Obama had promised to veto the bill had it proceeded further.

The Republican Candidate in 2012

The Republican cadidate running for the Office of the President of the United States in 2012  is former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney.

 

Biography

Born Willard Mitt Romney onMarch 12, 1947, in Detroit,Michigan and raised in Bloomfield Hills,Michigan, Romney attended the prestigious Cranbrook Schoolbefore receiving his undergraduate degree fromBrighamYoungUniversityin 1971. He attended Harvard LawSchool andHarvard Business School and received both a law degree and an M.B.A. in 1975.

Mitt Romney married Ann Davies in 1969; they have five sons, Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig. He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.

Entry into Politics

The son of George Romney, Michigan governor and Republican presidential nominee (he was defeated by Richard Nixon in 1968), Mitt Romney began his career in business. He worked for the management consulting firm Bain & Company before founding the investment firm Bain Capital in 1984. In 1994, he ran for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts but was defeated by longtime incumbent Edward Kennedy.

In 1999, Romney stepped into the national spotlight when he took over as president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. He helped rescue the 2002 Winter Olympics from financial and ethical woes, and helmed a successful Salt Lake City Olympic Games in 2002.

In 2004 Romney authored the book Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games.

Masachusetts Governor

Romney parlayed his success with the Olympics into politics when he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2003. During Romney’s term as governor, he oversaw the reduction of a $3 billion deficit. Romney also signed into law a health care reform program to provide nearly universal health care forMassachusetts residents.

2008 Presidential Run

After serving one term, he declined to run for reelection and announced his bid for U.S.president. Romney made it through Super Tuesday, winning primaries inMassachusetts, Alaska, Minnesota, Colorado and Utah, before losing the Republican nomination to John McCain. In total Romney spent $110 million on his campaign, including $45 million of his own money.

Romney continued to keep his options open for a possible future presidential run. He maintained much of his political staff and PACs, and raised funds for fellow Republican candidates. In March 2010, Romney published a book titled No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. The book debuted on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

2012 Campaign

At a farm in New Hampshire on June 2, 2011, Mitt Romney announced the official start of his 2012 campaign. A vocal critic of President Barack Obama, Romney has taken many standard Republican positions on taxes, the economy and the war on terror. Romney’s critics charge him with changing his position on several key issues including abortion, which he opposes, and health care reform—he opposed President Obama’s health care reform program, which was similar to theMassachusetts plan Romney supported as governor.

From the start of his campaign, Romney emerged as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. He showed more mainstream Republican appeal than Tea Party-backed competitors such asTexas governor Rick Perry. In January 2012, Romney scored a decisive victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary. He captured more than 39 percent of the votes, way ahead of his closest competitors, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman.  As the race has continued, Rick Santorum became his greatest competition, winning several states. But Romney had been able to secure a substantial lead in the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

In April 2012, Romney benefitted from a narrowing of the field when Santorum announced he was suspending his campaign. He publicly paid tribute to his former rival, saying that Santorum “has proved himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation.” After Santorum’s departure, Romney only had two opponents left—Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. But neither seems to have enough support to gain the necessary delegates to take the nomination from Romney. In May, 2012 Newt Gingrich departed from the campaign.

Post Script

At this point every reader of this six part series should now be armed with enough knowledge to make an informed intelligent decision as to who should be elected to the White House this coming November. Good luck in how you arrive at that decision. In a few days following the posting of this Part VI-A, I will present how I plan to vote this coming November. Based on all the knowledge presented in this series I will explain all the reasons why I have selected one candidate over the other. And, I will present such reasons in terms of both strengths and weaknesses of each candidate.

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ELECTION YEAR POLITICS

AND THE ECONOMY

[Part V]

In this Part V of my six part series I describe the accomplishments of President Barack Obama during most his first term as president.

In a final section (Part VI-B) I will bring all of the knowledge gained in the entire series together and render a decision as to who I’m voting for (and consistent with writing a blog called the Reasoned Society) with the reasons why I have reached a decision in casting my vote in favor of one candidate over the other. Ultimately, you will also have to decide who you will vote for in the upcoming presidential election in November, 2012.

The Accomplishments of President Barack Obama

 

By some accounts (Florida Professor of American Studies Robert P. Watson of Lynn University) President Obama’s accomplishments now total 244 since he took office. Here is just a few of the significant accomplishments of the president during his first term in the White House.

 

  • Overhauled the food safety system;
  • Approved the Lily Ledbetter “Equal Pay” for women rule;
  • Ended “Don’t Ask/Don’t  Tell” discrimination in the military;
  • Passed the Hate Crimes bill in Congress;
  • Saved the auto industry from bankruptcy which included General Motors and Chrysler;
  • Appointed two progressive women to the U.S. Supreme Court including the first Latina;
  • Pushed through the Affordable Health Care Act, outlawing denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, extending until age 26 health care coverage of children under parent’s  plans, steps toward “Medicare for All;”
  • Expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) health care for children. This helped to cover 4 million more lower-income children;
  • Pushed through a $789 Billion economic stimulus bill that saved or created 3 million jobs and began task of repairing the nation’s infrastructure;
  • Overhauled the credit card industry, making it more consumer friendly;
  • Established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and used a recess appointment to keep it on track in the face of GOP attempts to derail it;
  • Also outmaneuvered GOP in naming two members of the National Labor Relations Board blocked by the Republicans in their attempt to shut down the NLRB;
  • Won two extensions of the debt ceiling and extensions of unemployment compensation in the face of Republican threats to shut down the U.S. government;
  • Pulled troops out of Iraq and began drawing down of troops in Afghanistan;
  • Signed an omnibus public lands bill that allowed for 2 million more acres to be declared wilderness. It added 1,000 miles designated for scenic rivers, and added lands for national trails;
  • Signed into law the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act;
  • Signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which expanded the scope of AmeriCorps;
  • Signed an executive order easing restrictions on the use of federal money for embryonic stem cell research;
  • Created greater transparency in government by creation of White House visitor logs, a ban on lobbyist gifts, or allowing lobbyists from serving on advisory boards, and restrictions on the hiring of lobbyists.
  • Obama persuaded BP to put up $20 billion as a guarantee that the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the spill would be compensated.
  • In 2011 President Barack Obama gave the order for Navy Seals commandoes to take out Osama Bin Laden, the architect of 911. They were successful and Osama Bin Laden is dead.

 

Washington Post Editorial

Back in 2010 an editorial was written by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post. This was written less than half way through President Obama’s first term in office. I think it’s worth repeating here:

In less than two years in office, the Obama Administration has made some incredible progress, from passing historic health reform to reining in Wall Street and fighting to create new jobs. Even so, sometimes it can feel like all of the day-to-day news is focused on the negative, without much emphasis on the real changes the President has made with the help of supporters around the country. For a look at some of the great accomplishments in just the past few weeks—including troops leaving Iraq, bringing the auto industry back from the brink of collapse, and containing the oil spill in the Gulf.

This is a radical break from journalistic convention, I realize, but today I’d like to give credit where it’s due — specifically, to President Obama. Quiet as it’s kept, he’s on a genuine winning streak. It’s hard to remember that the inauguration was just 19 months ago. Expectations of the new president were absurdly high. If Obama had done back flips across the Potomac River, when he reached the other side he’d have faced probing questions about why it was taking him so long to cure cancer, solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and usher in an age of universal peace and prosperity. But look at what he’s accomplished in just the past few weeks. Let me highlight four recent headlines.

“Last U.S. combat troops leave Iraq”: Obama campaigned as an early and vocal opponent of the Iraq war, calling it a distraction from the more important conflict in Afghanistan. When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush’s combat surge. Obama said he would bring our combat forces home and he did — ahead of schedule…. “General Motors to launch stock offering”: One of the many crises Obama faced when he took office was the imminent collapse of an iconic industrial giant….Obama ended up pouring $50 billion into the company, acquiring a 61 percent ownership stake.

Critics complained about the advent of “Government Motors” and raised the specter of bureaucrats in Washington holding public hearings to redesign the Corvette. But now, after making more than $2 billion in profits so far this year, the restructured company is confident enough to sell stock on Wall Street — and begin repaying the government’s investment. The company was saved, workers kept their jobs, and taxpayers are going to get their money back. That’s nice work.”Gulf oil spill contained”: When BP’s Deepwater Horizon well went rogue, the Obama administration was criticized for being slow off the mark. Some of the criticism was justified — the initial response did seem unfocused. But the administration managed to turn things around and quiet any talk of “Obama’s Katrina.”

Obama persuaded BP to put up $20 billion as a guarantee that the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the spill would be compensated….

And finally, “President wades into mosque controversy”: Yes, I’m serious. Supporting the mosque in Lower Manhattan didn’t score any political points. But Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.

He still hasn’t walked on water, though. What’s wrong with the man?

 

Post Script

You will have to decide as a voter in a few months whether President Obama’s accomplishments during his first term in office justifies his being re-elected to a second term. In giving your vote you will also have to compare the president’s accomplishments to those of the Republican Party during the last four years.

In addition, you will have to decide whether the campaign promises of Mitt Romney appeal to you so much that you would support a change of course for the country. After Part VI-A and Part VI-B you will be in a good position, in terms of being an informed voter, to make such an important decision. And, you can be proud of yourself that you took the time to become better informed; it is the only really intelligent approach a citizen can take during so important an election as to who should become President of the United States.

 

 

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ELECTION YEAR POLITICS

AND THE ECONOMY

[Part IV]

The American Economy and Monetary Policy

 

The topic in Part IV of this blog is all about Monetary Policy. As you will see this is the other tool the government can use to influence the economy. Is Monetary Policy any more successful than fiscal policy? Well, let’s wait and see. Due to the complexity of some of the material to be presented, you might like to just puruse the topic of “Types of Monetary Policy.” It is sufficient for your education if you simply understand the 3 main tools the Federal Reserve has to manage the nation’s money supply. This will be very clear and understandable. If you wish to read the section on Types of Monetary Policy by all means go right ahead. Not to be flip I just want to warn you—the material is complex and gave me a headache as I was putting it all together. It’s important information but probably, unless you’re an economist, you could just simply gloss over the material from that section.

Money Supply

In economics, the money supply or money stock, is the total amount of money available in an economy at a specific time. There are several ways to define “money,” but standard measures usually include currency in circulation and demand deposits (depositors’ easily accessed assets on the books of financial institutions).

Money supply data are recorded and published, usually by the government or the central bank of the country. Public and private sector analysts have long monitored changes in money supply because of its possible effects on the price level, inflation and the business cycle.

What is Monetary Policy?

Monetary Policy is the process by which the monetary authority of a country controls the supply of money, often targeting a rate of interest for the purpose of promoting economic growth and stability.

The official goals usually include relatively stable prices and low unemployment. Monetary theory provides insight into how to craft optimal monetary policy. It is referred to as either being expansionary or contractionary, where an expansionary policy increases the total supply of money in the economy more rapidly than usual, and contractionary policy expands the money supply more slowly than usual or even shrinks it.

Expansionary policy is traditionally used to try to combat unemployment in a recession by lowering interest rates in the hope that easy credit will entice businesses into expanding. Contractionary policy is intended to slow inflation in hopes of avoiding the resulting distortions and deterioration of asset values.

Monetary policy differs from fiscal policy, which refers to taxation, government spending, and associated borrowing.

Types of monetary policy

In practice, to implement any type of monetary policy the main tool used is modifying the amount of base money in circulation. The monetary authority does this by buying or selling financial assets (usually government obligations). These open market operations change either the amount of money or its liquidity (if less liquid forms of money are bought or sold). The multiplier effect of fractional reserve banking amplifies the effects of these actions.

Constant market transactions by the monetary authority modify the supply of currency and this impacts other market variables such as short term interest rates and the exchange rate.

The distinction between the various types of monetary policy lies primarily with the set of instruments and target variables that are used by the monetary authority to achieve their goals.

Monetary Policy:

Target Market   Variable:

Long Term   Objective:

Inflation Targeting Interest rate on overnight debt A given rate of change in theCPI
Price Level Targeting Interest rate on overnight debt A specificCPInumber
Monetary Aggregates The growth in money supply A given rate of change in theCPI
Fixed Exchange Rate The spot price of the currency The spot price of the currency
Gold Standard The spot price of gold Low inflation as measured by the gold price
Mixed Policy Usually interest rates Usually unemployment +CPI  change

The different types of policy are also called monetary regimes, in parallel to exchange rate regimes. A fixed exchange rate is also an exchange rate regime; The Gold standard results in a relatively fixed regime towards the currency of other countries on the gold standard and a floating regime towards those that are not. Targeting inflation, the price level or other monetary aggregates implies floating exchange rate unless the management of the relevant foreign currencies is tracking exactly the same variables (such as a harmonized consumer price index).

Inflation targeting

Under this policy approach the target is to keep inflation, under a particular definition such as Consumer Price Index, within a desired range.

The inflation target is achieved through periodic adjustments to the Central Bank interest rate target. The interest rate used is generally the interbank rate at which banks lend to each other overnight for cash flow purposes. Depending on the country this particular interest rate might be called the cash rate or something similar.

The interest rate target is maintained for a specific duration using open market operations. Typically the duration that the interest rate target is kept constant will vary between months and years. This interest rate target is usually reviewed on a monthly or quarterly basis by a policy committee.

Changes to the interest rate target are made in response to various market indicators in an attempt to forecast economic trends and in so doing keep the market on track towards achieving the defined inflation target. For example, one simple method of inflation targeting called the Taylor rule adjusts the interest rate in response to changes in the inflation rate and the output gap. The rule was proposed by John B. Taylor of Stanford University. The inflation targeting approach to monetary policy approach was pioneered in New Zealand. It is currently used in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Columbia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, India, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, South Africa, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Price level targeting

Price level targeting is similar to inflation targeting except thatCPIgrowth in one year over or under the long term price level target is offset in subsequent years such that a targeted price-level is reached over time, e.g. five years, giving more certainty about future price increases to consumers. Under inflation targeting what happened in the immediate past years is not taken into account or adjusted for in the current and future years.

Monetary aggregates

In the 1980s, several countries used an approach based on a constant growth in the money supply. This approach was refined to include different classes of money and credit (M0, M1 etc.). In the USA this approach to monetary policy was discontinued with the selection of Alan Greenspan as Fed Chairman.

This approach is also sometimes called monetarism.

While most monetary policy focuses on a price signal of one form or another, this approach is focused on monetary quantities.

Fixed exchange rate

This policy is based on maintaining a fixed exchange rate with a foreign currency. There are varying degrees of fixed exchange rates, which can be ranked in relation to how rigid the fixed exchange rate is with the anchor nation.

Under a system of fiat fixed rates, the local government or monetary authority declares a fixed exchange rate but does not actively buy or sell currency to maintain the rate. Instead, the rate is enforced by non-convertibility measures (e.g. capital controls, import/export licenses, etc.). In this case there is a black market exchange rate where the currency trades at its market/unofficial rate.

Under a system of fixed-convertibility, currency is bought and sold by the central bank or monetary authority on a daily basis to achieve the target exchange rate. This target rate may be a fixed level or a fixed band within which the exchange rate may fluctuate until the monetary authority intervenes to buy or sell as necessary to maintain the exchange rate within the band. (In this case, the fixed exchange rate with a fixed level can be seen as a special case of the fixed exchange rate with bands where the bands are set to zero.)

Under a system of fixed exchange rates maintained by a currency board every unit of local currency must be backed by a unit of foreign currency (correcting for the exchange rate). This ensures that the local monetary base does not inflate without being backed by hard currency and eliminates any worries about a run on the local currency by those wishing to convert the local currency to the hard (anchor) currency.

Under dollarization, foreign currency (usually the US dollar, hence the term “dollarization”) is used freely as the medium of exchange either exclusively or in parallel with local currency. This outcome can come about because the local population has lost all faith in the local currency, or it may also be a policy of the government (usually to rein in inflation and import credible monetary policy).

These policies often abdicate monetary policy to the foreign monetary authority or government as monetary policy in the pegging nation must align with monetary policy in the anchor nation to maintain the exchange rate. The degree to which local monetary policy becomes dependent on the anchor nation depends on factors such as capital mobility, openness, credit channels and other economic factors.

Gold standard

The gold standard is a system under which the price of the national currency is measured in units of gold bars and is kept constant by the government’s promise to buy or sell gold at a fixed price in terms of the base currency. The gold standard might be regarded as a special case of “fixed exchange rate” policy, or as a special type of commodity price level targeting.

The minimal gold standard would be a long-term commitment to tighten monetary policy enough to prevent the price of gold from permanently rising above parity. A full gold standard would be a commitment to sell unlimited amounts of gold at parity and maintain a reserve of gold sufficient to redeem the entire monetary base.

Today this type of monetary policy is no longer used by any country, although the gold standard was widely used across the world between the mid-19th century through 1971. Its major advantages were simplicity and transparency. The gold standard was abandoned during the Great Depression, as countries sought to reinvigorate their economies by increasing their money supply. The Bretton Woods system, which was a modified gold standard, replaced it in the aftermath of World War II. However, this system too broke down during the Nixon shock of 1971.

The gold standard induces deflation, as the economy usually grows faster than the supply of gold. When an economy grows faster than its money supply, the same amount of money is used to execute a larger number of transactions. The only way to make this possible is to lower the nominal cost of each transaction, which means that prices of goods and services fall, and each unit of money increases in value.

Absent precautionary measures, deflation would tend to increase the ratio of the real value of nominal debts to physical assets over time. For example, during deflation, nominal debt and the monthly nominal cost of a fixed-rate home mortgage stays the same, even while the dollar value of the house falls, and the value of the dollars required to pay the mortgage goes up. Mainstream economics considers such deflation to be a major disadvantage of the gold standard. Unsustainable (i.e. excessive) deflation can cause problems during recessions and financial crisis lengthening the amount of time an economy spends in recession. William Jennings Bryan rose to national prominence when he built his historic (though unsuccessful) 1896 presidential campaign around the argument that deflation caused by the gold standard made it harder for everyday citizens to start new businesses, expand their farms, or build new homes.

In a nutshell, monetary policy relates to increasing or decreasing the supply of money available in theU.S.Economy. Such actionable policy determines whether the economy heats up (more economic activity) or cools down (less economic activity). In turn, such decisions affect, either way, credit, and, down the road, influences business growth, hiring and employment, as well as everybody’s enemy—inflation.

The Infrastructure for Monetary Policy

While the budget remained enormously important, the job of managing the overall economy shifted substantially from fiscal policy to monetary policy during the later years of the 20th century. Monetary policy is the province of the Federal Reserve System, an independentU.S.government agency. “The Fed,” as it is commonly known, includes 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks and 25 Federal Reserve Bank branches.

All nationally chartered commercial banks are required by law to be members of the Federal Reserve System; membership is optional for state-chartered banks. In general, a bank that is a member of the Federal Reserve System uses the Reserve Bank in its region in the same way that a person uses a bank in his or her community.

The Federal Reserve Board of Governors administers the Federal Reserve System. It has seven members, who are appointed by the president to serve overlapping 14-year terms. The most important monetary policy decisions are made by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which consists of the seven governors, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank ofNew   York, and presidents of four other Federal Reserve banks who serve on a rotating basis.

Although the Federal Reserve System periodically must report on its actions to Congress, the governors are, by law, independent from Congress and the president. Reinforcing this independence, the Fed conducts its most important policy discussions in private and often discloses them only after a period of time has passed. It also raises all of its own operating expenses from investment income and fees for its own services.

The Federal Reserve has three main tools for maintaining control over the supply of money and credit in the economy. The most important is known as open market operations, or the buying and selling of government securities. To increase the supply of money, the Federal Reserve buys government securities from banks, other businesses, or individuals, paying for them with a check (a new source of money that it prints); when the Fed’s checks are deposited in banks, they create new reserves — a portion of which banks can lend or invest, thereby increasing the amount of money in circulation. On the other hand, if the Fed wishes to reduce the money supply, it sells government securities to banks, collecting reserves from them. Because they have lower reserves, banks must reduce their lending, and the money supply drops accordingly.

The Fed also can control the money supply by specifying what reserves deposit-taking institutions must set aside either as currency in their vaults or as deposits at their regional Reserve Banks. Raising reserve requirements forces banks to withhold a larger portion of their funds, thereby reducing the money supply, while lowering requirements works the opposite way to increase the money supply. Banks often lend each other money over night to meet their reserve requirements. The rate on such loans, known as the “federal funds rate,” is a key gauge of how “tight” or “loose” monetary policy is at a given moment.

The Fed’s third tool is the discount rate, or the interest rate that commercial banks pay to borrow funds from Reserve Banks. By raising or lowering the discount rate, the Fed can promote or discourage borrowing and thus alter the amount of revenue available to banks for making loans.

These tools allow the Federal Reserve to expand or contract the amount of money and credit in the U.S. economy. If the money supply rises, credit is said to be loose. In this situation, interest rates tend to drop, business spending and consumer spending tend to rise, and employment increases; if the economy already is operating near its full capacity, too much money can lead to inflation, or a decline in the value of the dollar. When the money supply contracts, on the other hand, credit is tight. In this situation, interest rates tend to rise, spending levels off or will decline, and inflation abates; if the economy is operating below its capacity, tight money can lead to rising unemployment.

Many factors complicate the ability of the Federal Reserve to use monetary policy to promote specific goals, however. For one thing, money takes many different forms, and it often is unclear which one to target.

In its most basic form, money consists of coins and paper currency. Coins come in various denominations based on the value of a dollar: the penny, which is worth one cent or one-hundredth of a dollar; the nickel, five cents; the dime, 10 cents; the quarter, 25 cents; the half dollar, 50 cents; and the dollar coin. Paper money comes in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100.

A more important component of the money supply consists of checking deposits, or bookkeeping entries held in banks and other financial institutions. Individuals can make payments by writing checks, which essentially instruct their banks to pay given sums to the checks’ recipients. Time deposits are similar to checking deposits except the owner agrees to leave the sum on deposit for a specified period; while depositors generally can withdraw the funds earlier than the maturity date, they generally must pay a penalty and forfeit some interest to do so.

Money also includes money market funds, which are shares in pools of short-term securities, as well as a variety of other assets that can be converted easily into currency on short notice.

The amount of money held in different forms can change from time to time, depending on preferences and other factors that may or may not have any importance to the overall economy. Further complicating the Fed’s task, changes in the money supply affect the economy only after a lag of uncertain duration.

 

Monetary Policy and the Presidential Election Cycle

The Federal Reserve sets the monetary policy for the country. Although the Federal Reserve is supposed to be independent of the president and the Congress, monetary policy appears to follow the presidential election cycle as well.

In a paper entitled “The Presidential Term: Is the Third Year a Charm,” prepared by the CFA Institute and published in the Journal of Portfolio Management in 2007, the authors found that monetary policy is more accommodative in the second half of a presidential term and more restrictive in the first term.

These findings suggest that policy makers are reluctant to take a restrictive stance for fear it might slow down the economy in the months leading up to a presidential election. Of the four years, the third year is the year with the most expansionary monetary policy. During that year, the author found that monetary policy was expansionary 65% of the time versus 48% for the other three years.

Stock markets do well in periods of expansionary monetary policy and do relatively poorly when monetary policy is restrictive; therefore, it is no coincidence that the stock market is generally strong in the third year of a presidential cycle, when the Federal Reserve is in an expansionary mood. (For more insight, read Formulating Monetary Policy.)

Although the relationship between the presidential election cycle and the stock market appears to be strong, this does not mean it is going to play out the same way every cycle. However, when combined with other information, it can provide additional insights that investors can use to improve their investment decisions.

Monetary Policy and Fiscal Stabilization

The Fed’s operation has evolved over time in response to major events. The Congress established the Federal Reserve System in 1913 to strengthen the supervision of the banking system and stop bank panics that had erupted periodically in the previous century. As a result of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Congress gave the Fed authority to vary reserve requirements and to regulate stock market margins (the amount of cash people must put down when buying stock on credit).

Still, the Federal Reserve often tended to defer to the elected officials in matters of overall economic policy. During World War II, for instance, the Fed subordinated its operations to helping the U.S. Treasury borrow money at low interest rates. Later, when the government sold large amounts of Treasury securities to finance the Korean War, the Fed bought heavily to keep the prices of these securities from falling (thereby pumping up the money supply).

The Fed reasserted its independence in 1951, reaching an accord with the Treasury that Federal Reserve policy should not be subordinated to Treasury financing. But the central bank still did not stray too far from the political orthodoxy. During the fiscally conservative administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), for instance, the Fed emphasized price stability and restriction of monetary growth, while under more liberal presidents in the 1960s, it stressed full employment and economic growth.

During much of the 1970s, the Fed allowed rapid credit expansion in keeping with the government’s desire to combat unemployment. But with inflation increasingly ravaging the economy, the central bank abruptly tightened monetary policy beginning in 1979. This policy successfully slowed the growth of the money supply, but it helped trigger sharp recessions in 1980 and 1981-1982. The inflation rate did come down, however, and by the middle of the decade the Fed was again able to pursue a cautiously expansionary policy. Interest rates, however, stayed relatively high as the federal government had to borrow heavily to finance its budget deficit

(Speaking of interest rates, 1980 was a very bad time where buying homes was concerned. One of our friends bought her first home that year. She paid a mortgage rate of just over 14%. That was a long ways upward from the no-down GI loan rate of 7% my wife and I paid 11 years earlier). Rates slowly came down, too, as the deficit narrowed and ultimately disappeared in the 1990s.

The growing importance of monetary policy and the diminishing role played by fiscal policy in economic stabilization efforts may reflect both political and economic realities. The experience of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s suggests that democratically elected governments may have more trouble using fiscal policy to fight inflation than unemployment. Fighting inflation requires government to take unpopular actions like reducing spending or raising taxes, while traditional fiscal policy solutions to fighting unemployment tend to be more popular since they require increasing spending or cutting taxes. Political realities, in short, may favor a bigger role for monetary policy during times of inflation.

One other reason suggests why fiscal policy may be more suited to fighting unemployment, while monetary policy may be more effective in fighting inflation. There is a limit to how much monetary policy can do to help the economy during a period of severe economic decline, such as the United   Statesencountered during the 1930s. The monetary policy remedy to economic decline is to increase the amount of money in circulation, thereby cutting interest rates. But once interest rates reach zero, the Fed can do no more. The United Stateshas not encountered this situation, which economists call the “liquidity trap,” in recent years, but Japandid during the late 1990s. With its economy stagnant and interest rates near zero, many economists argued that the Japanese government had to resort to more aggressive fiscal policy, if necessary running up a sizable government deficit to spur renewed spending and economic growth.

Measuring Effect of Monetary Policy

Today, Federal Reserve economists use a number of measures to determine whether monetary policy should be tighter or looser. One approach is to compare the actual and potential growth rates of the economy. Potential growth is presumed to equal the sum of the growth in the labor force plus any gains in productivity, or output per worker.

In the late 1990s, the labor force was projected to grow about 1 percent a year, and productivity was thought to be rising somewhere between 1 percent and 1.5 percent. Therefore, the potential growth rate was assumed to be somewhere between 2 percent and 2.5 percent. By this measure, actual growth in excess of the long-term potential growth was seen as raising a danger of inflation, thereby requiring tighter money.

The second gauge is called NAIRU, or the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment. Over time, economists have noted that inflation tends to accelerate when joblessness drops below a certain level. In the decade that ended in the early 1990s, economists generally believed NAIRU was around 6 percent. But later in the decade, it appeared to have dropped to about 5.5 percent.

Perhaps even more importantly, a range of new technologies — the microprocessor, the laser, fiber-optics, and satellite — appeared in the late 1990s to be making the American economy significantly more productive than economists had thought possible. “The newest innovations, which we label information technologies, have begun to alter the manner in which we do business and create value, often in ways not readily foreseeable even five years ago,” Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said in mid-1999.

Previously, lack of timely information about customers’ needs and the location of raw materials forced businesses to operate with larger inventories and more workers than they otherwise would need, according to Greenspan.

But as the quality of information improved, businesses could operate more efficiently. Information technologies also allowed for quicker delivery times, and they accelerated and streamlined the process of innovation. For instance, design times dropped sharply as computer modeling reduced the need for staff in architectural firms, Greenspan noted, and medical diagnoses became faster, more thorough, and more accurate.

Such technological innovations apparently accounted for an unexpected surge in productivity in the late 1990s. After rising at less than a 1 percent annual rate in the early part of the decade, productivity was growing at about a 3 percent rate toward the end of the 1990s — well ahead of what economists had expected. Higher productivity meant that businesses could grow faster without igniting inflation. Unexpectedly modest demands from workers for wage increases — a result, possibly, of the fact that workers felt less secure about keeping their jobs in the rapidly changing economy — also helped subdue inflationary pressures.

Some economists scoffed at the notion American suddenly had developed a “new economy,” one that was able to grow much faster without inflation. While there undeniably was increased global competition, they noted, many American industries remained untouched by it. And while computers clearly were changing the way Americans did business, they also were adding new layers of complexity to business operations.

But as economists increasingly came to agree with Greenspan that the economy was in the midst of a significant “structural shift,” the debate increasingly came to focus less on whether the economy was changing and more on how long the surprisingly strong performance could continue. The answer appeared to depend, in part, on the oldest of economic ingredients — labor. With the economy growing strongly, workers displaced by technology easily found jobs in newly emerging industries. As a result, employment was rising in the late 1990s faster than the overall population.

That trend could not continue indefinitely. By mid-1999, the number of “potential workers” aged 16 to 64 — those who were unemployed but willing to work if they could find jobs — totaled about 10 million, or about 5.7 percent of the population. That was the lowest percentage since the government began collecting such figures (in 1970). Eventually, economists warned, the United Stateswould face labor shortages, which, in turn, could be expected to drive up wages, trigger inflation, and prompt the Federal Reserve to engineer an economic slowdown.

Still, many things could happen to postpone that seemingly inevitable development. Immigration might increase, thereby enlarging the pool of available workers. That seemed unlikely, however, because the political climate in theUnited Statesduring the 1990s did not favor increased immigration.

More likely, a growing number of analysts believed that a growing number of Americans would work past the traditional retirement age of 65. That also could increase the supply of potential workers. Indeed, in 1999, the Committee on Economic Development (CED), a prestigious business research organization, called on employers to clear away barriers that previously discouraged older workers from staying in the labor force.

Current trends suggested that by 2030, there would be fewer than three workers for every person over the age of 65, compared to seven in 1950 — an unprecedented demographic transformation that the CED predicted would leave businesses scrambling to find workers.
“Businesses have heretofore demonstrated a preference for early retirement to make way for younger workers,” the group observed. “But this preference is a relic from an era of labor surpluses; it will not be sustainable when labor becomes scarce.” While enjoying remarkable successes, in short, the United States found itself moving into uncharted economic territory as it ended the 1990s.

While many saw a new economic era stretching indefinitely into the future, others were less certain. Weighing the uncertainties, many assumed a stance of cautious optimism. “Regrettably, history is strewn with visions of such `new eras’ that, in the end, have proven to be a mirage,” Greenspan noted in 1997. “In short, history counsels caution.”

In Part V ahead I will review the actual accomplishments of President Obama throughout the lion’s share of his first term in office. This will be followed by Part VI-A . In that segment, I will describe the accomplishments of the Republican Party the last four years and describe the background of their presidential candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney.

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ELECTION YEAR POLITICS

 AND THE ECONOMY

 [Part II]

 

Part II has three major divisions: How Economic Cycles Work, American Economy and Fiscal Policy, and The Staggering American National Debt. Originally I was only going to discuss the first two topics but the more I got into Fiscal Policy the more crucial it was for me to also discuss deficits and our national debt.

 

Economic Cycles and How They Work?

Traditional business cycles undergo four stages: expansion, prosperity, contraction, and recession. After a recessionary phase, the expansionary phase starts again. Each of the phases of the business cycle is characterized by changing employment, industrial productivity, and interest rates. Some economists believe that stock price trends precede business cycle stages. Also, the length of each cycle can vary quite a lot showing that economic or business cycles take on a life of their own. Although timing is problematic the cycles are nevertheless predictable. And that means they will occur again and again in the same order.

One might like to have an endless prosperity cycle but that will never happen. The overriding concept of business cycles is that they influence the long-term pattern of changes in National Income (highest during prosperity and lowest during the recessionary phase).

The term business cycle (or economic cycle) more specifically refers to economy-wide fluctuations in production or economic activity (creating goods and services) over several months or years. These fluctuations occur around a long-term growth trend, and typically involve shifts over time between periods of relatively rapid economic growth (an expansion or boom), and periods of relative stagnation or decline (a contraction or a recession).

Business cycles are usually measured by considering the growth rate of real gross domestic product. I will emphasize again for your understanding: Despite being termed cycles, these fluctuations in economic activity do not follow a mechanical or predictable periodic pattern. However, while varying in duration one thing is always certain:  they always repeat in the same order and have a life of their own.

This is why, in an absolute sense, placing blame on a single individual makes no sense at all. It’s like holding someone responsible because the earth rotates around the sun, or because the four seasons occur in a certain order. No one can alter the seasons or rotational pattern of the earth in space.

However, one can argue that although a sitting President cannot absolutely control the economy, he or she can Influence some of the variables within a cycle such as changing employment, industrial productivity, and interest rates. Theoretically, such tinkering with these types of variables should speed up or slow down economic activity.

Without going too far astray with explanations, most economists would say whatever influence or leverage any president has to affect change, or to influence the future direction of  economic or business cycles—lies in two major areas. These two areas are Fiscal Policy and Monetary Policy. How these areas of influence are used depends largely on political preferences and both the level of knowledge and assumptions made by those who occupy the Oval Office, among those who sit in Congress, or among those in leadership positions in the Federal Reserve.

The first area to be explored is Fiscal Policy. I am providing a very detailed, informative explanation on how the government influences the economy through fiscal policy. Some of what I’m going to say is general information (albeit mostly recent history). Let’s proceed now down an “economic memory lane.”

The American Economy and Fiscal Policy

The role of government in the American economy extends far beyond its activities as a regulator of specific industries. The government also manages the overall pace of economic activity, seeking to maintain high levels of employment and stable prices. As said above there are two main tools for achieving these objectives: fiscal policy, through which it determines the appropriate level of taxes and spending; and monetary policy, through which it manages the supply of money. Your real education on the economy begins here.

Fiscal Policy

Much of the history of economic policy in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s has involved a continuing effort by the government to find a mix of fiscal and monetary policies that will allow sustained growth and stable prices. That is no easy task, and there have been notable failures along the way.

But the government has gotten better at promoting sustainable growth. From 1854 through 1919, the American economy spent almost as much time contracting as it did growing: the average economic expansion (defined as an increase in output of goods and services) lasted 27 months, while the average recession (a period of declining output) lasted 22 months. From 1919 to 1945, the record improved, with the average expansion lasting 35 months and the average recession lasting 18 months. And from 1945 to 1991, things got even better, with the average expansion lasting 50 months and the average recession lasting just 11 months. Inflation, however, has proven more intractable. Prices were remarkably stable prior to World War II; the consumer price level in 1940, for instance, was no higher than the price level in 1778. But 40 years later, in 1980, the price level was 400 percent above the 1940 level.

My wife and I have owned three homes in 44 years of marriage. We bought our first home in 1969 for $16,500—a nice, large 3 bedroom, 2 bath home (with a family room) in a decent neighborhood. Despite the decline in home values the last 5 years, that same home today would nevertheless cost between $225,000 and $247,000. Inflation is wonderful when it works for you, but its terrible when it stabs you in the back through no fault of your own (for example, when young people and new home owners owe more on their home than its worth in a free market economy).

In part, the government’s relatively poor record on inflation reflects the fact that it put more stress on fighting recessions (and resulting increases in unemployment) during much of the early post World War II period. Beginning in 1979, however, the government began paying more attention to inflation, and its record on that score has improved markedly. By the late 1990s, the nation was experiencing a gratifying combination of strong growth, low unemployment, and slow inflation. But while policy-makers were generally optimistic about the future, they admitted to some uncertainties about what the new century would bring.

Fiscal Policy — Budget and Taxes

The growth of government since the 1930s has been accompanied by steady increases in government spending. In 1930, the federal government accounted for just 3.3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, or total output of goods and services excluding imports and exports. That figure rose to almost 44 percent of GDP in 1944 (you remember folks—the war industries were going strong), at the height of World War II. However, it dropped back to 11.6 percent in 1948. But government spending generally rose as a share of GDP in subsequent years, reaching almost 24 percent in 1983 before falling back somewhat. In 1999 it stood at about 21 percent.

The development of fiscal policy is an elaborate process. Each year, the president proposes a budget, or spending plan, to Congress. Lawmakers consider the president’s proposals in several steps. First, they decide on the overall level of spending and taxes. Next, they divide that overall figure into separate categories — for national defense, health and human services, and transportation, for instance.

Finally, Congress considers individual appropriations bills spelling out exactly how the money in each category will be spent. Each appropriations bill ultimately must be signed by the president in order to take effect. This budget process often takes an entire session of Congress; the president presents his proposals in early February, and Congress often does not finish its work on appropriations bills until September (and sometimes even later).

The federal government’s chief source of funds to cover its expenses is the income tax on individuals, which in 1999 brought in about 48 percent of total federal revenues.  Payroll taxes, which finance the Social Security and Medicare programs, have become increasingly important as those programs have grown. In 1998, payroll taxes accounted for one-third of all federal revenues; employers and workers each had to pay an amount equal to 7.65 percent of their wages up to $68,400 a year.

The federal government raises another 10 percent of its revenue from a tax on corporate profits, while miscellaneous other taxes account for the remainder of its income. (Local governments, in contrast, generally collect most of their tax revenues from property taxes. State governments traditionally have depended on sales and excise taxes, but state income taxes have grown more important since World War II.)

The federal income tax is levied on the worldwide income of U.S.citizens and resident aliens and on certain U.S.income of non-residents. The first U.S. income tax law was enacted in 1862 to support the Civil War. The 1862 tax law also established the Office of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue to collect taxes and enforce tax laws either by seizing the property and income of non-payers or through prosecution. The commissioner’s powers and authority remain much the same today.

The income tax was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1895 because it was not apportioned among the states in conformity with the Constitution. It was not until the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted in 1913 that Congress was authorized to levy an income tax without apportionment. Still, except during World War I, the income tax system remained a relatively minor source of federal revenue until the 1930s.

During World War II, the modern system for managing federal income taxes was introduced, income tax rates were raised to very high levels, and the levy became the principal sources of federal revenue. Beginning in 1943, the government required employers to collect income taxes from workers by withholding certain sums from their paychecks, a policy that streamlined collection and significantly increased the number of taxpayers.

 Most debates about the income tax today revolve around three issues:

  • The appropriate overall level of taxation
  • How graduated, or “progressive” the tax should be, and
  • The extent to which the tax should be used to promote social objectives.

The overall level of taxation is decided through budget negotiations. Although Americans allowed the government to run up deficits, spending more than it collected in taxes during the 1970s, 1980s, and the part of the 1990s, they generally believed budgets should be balanced. Most Democrats, however, are willing to tolerate a higher level of taxes to support a more active government, while Republicans generally favor lower taxes and smaller government.

From the outset, the income tax has been a progressive levy, meaning that rates are higher for people with more income. Most Democrats favor Robin Hood politics (steal from the rich and give to the poor i.e., the famous class warfare scenario) because they believe or argue that it is only fair to make people with more income pay more in taxes. This argument merely points out that assumptions about what is viewed as “fairness” has nothing whatsoever to do with fairness, and everything to do with discrimination and value judgments that rationalize the justification for such discrimination. It’s all about values, not logic, reason, or fairness.

This belief or value judgment occurs despite the fact everyone is entitled to just one vote, and everyone is theoretically equal in the eyes of the U.S. Constitution. However, despite paying lip service to notions like one man, one vote, or belief in the theoretical equality among citizens, Democratic administrations seem (as ideology and as a practical matter)  to favor a plan of income redistribution in order to contribute to social objectives like helping the poor. How pervasive is discrimination against higher income individuals?

In 2003 the following data was released in the Congressional Budget Office Report. It made very clear who really pays our Federal Income Taxes.

For 2003, the estimated share of total individual income taxes paid by:

Wealthiest 1%—-33.6%
Wealthiest 5%—-55.1%
Wealthiest 10%—67.9%
Wealthiest 20%—83.0%
Wealthiest 40%—97.8%
Wealthiest 60%—103.0%

The way to read this is that the wealthiest 10% of taxpayers pay 67.9% of the country’s individual income taxes (or that the top 5% in income pay more than half of all income taxes). And yes, that 103% is not a typo – the bottom 40% in income, as a group, pay negative personal income taxes (because of the EITC).

Many Republicans, however, believe a steeply progressive rate structure discourages people from working and investing, and therefore hurts the overall economy. Accordingly, many Republicans argue for a more uniform rate structure. Some even suggest a uniform, or “flat,” tax rate for everybody. Parenthetically, some economists— both Democrats and Republicans—have suggested that the economy would fare better if the government would eliminate the income tax altogether and replace it with a consumption tax (meaning a national sales tax on goods and services).

This would tax people on what they spend rather than what they earn. What’s nice about a consumption tax is that you, the individual taxpayer, are in the driver’s seat. What it means is that everyone is free to choose whether to buy or not to buy, thus exercising some degree of control over how much they ultimately spend on taxes. The irony of this plan is that ultimately the rich and the super rich will likely pay more in consumption taxes anyway since they are in a position to afford buying that expensive Cadillac or Mercedes Benz (thus paying a greater consumption tax). And, the poor would continue to pay less taxes because their incomes are small.

Proponents argue that a consumption tax would encourage saving and investment. But as of the end of the 1990s, the idea had not gained enough support to be given much chance of being enacted (think of all those industries and occupations that feed off your responsibility to pay taxes—everything from Turbotax software products, H&R Block, to the highest paid career tax accountants and lawyers doing business in the tax field. A National Sales Tax, while an intelligent and efficient system for generating tax revenues, would nevertheless negatively impact a lot of careers and some tax-related products.

Over the years, lawmakers have created various exemptions and deductions from the income tax to encourage specific kinds of economic activity. Most notably, taxpayers are allowed to subtract from their taxable income any interest they must pay on loans used to buy homes. Similarly, the government allows lower- and middle-income taxpayers to shelter from taxation certain amounts of money that they save in special Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) to meet their retirement expenses and to pay for their children’s college education.

The Tax Reform Act of 1986, perhaps the most substantial reform of the U.S. tax system since the beginning of the income tax, reduced income tax rates while cutting back many popular income tax deductions (the home mortgage deduction and IRA deductions were preserved, however). The Tax Reform Act replaced the previous law’s 15 tax brackets, which had a top tax rate of 50 percent, with a system that had only two tax brackets — 15 percent and 28 percent. Other provisions reduced, or eliminated, income taxes for millions of low-income Americans.

Fiscal Policy and Economic Stabilization

In the 1930s during the Depression the government began to use fiscal policy, not just to support itself or pursue social policies, but to promote overall economic growth and stability as well. Policy-makers were influenced by John Maynard Keynes, an English economist who argued in The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936) that the rampant joblessness of his time resulted from inadequate demand for goods and services.

According to Keynes, people did not have enough income to buy everything the economy could produce, so prices fell and companies lost money or went bankrupt. Without government intervention, Keynes said, this could become a vicious cycle. As more companies went bankrupt, he argued, more people would lose their jobs, making income fall further and leading yet more companies to fail in a frightening downward spiral.

Keynes argued that government could halt the decline by increasing spending (The preferred Democrat Approach) on its own or by cutting taxes (The Preferred Republican Approach). Either way, incomes would rise, people would spend more, and the economy could start growing again. If the government had to run up a deficit to achieve this purpose, so be it, Keynes said. In his view, the alternative—deepening economic decline—would be worse.

These statements in 1936 by Keynes are very telling when one thinks about the current debate in Congress between Democrats and Republicans. The Republican’s mantra is to lower taxes; in contrast in the last four years the Obama administration enacted an economic stimulus package, tried to improve the country’s infrastructure, signed into law a long needed better health care system, and bailed out successfully General Motors and Chrysler and many financial institutions such as banks and corporations on the brink of disaster. Consequently, the economy not only came back from the brink of disaster, but also began heating up the economy fostering greater job growth and slowly lowering unemployment while holding inflation relatively constant. These economic theories of Keynes continued to have influence long after 1936.

By the 1960s, policy-makers seemed wedded to Keynesian theories. But in retrospect, most Americans agree, the government then made a series of mistakes in the economic policy arena that eventually led to a reexamination of fiscal policy. After enacting a tax cut in 1964 to stimulate economic growth and reduce unemployment, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) and Congress launched a series of expensive domestic spending programs designed to alleviate poverty (You remember. They called it the “War on Poverty”). Johnson also increased military spending to pay for American involvement in the Vietnam War. These large government programs, combined with strong consumer spending, pushed the demand for goods and services beyond what the economy could produce. Wages and prices started rising. Soon, rising wages and prices fed each other in an ever-rising cycle. Such an overall increase in prices ( repeated here, but also pointed out as everyone’s enemy in Part I ) is known as inflation.

Keynes had argued that during such periods of excess demand, the government should reduce spending or raise taxes to avert inflation. But anti-inflation fiscal policies are difficult to sell politically, and the government resisted shifting to them. Then, in the early 1970s, the nation was hit by a sharp rise in international oil and food prices. This posed an acute dilemma for policy-makers. The conventional anti-inflation strategy would be to restrain demand by cutting federal spending or raising taxes.

But this would have drained income from an economy already suffering from higher oil prices. The result would have been a sharp rise in unemployment. If policy-makers chose to counter the loss of income caused by rising oil prices, however, they would have had to increase spending or cut taxes. Since neither policy could increase the supply of oil or food, however, boosting demand without changing supply would merely mean higher prices.

President Jimmy Carter (1973-1977) sought to resolve the dilemma with a two-pronged strategy. He geared fiscal policy toward fighting unemployment, allowing the federal deficit to swell and establishing countercyclical jobs programs for the unemployed. To fight inflation, he established a program of voluntary wage and price controls. Neither element of this strategy worked well. By the end of the 1970s, the nation suffered both high unemployment and high inflation.

While many Americans saw this “stagflation” as evidence that Keynesian economics did not work, another factor further reduced the government’s ability to use fiscal policy to manage the economy. Deficits now seemed to be a permanent part of the fiscal scene. Deficits had emerged as a concern during the stagnant 1970s. Then, in the 1980s, they grew further as President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) pursued a program of tax cuts and increased military spending. By 1986, the deficit had swelled to $221,000 millions, or more than 22 percent of total federal spending. Now, even if the government wanted to pursue spending or tax policies to bolster demand, the deficit made such a strategy unthinkable.

Beginning in the late 1980s, reducing the deficit became the predominant goal of fiscal policy. With foreign trade opportunities expanding rapidly and technology spinning off new products, there seemed to be little need for government policies to stimulate growth. Instead, officials argued, a lower deficit would reduce government borrowing and help bring down interest rates, making it easier for businesses to acquire capital to finance expansion. The government budget finally returned to surplus in 1998. This led to calls for new tax cuts, but some of the enthusiasm for lower taxes was tempered by the realization that the government would face major budget challenges early in the new century as the enormous post-war baby-boom generation reached retirement and started collecting retirement checks from the Social Security system and medical benefits from the Medicare program.

By the late 1990s, policy-makers were far less likely than their predecessors to use fiscal policy to achieve broad economic goals. Instead, they focused on narrower policy changes designed to strengthen the economy at the margins. President Reagan and his successor, George Bush (1989-1993), sought to reduce taxes on capital gains — that is, increases in wealth resulting from the appreciation in the value of assets such as property or stocks.

They said such a change would increase incentives to save and invest. Democrats resisted, arguing that such a change would overwhelmingly benefit the rich. But as the budget deficit shrank, President Clinton (1993-2001) acquiesced, and the maximum capital gains rate was trimmed to 20 percent from 28 percent in 1996. Clinton, meanwhile, also sought to affect the economy by promoting various education and job-training programs designed to develop a highly skilled — and hence, more productive and competitive — labor force.

The way I like to look at fiscal policy is that, in general, there is a very consequential “balancing act” going on all the time. However, there is now a new element lurking in the shadows known as a staggering national deficit. That is, inflation, high unemployment, and huge deficits (all terrible outcomes) balance one side of the scale, while the other side is balanced by choosing, appropriately at the right time, either increases or decreases in taxation, or either increases or decreases in spending (And I bet you thought Albert Einstein’s theories were difficult to grasp).

Now, despite the predictability of the order of economic or business cycles, it does appear currently that negatives like inflation, high unemployment or large deficits are collectively impacting society at the same time. No policymaker in Congress or the White House has a complete grasp of all the relevant elements in this balancing act, much less having notions of when things will occur.

The best that any administration hopes to accomplish is to choose some set of actions (increase spending, cut taxes etc.) and hope to hell the timing will be right. However, the fly in the ointment right now is a 15.6 trillion dollar deficit. John Maynard Keynes said to ignore the deficit. Unfortunately, we can’t do that. Current fiscal policy cannot effectively manage our staggering national deficit and fully run the government without some sort of Draconian approach to doing both.

The Staggering American National Debt

[What Are Its Implications?]

In the United States, national debt is money borrowed by the federal government of the United States. Debt burden is usually measured as a ratio of public debt to gross domestic product. Debt as a share of the US economy reached a maximum during Harry Truman’s ‘s first presidential term. Public debt as a percentage of GDP fell rapidly in the post-WWII period, and reached a low in 1973 under President Richard Nixon. The debt burden has consistently increased since then, except during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The president who increased the national debt the most was Ronald Reagon due primarily to reducing taxes and increasing military spending. In recent years sharp increases in deficits and the resulting increases in debt have led to heightened concern about the long-term sustainability of the federal government’s fiscal policies.

 

The Blame Game

If you like playing the blame game, where the national debt is concerned, you might start by looking at yourself in the mirror.

All of us are responsible for where we are now and how we got here. This is particularly true where our national debt is concerned. As the great Thomas Jefferson once said in 1790, “A Nation of Sheep produces a Government of Wolves.” And, it’s not just us and politicians who helped to put all of us in terrible debt. Businesses in America played a major role and have since the 1960s. Those business enterprises that promoted the idea of credit cards (buy now, pay later) gave permission to the American people not to save for something they wanted, but to buy now and pay later. This credit card mentality has permeated the American psyche since the late 1960s, and has influenced how American society has changed fundamentally in its attitudes toward debt in general. I received my first credit card in the mail 3 months before my graduation from college in 1968. I was only a student and I wasn’t even employed yet. Nevertheless, here comes this credit card in the mail encouraging me to buy now and pay later.

What I’m describing here in American culture is the credit card mentality as preparation for things to come when our spending (outlay some people like to call it) needs started to outstrip our receipts or revenues for running the government. Think about it—It was easy for the American people to take a blind eye to what has happened in Washington the last 40+ years. Why? Because we’ve been spending beyond our own personal ability to pay for decades.

 

What is the United States Public Debt?

In the United States, national debt is money borrowed by the federal government of the United States in order to fund all government programs and operations. More specifically, the United States Public Debt is the money borrowed by the federal government of the United States at any one time through the issue of securities by the Treasury and other federal government agencies.

This public debt consists of two components:

  • Debt held by the public comprises securities held by investors outside the federal government, including that held by investors, the Federal Reserve System and foreign, state and local governments.
  • Intragovernment debt comprises Treasury securities held in accounts administered by the federal government, such as the Social Security Trust Fund.

Public debt either increases or decreases as a result of the annual unified budget deficit or surplus. The federal government budget deficit or surplus is the cash difference between government receipts and spending, ignoring intra-governmental transfers. However, there is certain spending (supplemental appropriations) that add to the debt but are excluded from the deficit.

Debt burden is usually measured as a ratio of public debt to gross domestic product.

Debt as a share of the US economy reached a maximum during Harry Truman’s first presidential term. Public debt as a percentage of GDP fell rapidly in the post-WWII period, and reached a low in 1973 under President Richard Nixon. The debt burden has consistently increased since then, except during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In recent years sharp increases in deficits and the resulting increases in debt have led to heightened concern about the long-term sustainability of the federal government’s fiscal policies.

The public debt has increased by over $500 billion each year since fiscal year (FY) 2003, with increases of $1 trillion in FY2008, $1.9 trillion in FY2009, and $1.7 trillion in FY2010. As of March 29, 2012 the gross debt was $15.589 trillion, of which $10.831 trillion was held by the public and $4.757 trillion was intragovernmental holdings. The annual gross domestic product (GDP) to the end of 2011 was $15.087 trillion (Jan 27, 2012 estimate), with total public debt outstanding at a ratio of 103.3% of GDP. If counted using the total public debt outstanding over the annual GDP in chained 2005 dollars, the ratio reached 115% since Feb. 2012.

In the United States, there continues to be disagreement between Democrats and Republicans regarding the United States debt. On August 2, 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act of 2011, averting a possible financial default. Two months earlier in June 2011, the Congressional Budget Office called for “…large and rapid policy changes to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal course.”

What Caused Such a Deficit Problem?

In 2001, the national debt stood at just $5.8 trillion. Why did the government have to borrow so much more in such a short time? There are six major factors that caused a tripling of the national debt in just a little over 10 years:

1. The Bush tax cuts

The biggest culprit? The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts under then-president George W. Bush, reported the Associated Press. These tax cuts added an estimated $1.6 trillion to the national debt. It’s pretty clear, says Brian Beutler at Talking Points, that Bush-era policies, “particularly debt-financed tax cuts,” make up “the lion’s share of the problem.” And they’re ongoing, so the tab for them builds every year.

2. Health care entitlements

Democrats “constantly harp” about the Bush tax cuts, says Peter Morici at Seeking Alpha, but those rates were in place in 2007, and the deficit that year was one-tenth this year’s budget shortfall of $1.6 trillion. So what has changed since then? Added “federal regulation, bureaucracy, and new Medicaid and other entitlements have pushed up federal spending by $1.1 trillion — $900 billion more than required by inflation.” And down the road, says Yuval Levin at National Review, our “health-entitlement explosion” will account for “basically 100 percent” of our debt problem.

3. Medicare prescription drug benefit

Another piece of the pie: George W. Bush’s addition of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit. That has added $300 billion to the debt, according to the AP. Expanding entitlements like Medicare, or last year’s health-care reform package, is a particularly tempting way for Congress to run up debt, says Jagadeesh Gokhale at the Daily Coller. Since lawmakers don’t typically map out a revenue strategy to fund those benefits, they are “shielded from the political costs of actually paying for the new programs.”

4. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

The tab for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan comes to $1.3 trillion, another major chunk of new, unexpected spending over the last decade. “These wars cost us plenty,” says Nake M. Kamrany at The Huffington Post, and they “have to be financed with borrowing, which adds up to national debt.”

5. Obama’s economic stimulus

The 2009 stimulus package enacted by President Obama cost $800 billion. And the 2010 tax-cut compromise between Obama and Republicans, which extended jobless benefits and reduced payroll taxes, added another $400 billion to the debt. Add another $200 billion for the 2008 bailout of the financial industry, and the government’s efforts to soften the blow of the Great Recession amount to one of the largest chunks of the debt build-up. The “federal budget was one good year away from balancing” after 2007, says Tom Blumer at News Busters. But in the years since, Obama and Democrats in Congress put that goal out of reach.

6. The Great Recession

Some of the spending gap came from factors outside the control of Congress and the White House. As the government spent heavily to boost the economy, says the AP, it took in hundreds of billions less in tax revenue than expected, because the Great Recession eroded Americans’ income and spending.

 

Where Are We Now?

Here it is, based on the National Debt Clock, as of April 11, 2012.

 

U.S. NATIONAL DEBT CLOCK

The Outstanding Public Debt as of 11 Apr 2012at01:26:21 AM GMTis:

 $ 15,626,018,571,743.67 (15 Trillion, 626 Billion, plus change)

The estimated population of the United Statesis 312,562,722
so each citizen’s share of this debt is $49,993.21.

The National Debt has continued to increase an average of
$4.00 billion per day since September 28, 2007.

 

As far as our nation’s staggering national debt is concerned, it will take a separate blog to ferret out what to really do about it. At a tentative preliminary level (no-brainer idea) I think it advisable if the next administration raised taxes on everyone, cut spending drastically, and stay the hell out of wars. This, of course, would run counter to achieving greater prosperity and reducing unemployment. This comes back to the tradeoffs I mentioned in Part I. America is headed toward economic disaster nationally and globally if we fail to bring our national debt down. We either face America in bankruptcy and total collapse down the road, or we control and contain our fiscal policies geared toward greater prosperity and low unemployment. You decide!!! What happens when normal people cannot pay their bills, mortgage payments, and do not have any savings? They lose everything.

In Part III ahead I will explain how President Obama views Fiscal Policy.

 

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   Yes Folks! We’re heading for the midterm elections once again. I remember 1994’s midterm election when the Republicans swept into office with their Contract with America. That ended the sole control the Democrats had during Bill Clinton’s first term in office. Is it better when one political party has control of the Congress, or is it better when there is a stalemate or Gridlock? Gridlock, as you should recall, is where nothing gets done, everything gets tied up, legislation is always pending or in somebody’s desk top, and there is continuous bi-partisan bickering and an ongoing stalemate between Democrats and Republicans to the point where the American voter is wringing his hands in utter frustration.

     Traditionally, Wall Street does very well under gridlock in Washington—while Main Street gets screwed by gridlock. And, by the way, don’t target all your frustration on the politicians in Washington. They have value conflicts that pretty much reflect value conflicts in the general population. Perhaps democracy works best when one political party has an ironclad hold on the nation. This is because with an ironclad control by one party in Congress at least desired goals and objectives usually get done for the American people.

     The question the American people must constantly ask is—are the things being achieved in Congress what you want as an individual voter?  Because different voting blocks tend to have different values, and thus a different political agenda, the dilemma between having a Congress in Gridlock versus having only one party in absolute control isn’t going to be resolved any time soon.

 Does the Public Want to Relive 1994?

      The country appears to be headed for another 1994 type of election. But you have to ask yourself another question: What was the result of ending the gridlock in 1994? Was it good for the nation? First, let’s look at the promises made in Contract with America:

 THE REPUBLICAN CONTRACT WITH AMERICA

(Circa 1994, by Newt Gingrich & Co)

     On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms, aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government:

  • FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;
  • SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
  • THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
  • FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs;
  • FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
  • SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public;
  • SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
  • EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.

What Was The Impact of 1994 Contract with America?

 Not much really except a lot of Republicans got elected and there was a return to business as usual.  

However, it seems to me there were a few good ideas for legislation put forward by the Republican Party in 1994. So, what really happened as a result of ending Gridlock in 1994? Some observers cite the Contract with America as having helped secure a decisive victory for the Republicans in the 1994 elections; others dispute this role, noting its late introduction into the campaign.

Whatever the role of the Contract, Republicans were elected to a majority of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1953, and several parts of the Contract were enacted. Some elements did not pass in Congress, while others were vetoed by, or substantially altered in negotiations with, President Bill Clinton, who would later sarcastically refer to it as the “Contract on America.”

How Will You Decide in 2010?

     You will have to decide as a voter whether the last two years (2008-2010) was more successful under the OBama Administration in meeting the needs of the nation than the Republicans might be if they take back the Congress in 2010. If the Republicans win it will thus set a new agenda for the nation (Promise to America) for 2010-2012.

     The irony of this upcoming election is that the Republicans, while wanting to end gridlock in a similar fashion as 1994, has done everything in their power to  create Gridlock between 2008-2010. The Republican posture during the last two years has been to create or foster stalemates, block proposals, and maintain a constantly uncooperative, if not destructive, attitude toward getting things done. The Republicans basically created their own form of gridlock thus doing nothing to help a traumatized nation dealing with a severe recession and high unemployment. Rather than compromise or work closely with democrats—the Republicans preferred to be obstructionist.  Does the public in the upcoming midterm election of 2010 want to reward that kind of behavior?

     Much of your decision-making will rest, of course, upon whether you believe (ideologically or otherwise) the nation is going in the right direction or not, and whether in troubled economic times, you also believe one party rather than the other is better at achieving what you hold to be important for the nation as a whole. It will be a balance between how you value the accomplishments of the democratic party versus how you value the accomplishments of the Republican Party during the last two years. One doesn’t have to vote based on promises made; in this situation, one can actually evaluate each party’s accomplishments during the last two years.

     It is said that actions always speak louder than words. It’s fair to say that past actions of the Republicans, especially under the leadership of George Bush, spoke volumes about their failure to respect the wishes of the American voters, which is why they lost so badly to the democrats in 2008. The vast majority of Americans in 2008 felt the agenda of Barack OBama was the right course for the nation.

     Therefore, one needs to put the accomplishments of both parties during the last two years under the microscope again to see if it meets your criteria for the “Right Course for the Nation.” Is it an election about the Goals and Objectives of two differing political parties, or is it about the Methods used to achieve their respective goals and objectives. The public is usually quite good at articulating their personal goals and objectives for the nation. They are, however, usually unknowledgeable about how best to achieve those goals. That’s why the public elects others to Congress who are presumably more knowledgeable in matters of methods. One area the public is sorely unknowledgeable is in the area of Economics and Economic Theory.

      In addition, the voter brings to this entire process a lot of excess baggage. As I see it, the American people are extremely fickle, very impatient, have a short memory, and public polls indicate national preferences are once again for Republican candidates and a conservative agenda as reflected by the Tea Party movement. So, what in the world does an intelligent prudent voter do when the country is constantly fickle every 2-4 years bordering on a “Psychos-R-Us” mentality?  

     The year 2008 promised much change in Washington (just like 1994) following the public’s disgust with Republican Wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and an escalating national debt that knew no ceiling, and a financial meltdown that came inches close to putting the country into another 1930s type depression.

     So, now that the American people have had some experience with the OBama administration, the new democratic administration had a chance to control the congress thus ending once again (in theory at least) gridlock in Washington (sort of —but not really with Republican obstruction).

     It is the position of The Reasoned Society that the only intelligent way to approach the upcoming midterm election is to contrast the accomplishments of the OBama administration with the accomplishments of the Republican Party in Congress the last two years. It is not the position of The Reasoned Society that a democratic society works best when absolutely nothing gets done.

      Let’s look now at some of the accomplishments of the OBama administration first, followed by the accomplishments of the Republican Party. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide which political party or agenda, as reflected by their accomplishments, are worthy of your vote in the upcoming election. Here they are:

 OBama Administration’s Accomplishments

OBama had numerous accomplishments in his very first year in office.

Passing Stimulus, Generating Jobs

     On February 17, 2009, OBama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill into law. In December 2009, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report estimating that “in the third quarter of calendar year 2009, an additional 600,000 to 1.6 million people were employed in the United States” due to that legislation. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, CBO has increased its estimate to 800,000 to 2.4 million additional employed through the fourth quarter of that year. Moreover, a November 20, 2009, New York Times article reported that the “consensus” among “dispassionate analysts” is that “the stimulus package, messy as it is, is working,” citing nonpartisan analyses of gross domestic product and total employment figures by several companies specializing in economic forecasting. Further, a January 25 USA Today article stated that, according to its “quarterly survey of 50 economists,” “[u]nemployment would have hit 10.8% — higher than December’s 10% rate — without OBama’s $787 billion stimulus program,” adding, “The difference would translate into another 1.2 million lost jobs.”

Eliminating Wasteful Spending

     OBama was able to achieve some significant cuts to wasteful spending — most notably, the elimination of the F-22 fighter jet program after he successfully lobbied the Senate to vote to strip out financing for more jets from a defense funding authorization bill. The Washington Times reported on January 14 that OBama won “60 percent of his proposed cuts” and also managed “to get Congress to ax several programs that had bedeviled President George W. Bush for years.”

Sotomayor Nomination

     On May 26, 2009, OBama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court to replace the retiring Justice David Souter. She was confirmed by the Senate on August 6, 2009, and sworn in August 8, making her the first Hispanic justice, and only the third woman, on the court.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

     The first bill President OBama signed into law, on January 29, 2009, was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which expands the rights of workers to sue employers over wage discrimination claims.

SCHIP Expansion

     On February 5, 2009, OBama signed a bill expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover 4 million more lower-income children.

Public Lands Bill

     On March 30, OBama signed an omnibus public lands bill, which The New York Times reported “allows for 2 million more acres to be declared wilderness… [with] more than 1,000 miles designated as scenic rivers, and adds land for national trails.”

Credit Card Reform

     On May 21, 2009, OBama signed into law a bill providing what USA Today called the “most sweeping changes to the credit card industry in 40 years,” adding restrictions on interest rate increases and fees and restricting the marketing of credit cards to college students.

Transparency

     The Washington Post reported that moves by the OBama administration to improve government transparency “included a ban on lobbyist gifts; restrictions on the hiring of lobbyists; publication of White House visitor logs and other records; and a move to bar lobbyists from serving on advisory boards.” A report by Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, and U.S. PIRG stated that: “The cumulative effect of the Administration’s actions has been to adopt the strongest and most comprehensive lobbying, ethics and transparency rules and policies ever established by an Administration to govern its own activities.”

Tobacco Regulation

     On June 22, 2009, OBama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which, for the first time, gave the U.S. Food & Drug Administration the authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of tobacco.

National Service

     On April 21, 2009, OBama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which expands the scope of AmeriCorps and provides opportunities for young people and senior citizens to join in service programs.

Stem Cell Research

     On May 9, 2009, Obama signed an executive order easing restrictions on the use of federal money for embryonic stem cell research.

— T.K.

Recent Accomplishments

The following was written by Eugene Robinson recently for the Washington Post.

      In less than two years in office, the Obama Administration has made some incredible progress, from passing historic health reform to reining in Wall Street and fighting to create new jobs. Even so, sometimes it can feel like all of the day-to-day news is focused on the negative, without much emphasis on the real changes the President has made with the help of supporters around the country. For a look at some of the great accomplishments in just the past few weeks—including troops leaving Iraq, bringing the auto industry back from the brink of collapse, and containing the oil spill in the Gulf.

     This is a radical break from journalistic convention, I realize, but today I’d like to give credit where it’s due — specifically, to President Obama. Quiet as it’s kept, he’s on a genuine winning streak. It’s hard to remember that the inauguration was just 19 months ago. Expectations of the new president were absurdly high. If Obama had done back flips across the Potomac River, when he reached the other side he’d have faced probing questions about why it was taking him so long to cure cancer, solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and usher in an age of universal peace and prosperity. But look at what he’s accomplished in just the past few weeks. Let me highlight four recent headlines.

     “Last U.S. combat troops leave Iraq”: Obama campaigned as an early and vocal opponent of the Iraq war, calling it a distraction from the more important conflict in Afghanistan. When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush’s combat surge. Obama said he would bring our combat forces home and he did — ahead of schedule…. “General Motors to launch stock offering”: One of the many crises Obama faced when he took office was the imminent collapse of an iconic industrial giant….Obama ended up pouring $50 billion into the company, acquiring a 61 percent ownership stake.

     Critics complained about the advent of “Government Motors” and raised the specter of bureaucrats in Washington holding public hearings to redesign the Corvette. But now, after making more than $2 billion in profits so far this year, the restructured company is confident enough to sell stock on Wall Street — and begin repaying the government’s investment. The company was saved, workers kept their jobs, and taxpayers are going to get their money back. That’s nice work.”Gulf oil spill contained”: When BP’s Deepwater Horizon well went rogue, the Obama administration was criticized for being slow off the mark. Some of the criticism was justified — the initial response did seem unfocused. But the administration managed to turn things around and quiet any talk of “Obama’s Katrina.”

     Obama persuaded BP to put up $20 billion as a guarantee that the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the spill would be compensated….

     And finally, “President wades into mosque controversy”: Yes, I’m serious. Supporting the mosque in Lower Manhattan didn’t score any political points. But Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.

     He still hasn’t walked on water, though. What’s wrong with the man?

 Republican Party Accomplishments, 2008-2010

     Below are the accomplishments of the Republican Party in Congress during the last two years, 2008-2010.

 

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Summary

You should know that the economy and jobs are the nation’s principal issues this midterm election.

     You should also understand that economic cycles based on economic principals have a life of its own, and no administration (Democrat or Republican) can ever fully control it. Twenty-four months from now the economy will be booming again, and unemployment will be below 6 percent. The unemployment rate during the depression of the 1930s was 25% of the nation’s workforce. By comparison, we are already in good times, and soon we will return to great times. This is the real world folks and it is best if you understand that if you’re ever going to be a wise, sagacious and prudent voter.

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     This is the final Blog on my Five Part Series dealing with the issue of immigration. The purpose of all of these articles is more than a simple recitation of the facts. Central to all of this is to provide a well-rounded comprehensive look at the issue. The goal has been to foster better public understanding of this complex, and at times, bewildering major public dilemma. What I have done is to look at immigration under the microscope. And initially, I discovered both push and pull factors as to why there is so much illegal immigration.

      As I twisted the eyepiece for visual clarity, I discovered that the issue of immigration currently creating a political stalemate between liberals and conservatives—has three major components: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The “Good” is a thriving Mexican economy the people of Mexico can be proud of (11th largest economy in the world; Annual GDP {1.085 Trillion}with a growth rate of 4.1% in 2010; National debt of only 272 billion; and an unemployment rate of only 6.2% ).

      The “Bad” is a high rate of poverty—13% of Mexico’s population is in poverty, particularly in rural areas; an underemployment rate of 21%; and droves of illegal immigrants who cross into the United States each year. Then there is the “Ugly” because of extensive human rights abuses, torture, murder, kidnappings, child abductions, violence and uncontrolled drug crime involving the many cartels in Mexico. In addition, Mexico suffers from widespread political corruption from the top of government all the way down to local levels involving political officials and even the Mexican police.

      I don’t mean to be unkind in my comments—but Mexico the last two decades appears to be a “Hellish Cauldron” of human rights abuses. If HELL itself has a training ground for “scum of the earth”— evidently it can be found in Mexico. The people of Mexico are a good and decent people and deserve much better than this. Latin American countries in general have had a terrible record of human rights abuses over the decades. It now seems Mexico wants to join them.

     What you are about to read is the true story of a country on the brink of a major social disaster of immense proportions. As I said in Part I of this series, it is hoped that the reader will come away with a more well-rounded perspective on the immigration issue, but also a more in-depth understanding of the violence and human rights abuses that are currently plaguing a troubled Mexico. I cannot measure the impact such later events as violence and human rights abuses are having on motivating people to cross the border into the United States from Mexico—but rest assured, such factors are motivating some individuals not to have second thoughts about leaving their native country.  Perhaps people lose pride in their native country when they’re sitting on a powder keg and someone is aiming a gun at their head.

Through a comprehensive look at this issue from all sides, perhaps now we can finally make sense of this.

 Connections

      Back in January 2010 I started looking around for another charity for which to contribute money. I was struck immediately with just how many good causes there are. I began however to limit my search to those that relate to my own life, namely cancer and diabetes. I had contributed to the American Diabetes Association for almost two decades. But, I wanted to find a charity or organization I was really passionate about, not just intellectually interested in.

     When I looked back at all the Blog articles I had written since May 2008 I realized that the one issue that really got my blood running hot was the issue of torture. I was angry at the Bush administration and the complicity of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for enacting procedures to torture prisoners of war. Their actions disgraced our country.

      I then remembered that Amnesty International is one of the most respected organizations dealing with the issue of torture and human rights abuses worldwide. Recently, through publications and reports by Amnesty International, the horrendous issues of human rights abuses, torture, murder, kidnapping, and intimidation and threats, in general has surfaced center stage in neighboring Mexico. Although most Americans are currently occupied with immigration issues, and only secondarily aware of the drug wars going on in Mexico, the issue of human rights abuses doesn’t seem to show up on many individual’s radar screen. This is unfortunate and needs to be rectified right here and now.

      The purpose of this Blog is to educate readers and help them understand the terrible tragedy of crime and human rights abuses occurring in Mexico. Part of that understanding is to first look at the backdrop of both Mexico’s culture and its economy. In this way one is getting the “wide angle view” of the human rights abuses being committed fostered by lawlessness, drug cartels, and ineffectual law enforcement, all of which is occurring nonetheless in a very prosperous economy and a fascinatingly diverse culture. 

 Some Cultural and Economic Facts on Mexico 

 Overview of population

     According to the latest official estimate, which reported a population of 111 million, Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world. Mexican annual population growth has drastically decreased from a peak of 3.5% in 1965 to 0.99% in 2005. Life expectancy in 2006 was estimated to be at 75.4 years (72.6 male and 78.3 female). The states with the highest life expectancy are Baja California (75.9 years) and Nuevo León (75.6 years). The Federal District has a life expectancy of the same level as Baja California.

     The lowest levels are found in Chiapas (72.9), Oaxaca (73.2) and Guerrero (73.2 years). The mortality rate in 1970 was 9.7 per 1000 people; by 2001, the rate had dropped to 4.9 men per 1000 men and 3.8 women per 1000 women. The most common reasons for death in 2001 were heart problems (14.6% for men 17.6% for women) and cancer (11% for men and 15.8% for women).

     Mexican population is increasingly urban, with close to 75% living in cities. The five largest urban areas in Mexico are Greater Mexico City, Greater Guadalajara, Greater Monterey, Greater Puebla and Greater Toluca. These areas represent 30% of the country’s population.

     Migration patterns within the country show positive migration to north-western and south-eastern states, and a negative rate of migration to the Federal District. While the annual population growth is still positive, the national net migration rate is negative (-4.7/1000), attributable to the emigration phenomenon of people from rural communities to the United States.

     Mexico is ethnically diverse, and the constitution defines the country to be a multicultural nation. Mexican nationality is relatively young, stemming back only to 1821 when Mexico achieved independence from the Spanish Empire, and it consists of many, separate regional and ethnic groups such as the various indigenous peoples and European immigrants. The majority of Mexicans are Mestizos which makes up the core of the Mexican cultural identity.

     In 2004, the Mexican government founded the National Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN) which launched the Mexican Genome Diversity Project. In May 2009, the Institute issued a report on a major genomic study of the Mexican population. Among the findings, it was reported that of the 80% of the population that is mestizo, the proportions of European and indigenous ancestry are approximately even, with the indigenous component slightly predominating overall. The proportions of admixture were found to vary geographically from north to south, as previous pre-genomic studies had surmised, with the European contribution predominating in the north and the indigenous component greater in central and southern regions. One of the significant conclusions of the study as reported was that even while it is composed of diverse ancestral genetic groups, the Mexican population is genetically distinctive among the world’s populations. They include:

Mestizos

      Those of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry form the largest group, comprising up to 60-80% of the total population.

            Amerindians

     Descendants of the Native American peoples who inhabited Mesoamerica comprise around 15%-30% of the population. The CDI identifies 62 indigenous groups in Mexico, each with a unique language.

            Whites

     Around 9-16% of the population is of white European descent. Whites are mostly descendants of the first Spanish settlers; although there are Mexicans of French, Italian, Portuguese, Basque, German, Irish, Polish, Romanian, Russian, and British descents from contemporary migration.

            Others

      Approximately 1% of Mexico’s population is composed of other types of ethnic groups. These include Asian-Mexicans and Afro-Mexicans. They are descendants of slaves brought to Mexico. They live in the coastal areas of the states of Veracruz, Tabasco and Guerrero and are mostly of mixed ancestry.

 The Economy of Mexico 

      Although the Mexican Peso has historically been a relatively unstable currency, it has in recent years become a secure stable currency and has maintained a low inflation rate becoming increasingly prominent on the international level.

     The economy of Mexico is the 11th largest in the world. Since the 1994 crisis, administrations have improved the country’s macroeconomic fundamentals. Mexico was not significantly influenced by the recent 2002 South American crisis, and has maintained positive rates of growth after a brief period of stagnation in 2001. Moody’s  (in March 2000) and Fitch IBCA (in January 2002) issued investment-grade ratings for Mexico’s sovereign debt.

      In spite of its unprecedented macroeconomic stability, which has reduced inflation and interest rates to record lows and has increased per capita income, enormous gaps remain between the urban and the rural population, the northern, central, and southern states, and the rich and the poor although there has been a large growing middle class since the mid 1990’s. Some of the government’s challenges include the upgrade of infrastructure, the modernization of the tax system and labor laws, and the reduction of income inequality.

     The economy contains rapidly developing modern industrial and service sectors, with increasing private ownership. Recent administrations have expanded competition in ports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity generation, natural gas distribution and airports, with the aim of upgrading infrastructure. As an export-oriented economy, more than 90% of Mexican trade is under free trade agreements (FTAs) with more than 40 countries, including the European Union, Japan, Israel, and much of Central and South America.

     The most influential FTA is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into effect in 1994, and was signed in 1992 by the governments of the United States, Canada and Mexico. In 2006, trade with Mexico’s two northern partners accounted for almost 50% of its exports and 45% of its imports. Recently, the Congress of the Union approved important tax, pension and judicial reforms, and reform to the oil industry is currently being debated. According to the Forbes Global 2000 list of the world’s largest companies in 2008, Mexico had 16 companies in the list.

     Mexico has a free market mixed economy, and is firmly established as an upper middle-income country. It is the 11th largest economy in the world as measured in gross domestic product in purchasing power parity. According to the latest information available from the International Monetary Fund, Mexico had the second-highest Gross National Income per capita in Latin America in nominal terms, at $9,716 in 2007, and the highest in purchasing power parity (PPP), at $14,119 in 2007.

     After the 1994 economic debacle, Mexico has made an impressive recovery, building a modern and diversified economy. Oil is Mexico’s largest source of foreign income. According to Goldman sachs, BRIMC review of emerging economies, by 2050 the largest economies in the world will be as follows: China, India, United States, Brazil and Mexico. Mexico is the largest North American auto producing nation, recently surpassing Canada and the United States.

     Mexico is the first and only Latin American country to be included in the World Government Bond Index or WGBI, which list the most important global economies that circulate government debt bonds.

     According to the director for Mexico at the World Bank, the population in poverty has decreased from 24.2% to 17.6% in the general population and from 42% to 27.9% in rural areas from 2000 to 2004. As of January 2009 4.6% of the population is impoverished if measured by food based poverty and 15% of the population is considered to be impoverished by asset based measurments (living on less than $10,000 per year).

     Nonetheless, income inequality remains a problem, and huge gaps remain not only between rich and poor but also between the north and the south, and between urban and rural areas. Sharp contrasts in income and Human Development are also a grave problem in Mexico. The 2004 United Nations Human Development Index report for Mexico states that Benito Juarez, a district of Mexico City, and San Pedro Garza, in the State of Nuevo Leon, would have a similar level of economic, educational and life expectancy development to Germany or New Zealand. In contrast, Metlatonoc, in the state of Guerrero, would have an HDI similar to that of Syria.

     Electronics now play an important role in the Mexican economy, with over 600 new electronics related companies formed since 2000.

     GDP annual average growth for the period of 1995–2002 was 5.1%. The economic downturn in the United States also caused a similar pattern in Mexico, from which it rapidly recovered to grow 4.1% in 2005. Inflation has reached a record low of 3.3% in 2005, and interest rates are low, which have spurred credit-consumption in the middle class. Mexico has experienced in the last decade monetary stability: the budget deficit was further reduced and foreign debt was decreased to less than 20% of GDP. Along with Chile, Mexico has the highest rating of long-term sovereign credit in Latin America.

     The remittances from Mexican citizens working in the United States account for only 0.2% of Mexico’s GDP which was equal to US$20 billion dollars per year in 2004 and is the tenth largest source of foreign income after oil, industrial exports, manufactured goods, electronics, heavy industry, automobiles, construction, food, banking and financial services. According to Mexico’s central bank, remittances fell 3.6% in 2008 to $25bn.

     Ongoing economic concerns include the commercial and financial dependence on the US, low real wages, underemployment for a large segment of the population, inequitable income distribution (the top 32% of income earners account for 55% of income), and few advancement opportunities for the largely Mayan population in the southern states.

     Now that we have a view of a very prosperous Mexico, and understand Mexico’s very diverse culture, it’s time to look at the very ugly side of this country. 

 Human Rights Abuses in Mexico 

     All human rights abuses are criminal acts whether one is discussing kidnapping, murder, torture, unjust imprisonment, or simple intimidation and scare tactics. However, there is no perfect way to classify different human rights abuses. So, I’ve elected to classify and discuss this issue along the following victim-related dimensions and categories involving the Mexican people: (1) Human Rights Defenders and Workers, (2) Indigenous People and Migrant Workers, (3) Journalists, (4) Police and Corrections Staff, (5) Politicians, (6) Children, and (7) Women in general.

 Human Rights Defenders and Workers

      One of the most horrendous abuses of the last three years in Mexico was the wanton murder of Fernando Mayen. Mayen was shot in the head three times, and his body was found in his car on a highway. He was a lawyer from the San Luis Ayucan community in Mexico who was leading a campaign to suspend work on a local landfill project. Fernando’s neighbors were concerned that the toxic waste being illegally dumped into the landfill would leak poison into their water supply—and risk their health and lives. Soon after Fernando won a court order to suspend work on the landfill he began to receive death threats. Eight months later he was murdered. To date, no one has been charged with the crime and, according to relatives, few steps have been taken to investigate it.

Indigenous People and Migrant Workers

      Two leaders from the Organization for the Future of Mixtecos Indigenous Peoples in Guerrero State were abducted during a public event. The two leaders were Raul Lucas Lucia and Manuel Ponce Rosas. Some 30 minutes later, the wife of Raul Lucas Lucia received a phone call. The caller warned her: “Keep quiet or we’ll kill your husband. This is happening to you because you’re defending Indians.” She immediately filed a report about the abduction, but no investigation was opened and no one took steps to locate the two men. A week later, the bodies of both men were found in Tecoanapa, a 30-minute drive from where both were grabbed. Relatives who identified the bodies said that both bore injuries and their hands and feet were tied together behind their backs.

     One of the greatest social tragedies in Mexico today is the ongoing widespread abuse of migrants who transit the country. There is a bit of irony in what is happening. Mexican authorities are very vocal in criticizing the new strict immigration law in Arizona. Yet, they are disingenuous and relatively mute on the abuse of thousands of undocumented migrants who transit through Mexico, including women and children, who fall victim to beatings, abduction, rape and even murder. Criminal gangs are reportedly responsible for the majority of these crimes, but there are also reports of abuses by state officials. Evidently, migrants who suffer these abuses rarely file criminal complaints because they fear being deported. Most irregular migrants are from Central America and many start the perilous Mexican passage of their journey by crossing into the border states of Chiapas or Tobasco from Guatemala. 

     In August, 2010 72 migrants were summarily lined up—and then gunned down in cold blood. In all, 58 men and 14 women were murdered. Suspected in this massacre was the Zetas cartel, a group of former Mexican army special forces known to extort migrants who pass through its territory. This massacre occurred at a ranch in San Fernando, a town in the northern state of Tamaulipas about 100 miles from Brownsville, Texas.

     The Zetas brutally control some parts of the Tamaulipas that even many Mexicans do not dare to travel on the highways in the state. Many residents in the state tell of loved ones who have disappeared from one town to the next. Many of these kidnappings are never reported for fear that police are in league with the criminals. Of the 72 migrants who were killed, 27 had been identified and their bodies returned to their home countries in Honduras and El Salvador.

     Later, in early September 2010, six of the gunmen responsible were identified. According to Alejandro Poire, a spokesman for Mexico’s president on security measures, all of the suspects are dead. Of these, three were killed in confrontation with the Mexican navy after the bodies were discovered, and three others were found dead inside a vehicle on the side of the highway.

 Journalists

 Lydia Cacho is a journalist and activist. She has been attacked, harassed, threatened and arbitrarily detained for highlighting the problems of child pornography and trafficking of women in Quintana Roo State. She received a death threat in which the one making the threat sent to her Blog said: “Dear lidia cacho [sic] get ready to have your throat cut, your lovely head will be left outside your apartment, let’s see how brave you are.” Despite promises of security measures, none have been implemented, no investigations initiated, and no one has been brought to justice. 

Police and Corrections Staff

      Following the mass murder of 72 migrant workers in Mexico, the lead investigator and a second investigator of these crimes disappeared. President Filipe Calderon said a body of one of the men had been found. Later he corrected himself and said the lead investigator was missing but that there was no information about his death. However, the Mexican media reported two bodies had been found and that one of them belonged to Roberto Jaimie Suarez Vasquez. The other investigator wasn’t named by the media but they said it was most likely that of a municipal police officer in San Fernando.

     In another incident the government-run Notimex agency reported that Luis Navarro Casteneda, director of the Atlacholoaya Prison in the Mexican state of Morelos, was abducted as he reported to work on a Saturday morning. Later his dismembered body was found in four locations in the city of Cuernavaca. There were written messages left with the body remains and Navarro’s abandoned Toyota truck was found near the prison. No arrests have been made in the case.

Politicians

      A former Mexican presidential candidate who has remained a power broker in the ruling party was missing amid signs of violence, according to the federal Attorney General’s Office. Prosecutors said that the car of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos “Jefe Diego” was found near his ranch in the central state of Queretaro. It said some of his belongings were found inside the car as well as unspecified “signs of violence.” It is unconfirmed that traces of blood and two bullet impacts were found in his vehicle.

      The Mexican newspaper El Universal reported that federal sources said Fernandez de Cevallos had been kidnapped, but a federal prosecutor’ spokeswoman said she couldn’t confirm that.

     According to information revealed by Panista Manuel Espino through his Twitter account the body of former presidential candidate Diego Fernandez was found in a military camp in Queretaro. “They are telling me that he is in fact dead and his body was found in a military camp in Queretaro,” reads one of the posts in Espino’s social network. Minutes later, through the same medium, the Panista clarified that this is the information that he has but can not be confirmed. “The Public Ministry is the only one who can confirm this, but I share what I am being told by friends who have spoken with a family of DFC (sic).”Fernandez de Cevallos, 69, was the 1994 presidential candidate of the National Action Party that now governs Mexico and he has continued to be an influential figure, as well as one of Mexico’s most successful attorneys.

      The bearded, cigar-chomping candidate jumped out of obscurity during Mexico’s first televised debate by presidential candidates in 1994, striking a chord with the middle class with his calls to topple a party that had held power since 1929. He finished second to Ernesto Zedillo that year, but his party finally won the presidency six years later when Vicente Fox was elected.

      Fernandez de Cevallos served as a senator and congressman while also winning some of the country’s largest court judgments, often in suits against government agencies.

Kidnapping and Murder of Children

MEXICO
Children in the Line of Fire in Ciudad Juárez
By Daniela Pastrana
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico, May 10, 2010 (IPS) – In Ciudad Juárez, the most violent city in Latin America, Mexico’s war on drugs has left at least 110 children dead in the past three years, and over 10,000 have lost parents. Civil society organizations are urging the authorities elected in an upcoming ballot to meet the needs of this vulnerable population.

     An air of despair hangs over this border city. Deserted streets and empty houses — about 100,000 of them — testify to the defeat of a society that has gone through horror, indignation, rage and exhaustion in the past two decades.

     When night falls there is a kind of voluntary curfew, in contrast to the lively night life that used to animate the city centre. Few people walk the streets, even in daylight, and most people think twice before answering phone calls from numbers they do not recognize. One-third of the shops are closed in this northern Mexican city across the border from El Paso, Texas.

     Verito is seven years old. In December, her school teachers were forced to hand over their extra month’s salary, paid before Christmas, in “protection money” to an organized crime group so that the pupils would not be harmed.

“They say they threatened the head teacher with putting bombs in the school, and that’s why they cancelled classes,” she says.

She knows that there are people in her city who kidnap and kill children. And that “all” adults “pay their dues” to drug mafias: “They have to pay money,” she explains, before talking about her dream of a city “that is the same, but without violence, without the news.” Her account is part of “Un, dos, tres, por mí y por todos mis amigos” (One, two three, for me and all my friends), a project that includes a book and a DVD recording voices, drawings and photographs of Ciudad Juárez four-to-eight-year-olds, compiled between 2008 and 2010 by civil society organizations belonging to the “Infancia en Movimiento” (Childhood in Movement) initiative.

     The strategy against drug trafficking adopted by the Mexican government has in the last three years led to the deaths of at least 110 children who were caught in the crossfire between federal police, the armed forces and drug cartels in this city in the state of Chihuahua.

     Non-governmental organizations estimate that about 10,000 children have lost at least one parent in the war on drugs, on the basis that each of the 5,000 murder victims of reproductive age probably had two children, in line with demographic statistics. But there are no official figures.

     “It’s tragic that there isn’t even an official estimate of the number of children who have lost a parent to the violence,” Lourdes Almada, the technical secretary of the Children’s Board of the Citizens’ Council for Social Development, told IPS. “Children who have suffered violence in their families or close circles are not receiving assistance from anyone,” she added.

     Since 1993, when the ongoing wave of murders of factory women began in Ciudad Juárez, the city has earned a world reputation for gender violence, which has claimed over 1,000 women’s lives so far, and for the entrenchment of criminal organizations. “Ciudad Juárez is different from other places in the country because the drug traffickers here have overstepped all the boundaries. It’s very difficult to react to the violence against children,” Juárez filmmaker Ángel Estrada, who directed the documentary film “Escenarios de guerra” (Scenes of War) told IPS. The film, which premièred here Apr. 28, is about the impossibility of doing theatre in such a violent city.

     In 2005, Ciudad Juárez was in an uproar over the deaths of two girls: seven-year-old Airis Estrella Enríquez, whose body was found in a barrel filled with cement, and 10-year-old Anahí Orozco, whom a neighbour raped and killed before setting fire to her body, while her mother was working in a “maquiladora”, a factory that assembles goods for export.

     That same year, six other children were murdered, but still no funds were made available for protecting children. Now local newspapers are reporting news like the murder of a family while they were at a wake for a teenager killed in Parral, a city in southern Chihuahua.

     The murders of 16 young people at a party in the neighbourhood of Villas de Salvárcar in February brought a flurry of federal officials to the city where they spent many hours in meetings, but with no results.

     “Underneath all this there are decades of neglect and of a lack of efforts towards human and social development,” said Almada. “The explosion of violence in Juárez is the result of an economic model that does not take people into account.” Another form of violence in Ciudad Juárez is reflected by the fact that in the course of 2008 and 2009, 300,000 direct, indirect and temporary jobs were lost, among a population of just over 1.2 million.

     Lay-offs have been heavy at the maquiladoras, a mainstay in Ciudad Juárez, which employ mostly women. These factories, which enjoy tax breaks and other benefits, have shed 120,000 jobs, for each of which an estimated 1.5 jobs are lost in the informal economy.

     “What is happening in Ciudad Juárez is an expression of social exclusion,” Nashieli Ramírez, head of Ririki Intervención Social, a social organization, and coordinator of Infancia en Movimiento, told IPS. “It is going to happen all over the world, not just in Mexico, with this rush to urbanization that cannot be understood except from the marginalization and social exclusion that we will all experience.” And so we go on, “without any options for young people, with children who can’t play in the streets, isolated families and single mothers,” she added.

     It is an enormous challenge. Ciudad Juárez has one of the highest proportions of children in this country of over 107 million people, and yet it has the lowest indicators of care and protection. The infant mortality rate is over 25 per 1,000 live births, while the index for countries like Costa Rica or Cuba is below 10 per 1,000.

     The city holds the national record for women’s participation in the workforce, and one-quarter of working mothers leave their children alone for three or four hours a day.

     Children in Ciudad Juárez candidly say they have seen three, four or five people killed on the streets. Seven-year-old Alicia says she feels unsafe in public places, and eight-year-old Irving Leonardo draws a picture of himself “in a drug traffickers’ hotel with gold taps.”

     Faced with this situation, organizations devoted to children’s welfare are launching a campaign, Hazlo Por Juárez (Do It for Juárez), financed by the Bernard van Leer Foundation, aimed at influencing the political platforms of candidates running for the Juárez mayor’s office and the Chihuahua state government in the upcoming Jul. 4 elections.

     “We are going to launch a social movement in Juárez, and we want it to have an impact across the country,” Ramírez said. “We cannot lose another generation. We have to open the door to a different future,” said Almada.

Mexico kidnap gang kills boy, 5, with acid

     Mexican gangsters who kidnapped a five-year-old boy killed him by injecting sulphuric acid into his heart after his mother publisized his abduction, police said last week.

     The brutal murder of Javier Morena, snatched from his family’s fruit stand in a working-class district of Mexico City, marks a horrific escalation in the terror tactics employed by kidnappers. They have increasingly switched their attention to the poor as the wealthy protect their families with squads of armed guards.

     Miguel Mancera, Mexico City’s attorney-general, displayed the syringe said to have been used by five gangsters under arrest over Javier’s death. They allegedly confessed that they had wanted to be known as the “Vitriol Gang”, after an alternative name for sulphuric acid, to distinguish themselves from dozens of others. The acid was siphoned off from old car batteries.

     The boy vanished two weeks ago while playing at the central market in Iztapalapa, a “barrio” or slum of more than 1m people. His mother, Laura Vega, who lives in a breeze-block house with a corrugated iron roof, feared he had been kidnapped but realized she would be unable to afford a ransom. After a frantic three-day search through the alleys and child brothels of Iztapalapa, she broke the barrio code of silence and reported Javier’s disappearance to the police. His picture was broadcast on television, prompting a taxi driver to say he had driven the tearful boy and a teenager claiming to be his brother to a house outside the city. Police raided the building but it was too late. Mancera said that the moment Javier’s picture had been shown, the kidnappers plunged the needle into the boy’s heart killing him instantly. They buried him on a hill outside the city. The police recovered his body hours later. Police said the gang had been preparing to demand a £12,000 ransom, but did not know where to send their demand as the boy was too terrified to speak.

     Last Monday Javier was reburied in a white coffin near his home. His mother told reporters she did not know why the gang had targeted her family, as they had little money. “He didn’t have to die like that, so far from his family,” she said. She added that the kidnappers should face the death penalty so that they would suffer “the way my son suffered”. However, capital punishment was abolished in Mexico three years ago.

     In 2003, when the British director Tony Scott came to Mexico City to film Man on Fire, in which Dakota Fanning plays a kidnapped child, the abduction rate was 20 victims a month, largely children. Police now put the rate at 65 a month. The Citizens’ Institute for Crime Studies says that this is an underestimate because few families call in the police. It puts the true figure at closer to 500 a month.

     Experts say the crime wave reflects increased violence in the drug trade, in which 4,000 have died in battles between cartels and the police this year.

     Although the rich may be protected, they are not immune. Javier Morena’s death recalled the recent kidnapping of Fernando Marti, the 14-year-old son of a sports equipment tycoon, who was snatched at a police checkpoint while being driven to school. It prompted a 100,000-strong protest march at the government’s inability to protect children.

     The family paid a £1m ransom but the boy’s decomposing body was found days later in the boot of a car. It now appears that the police uniforms worn by the gang were genuine: the plot is alleged to have been organized by a Mexico City police commander.

Women

     The phenomenon of the female homicides in Ciudad Juárez, called in Spanish the feminicidios (“femicides”) and las muertas de Juárez (“The dead women of Juárez”), involves the violent deaths of hundreds of women since 1993 in the northern Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, a border city across the Rio Grande from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. The estimated homicide toll is speculated by authorities to be about 400, but many local residents believe that the true count of los feminicidios stands at an estimated 5,000 victims. Most of the cases remained unsolved as of 2003, and are still unsolved today.

According to the Organization of American State’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:

     The victims of these crimes have preponderantly been young women, between 12 and 22 years of age. Many were students, and most were maquiladora workers. A number were relative newcomers to Ciudad Juarez who had migrated from other areas of Mexico. The victims were generally reported missing by their families, with their bodies found days or months later abandoned in vacant lots, outlying areas or in the desert. In most of these cases there were signs of sexual violence, torment, torture or in some cases disfigurement. According to Amnesty International as of February 2005 more than 370 young women and girls had been murdered in the cities of Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua.

     In November 2005 BBC News reported Mexico’s human rights ombudsman Jose Luis Soberances as saying that 28 women had been murdered so far in 2005. Despite past and current unsolved murders in August 2006 the federal government dropped its investigation, concluding that no federal laws had been violated.

     The most prominent suspects in the Juarez serial case were arrested, following the discovery of body clusters in the areas noted in parentheses.

1995 – Abdul Latif Sharif was arrested, charged, and convicted of the 1995 murder of Elizabeth Castro Garcia (Lote Bravo).

1996 – Several members of Los Rebeldes, a Juarez street gang, were arrested (Lote Bravo).

1999 – Los Choferes, bus drivers on routes between the maquiladoras and residential districts, were arrested (Lomas de Poleo).

2001 – García Uribe and González Meza were arrested for the murder of eight victims found in a cotton field near the Association of Maquila Workers in East Juarez (Cotton Field).

Protest by the families of some of the victims, demanded the punishment of the killers.

     A group of mothers, families, and friends of the victims, called Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa A.C. (“Civil Association for the Return Home of Our Daughters”) was formed to raise awareness about the situation and put pressure on the Mexican government to pay attention to these cases, some of which have gone unsolved for 13 years. Members of the group, including co-founder Norma Andrade, demand that proper investigations be carried out.

     Another family organization, Voces sin Eco (“voices without echo”) was founded in 1998. They painted pink crosses on black telephone poles to draw attention to the problem and align themselves with family values.

     Pink crosses and offerings for the murdered women of Juárez at Olvera Street,Los Angeles, on the Day of the Dead.

     In 1999, Stephen L. Rush founded a non-profit organization to establish a base for Human Rights in Mexico and to find a way to stop the sexual murders, for what would come to be known as the Save Juarez Project.

     In 1999, singer Tori Amos reacted to the accounts of the murders with her song “Juárez” on the album To Venus and Back.

     In 2000, El Paso post-hardcore band At the Drive-In released a music video for their song “Invalid Litter Dept. ” that details the deaths. The video features several photos of newspaper clippings and articles about the murders.

     In 2001, filmmaker Lourdes Portillo released one of the first documentaries dedicated to the victims of the murders, Senorita Extraviada.

     An informal group, which the press named Las Mujeres de Negro (“the women in black”), originated in November 2001 in the city of Chihuahua, following the discovery of eight corpses together. They attended the protest, which interrupted the celebration of the Mexican Revolution, wearing black tunics (as a sign of mourning) and pink hats. Since then, they have marched across the desert from Chihuahua to Juárez and planted crosses (sometimes with plastic limbs attached) in prominent places.

     In 2001 Gabriella “Azul Luna” Parra founded Las ViejasKandalosas, a collective of artists with a mission to denounce the murders of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico through art. She organized various multimedia shows, the first being EsesKandalo in 2001 at Self-Help Graphics & Art in East Los Angeles. In February 2002 she and Lorena Mendez-Quiroga led a caravan (from Los Angeles to Ciudad Juarez) to the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) Museum in Ciudad Juarez for a ViejasKandalosas three-day protest event that included a bi-national exhibit, a press conference with Diana Washington Valdez, and a candlelight procession through the streets with community and visiting artists.

     In 2002, Mexican journalist, novelist and essayist Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez published Huesos en el Desierto, (“Bones in the Desert”) one of the most comprehensive researchs on these murders and its social and political causes in book form. Sergio González Rodríguez claims that, during the course of his research for the book, which discovered links between organized crime, local entrepreneurs and local and federal authorities, he suffered death threats, and was kidnapped and tortured.

     In 2002, U.S. border journalist Diana Washington Valdez published an investigative newspaper series in the El Paso Times about the murders titled “Death Stalks the Border.”

     In 2002, as part of the art activists from Los Angeles that caravanned to Ciudad Juarez for the INBA protest exhibit, Rigo Maldonado and Victoria Delgadillo, co-curated the first internationally acknowledged exhibit on these femicides at the Social & Public Arts Resource Center (SPARC) in Venice, California. The exhibit was called Hijas de Juarez, and included 45 major artists from the Los Angeles area. In 2002, details and images of victims were not readily available via the internet or libraries prompting both curators, the SPARC gallery coordinator Jennifer Araujo, artist/filmmaker Patricia Valencia and her friend/writer Max Blumenthal to regroup in Ciudad Juarez to collect data and interview victim families. In 2003, Victoria Delgadillo & Rigo Maldonado’s written account on the curatory process for this exhibit was published in Aztlán an Academic Chicano Journal, through the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) press.

     The article was entitled “Journey to the Land of the Dead: A Conversation with the Curators of the Hijas de Juárez Exhibit” [Volume 28, Number 2 / Fall 2003]. For their work on the Hijas de Juarez exhibit and for creating public awareness through art, Rigo Maldonado and Victoria Delgadillo received awards from the Instituto Cultural de León, Guanajuato (Mexico) in 2003, La Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa (Mexico) in 2003, and the Los Angeles City Council (United States) in 2002.

     In the same year Polish journalists Eliza Kowalewska and Grzegorz Madej released a TV series about crimes in Juárez. Journalists cooperated with crime experts Robert Ressler and Candace Skrapec. This series was shown on Polish television TVN in 2003.

     In 2003, journalist Max Blumenthal won the Online News Association independent feature award for his investigative article in Salon.com, “Day of the Dead”, which examined the murders and the connection between them and the policies of the corporations with factories in the border city.

     In November 2003, UCLA Chicano Studies Professors Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Chon Noriega organize a conference called “The Maquiladora Murders, or who is Killing the Women of Juárez?” at the University of California, Los Angeles, bringing victim families, and other notable guest speakers to present to students and community members.

     In 2003, Eve Ensler demanded justice from the Special Prosector and vowed to return with support from around the world, and established a V-Day march in February 2004 with over 7,000 participants including actresses Sally Field and Jane Fonda.

     In 2004, Roberto Bolario’s’s novel 2666 (transl. to English 2008) centered around the horrible murders in a fictitious town called Santa Teresa, widely acknowledged as an alias for Ciudad Juarez.

     In 2004, Mexican norterio group Los Tigres del Norte released a song called “Las Mujeres de Juárez” (The Women of Juárez) on their Pacto de Sangre album. Juarez mayor Hector Murguia denounced the song, saying that it painted a false picture about the “real face of Juárez.”

     In 2004, Greek documentary team Exandas, released a production titled “Juárez, City of the Dead, women” featuring interviews with several relatives, maquiladora workers and owners and showcasing police corruption, evidence tampering practices and collaboration with one of the Mexican drug cartels, whose members emerge as the most likely culprits.

     In 2004, USA musician Bugs Salcido released a concept album titled “The Juarez Murders” featuring David Lowery, David Immergluck, Martin Pradler, Jeff Trott, & Alan Weatherhead. Proceeds from sales of the album and from his live concerts have gone to aid the families of the victims and the rape crisis center in Juarez. “. . .I do hope that ultimately, people are left with a feeling of hope after hearing this music,” says Salcido.

     In 2005, native of the El Paso/Juárez border, Alicia Gaspar de Alba author of various works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and artist in Las Hijas de Juarez exhibit publishes her novel “Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders”, which she had been researching since 1998.

     In 2005, Diana Washington Valdez published “Cosecha de Mujeres: Safari en el desierto Mexicano” [Oceano/Mexico/Spain], an investigative book in Spanish exposing the murders. It was a finalist for the Ulysses Lettre Award for international reportage.

     To protest the lack of progress in the cases, a huge free concert was held by famous Latin artists such as Alejandro Sanj, Alex Ubago, Manu Chao, Lila Downs and others on September 18, 2005 in Mexico’s City’s central Zocalo square.

     On May 30, 2005, President Vicente Fox told reporters that the majority of the Juárez killings had been resolved and the perpetrators placed behind bars. He went on to criticize the media for “rehashing” the same 300 or 400 murders, and said matters needed to be seen in their “proper dimension”.

     In 2006, Diana Washington Valdez published The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women [Peace at the Border/California/First Ed.], an investigative book in English about the Juárez women’s murders, drug cartels and government corruption in Mexico. The ebook version was titled Harvest of Women: Safari in Mexico.

     In 2006, Los Angeles filmmaker Lorena Mendez produced Border Echoes, a documentary about the Juárez women’s murders based on nearly 10 years of investigation. She collaborated with Diana Washington Valdez for the film. Azul Luna co-produced.

     In 2006, Gregory Nava directed a movie called Bordertown with Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas. As a blogger I saw this movie and highly recommend it to others. Basically, A journalist investigates a series of murders near American-owned factories on the border of Juarez and El Paso.  Lauren, an impassioned American reporter for the Chicago Sentinel heads to Juarez, a Mexican border town, in order to investigate a series of mysterious slayings involving young factory women from all over Mexico. As she discovers hundreds of victims, she gains the trust of local factory workers but falls into danger. Written by Jlo-fan

     In 2006, a book of poems on the Juárez women’s murders was published by White Pine Press: Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez by Marjorie Agosin

     In 2007 The Daughters of Juárez by 11-time Emmy award-winning journalist Teresa Rodriguez was published, the most recent book on the murders. Teresa Rodriguez is a reporter for Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in the United States. There, she co-anchors the critically acclaimed and award winning news magazine Aqui y Ahora. She has been investigating and reporting on the Juárez murders for over 13 years.

     In 2007, Toronto filmmakers Alex Flores and Lorena Vassolo released Juarez, a documentary film about the murders.

     In 2008, the artist Swoon displayed a paper-cutout memorial of victim Silvia Elena in the Chelsea art gallery Honeyspace. She displayed another version of the piece on a wall in San Francisco’s Mission District.

     In 2009, Backyard (El traspatio) was released in Mexico. Directed by Carlos Carrera (The Crime of Father Amaro) and screenwritten by Sabina Berman. This film was part of the 2009 Vancouver International Film Festival, where an extra screening had to be scheduled because of the interest it generated.

     In 2010, a book of poems on the Juárez women’s murders was published by University of Arizona Press: Each and Her by Valerie Martinez.

     In the Juarez newspaper NORTE, for the date of January 4, 2010, a special report/section was included “Informe Anual Operativo Conjunto Chihuahua ” by the government, with a subsection at page 2 on “Murders of Women” from 10-2004 through 11-2008, during which period there were 53 victims, with 36 cases resolved with convictions or detention, or order of arrest. Most of these murders were by persons with a connection to the victim. This represents the results of enhanced investigation and prosecution since the 1990s.

Unfortunately many websites and publications, including the book Daughters of Juarez, deal (when they deal with facts and not merely rumours) with the earlier years. Of course, meanwhile, Juarez is suffering from other murders. The same newspaper, on the same date, reported 2660 murders during 2009, mostly drug war related. Norte, on page 3, for January 5, 2010, reports already 37 murders for the first four days alone of 2010.

Summary

     This Five-Part Series started out to look at the problem of illegal immigration and all its complexity. It is my hope that the reader will come away, after reading this series, with an honest and  comprehensive understanding of this troubling issue. Covered were topics like the policy debate, the causes and impact of illegal immigration, the new Arizona law SB 1070, and this article on human rights abuses in Mexico.

     I do not know how the carnage going on in Mexico with kidnappings, murders, and other human rights abuses has influenced millions of people to flee their country, and to seek employment and safe refuge away from all the violence in Mexico. Most of the violence occurring in Mexico is due to the Mexican drug cartels. The corruption of some mexican officials in both high and low social positions has made it an almost impossible situation to rectify.

     I am reminded of a drastic solution that was fictiously carried out in the 1994 Movie, A Clear and Present Danger. The cartels in that movie were the Columbian drug cartels. In a nutshell a Black-ops team is assembled to start taking down the drug cartels, their equipment, and drugs. Missiles were used to destroy a family estate where many members from different cartels and their families had assembled. There is much collateral damage due to this covert secret operation ordered by the President of the United States and his administrative types.

     I’ll leave it to you movie watchers to see what else happens, but the movie does raise an interesting question. If the Mexican government can’t deal with the intimidation, threats and violence perpetrated by the drug cartels could the United States government today successfully work out a secret agreement with the Mexican government to take down the Mexican Drug Cartels? I don’t have an answer to that question, but I do have many other related questions.

For example, if  assassination squads and Black ops were coupled along with strategic pinpoint missile attacks by the United States, would the threat of drug cartels diminish? Could the CIA assist the U.S. military by providing intelligence information as to the location or whereabouts of those involved in the drug trade? Would Mexico instituting martial law help? Would high six figure bounties placed on the heads of these cartel leaders help bring them down? The Mexican government has invited the FBI into their country before when special investigative help was needed. The American DEA has worked in joint drug operations with Mexican police and Mexico’s equivalent of their DEA on many an occasion.

     However, the Mexican government does not want American troops on Mexican soil under any circumstances. They respect their own country’s soverignty. Problem is they don’t seem to respect ours. We can help the Mexican government and its people only if they really care enough to seriously address their own problems. It seems every other week I hear of a Mexican mayor in some city or community that was assassinated. Let that happen in this country and our police would be on top of the situation in no time. Extra resources would be allocated because media and political pressure would be brought to bear on local law enforcement.   

     Perhaps the greatest contribution the Mexican government can make in stemming the outflow of illegal immigrants to the United States is to seriously address its underemployment problem which affects 21% of their population. Their entire educational system in Mexico needs to be radically overhauled. Enough said on Mexico’s inadequacies. What can the United States do to prevent the impact of Mexico’s Drug Cartels and what can the U.S. do to end illegal immigration to this country? The demand side of drug abuse must be addressed at some point even if it’s treated as a long term priority. But a primary top priority now must be to secure our own borders, no matter what it takes. Any effort to do less is pure “stupidity”.

     The soverignty of the United States is our most important priority. The American people are telling our government through surveys, time and time again, that this is really important. It’s time for the U.S. government to start listening to the American people, and then take effective action. America may have the best politicians money can buy. But it’s long overdue for politicians to do their job. It is only then that the problem of illegal immigration will finally disappear from the American conscience.        

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     In Part II we move beyond defining the middle-class to an emphasis on understanding the middle-class from an economic point of view. If one is successful in comprehending the relationship between the middle class and economic principles, one will begin to see the folly, if not absurdity, of Robin Hood Politics. 

 THE IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING ECONOMICS

      First off, a brief review of economics is necessary for the reader. To know what economics is, one must first know what an economy is. If society had unlimited abundance there would be no scarcity. The world has never known unlimited abundance. Without scarcity, there is no need to economize—and therefore no economics. Now—a definition of Economics.

 Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.

      What does “scarce” mean?  It means, quite simply, that people want more than there is. Many people, including well educated individuals, grossly misunderstand the implications of scarcity. Back in 1999 the New York Times laid out the economic woes and worries of middle-class Americans—one of the most affluent groups of human beings ever to inhabit the planet. 

      Although the story included a picture of a middle-class family in their own swimming pool, the main headline said: “The American Middle, Just Getting By.”  In essence, there is a great chasm between middle-class expectations and the reality of economics.  Said another way, middle-class Americans’ desires exceed what they can comfortably afford, even though what they already have would be considered unbelievable prosperity by people in many other countries around the world—or even by earlier generations of Americans.

     To look upon the middle-class in America as some sort of financial social victim is outright stupid, naïve, and a highly misplaced prejudice that fans the flames of social class bigotry everywhere. Some view the middle-class as burdened by budgeting and struggling just to make ends meet. If real budgeting is the norm among the middle-class, one can’t tell by the facts. Budgeting is not a real constraint on the middle-class. I find it hard to accept when it was the middle-class the last 30 years who chalked up astronomical credit card debt, were suckered into buying homes they couldn’t afford, and who spent money like there was no tomorrow, and whose saving accounts were drier than a Sahara desert dune. Frugality, except among the most diligent, is not the general way of the middle-class.

      It is not something as man-made as a budget that constrains them: Reality constrains them (or should). There has never been enough to satisfy everyone completely. That is the real constraint. That is what scarcity means.    

      Most people are savvy enough to understand, as an economic principle, the concept of Supply and Demand. In general, when supply increases, the cost per unit of a product or service (labor and material costs) usually declines. When demand increases, prices usually rise in response to the demand. Sometimes the supply side can’t respond to demand no matter how great, for example where there is not an unlimited supply of beach-front properties along our nation’s coastline.

     Other times supply can increase at a greater speed as when assembly lines go into high gear to put more automobiles on lots. However, sometimes prices can remain exceptionally high even when demand can only be met by a few buyers. For example, rare gems and diamonds, or a Van Gogh painting may be desired by everyone, but afforded by only a few. Because there is only a finite amount of precious art objects or rare jewelry, supply rather than demand is in the driver’s seat where higher prices are concerned.

     However, 99.999% of all businesses can make more money if they keep prices lower and try to attract a larger volume of consumers. For example, food, energy, utilities, common household products all generate large volumes of customers but scarcity is the controlling factor when coupled with demand. For example, energy prices can fluctuate considerably in extremely cold regions of the country with high demand compared to warmer areas of the country where the demand is less.  Many people, including myself, have long considered prices as something that thwarts one from getting the things they want. This is because most of us have never really understood the economic function of prices.

     So, what are prices and how do they function? Is there anything in this mechanism of pricing (no matter how suppressing it might be) that tells one that he is somehow deserving of his neighbor’s larger income? [I don’t think so, folks!]  In all of this, you should endeavor to understand the underlying principle of supply and demand, and its relationship to fluctuating prices. In this way you’ll be able to see that prices are like signals or bits of information. They simply measure the barometer of resources, whether scarce or abundant, and translate that state of scarcity or abundance into prices.

 In all that follows I wish I could take credit for the examples and economic principles and insights involved. Instead, all the credit goes to the famous and distinguished economist and writer—Thomas Sowell. A short bio of Dr. Sowell follows his contribution to the issues I have raised.

 DR. THOMAS SOWELL’S CONTRIBUTION

       In a market economy, prices play a crucial role in determining how much of each resource gets used where (remember, scarce items with alternative uses). Many people see prices as simply obstacles to their getting the things they want. Those who like to live in a beach-front home, for example, may abandon such plans when they discover how expensive beach-front property is.

      But high prices are not the reason most middle-class individuals cannot all live on the beach front. On the contrary, the inherent reality is that there are not nearly enough beach-front homes to go around, and prices are just a way of conveying that underlying reality. When many people bid for a relatively few homes, these homes become very expensive because of supply and demand. But it is not the prices that cause the scarcity, which would exist under whatever other social arrangement was used instead of prices.

      If the government were to come up with a “plan” for “universal access” to beach-front homes and put “caps” on the prices that could be charged for such property, that would not change the underlying reality of the ratio of people to beach-front land. With a given population and a given amount of beach-front property, rationing without prices would have to take place by bureaucratic fiat, political favoritism, or random chance—but the rationing would still have to take place.

      Even if Congress or the Supreme Court were to decree that beach-front homes were a “basic right” of all Americans—that would still not change the underlying reality in the slightest. Prices are like messengers conveying news—sometimes bad news, in the case of beach-front property desired by far more people than can possibly live at the beach, but often good news. For example, computers have been getting both cheaper and better at a very rapid rate, as a result of technological ingenuity.

     Prices not only guide consumers, they guide producers as well. When all is said and done, producers cannot know what millions of different consumers want. All that the automobile manufacturer, for example, knows is that when they produce cars with a certain combination of features, they can sell these cars for a profit that covers their production costs and leaves them a profit. But when they manufacture cars with a different combination of features, they don’t sell as well.   

      Persistent source of confusion surrounding the term “middle class” derives from the fact that members of the middle class, as defined by sociologists, do not fall in the middle of a society’s income distribution. Instead, members of the middle class tend to have relatively high incomes compared to others in their societies. Thus, people who fall in the middle of their own societies’ status hierarchies are typically not, in fact, “middle class” as defined by sociologists. As a result, intuitive colloquial and journalistic usage of the term has come to diverge substantially from its strictly sociological usage.

 WAGES, PRICES AND ECONOMIC PROSPERITY

      Wages and salaries serve the same economic purpose as other prices—that is, they guide the utilization of scarce resources which have alternative uses. Yet because these scarce resources are human beings, we tend to look upon wages and salaries differently. Often we ask questions that are quite emotionally powerful, even if they are logically meaningless. For example: Are the wages “fair?” Are the workers “exploited?” Is this a “living wage”?

      Such questions seldom get asked about the prices of inanimate things, such as a can of peas or a share of stock in General Motors (except out of frustration when trying to buy something expensive such as an automobile or a home one can’t afford). But people are believed to be entitled to pay that is “fair,” even if no one can define what that means. “Exploitation” and “a living wage” are likewise emotionally powerful expressions without concrete meanings. If a worker is living, how can he be receiving less than “ a living wage”—unless as some have said thoughtlessly, “living below subsistence”?

      No one likes to see fellow human beings living in poverty or squalor, and many are prepared to do something about it, as shown by the vast billions of dollars that Americans donate to a wide range of charities every year, on top of the additional billions spent by federal, state, and local governments in an attempt to better the condition of less fortunate people. These socially important activities occur alongside an economy coordinated by prices, but the two things serve different purposes.

     Attempts to make prices, including the prices of people’s labor and talents, be somethimg other than signals to guide resources to their most valued uses, make those prices less effective for their basic purpose, on which the prosperity of the whole society depends.

     Ultimately, it is economic prosperity that makes it possible for hundreds of billions of dollars to br devoted to helping the less fortunate. It is also economic prosperity which allows people born into poverty to rise to economic heights undreamed of by their parents or perhaps even by themselves.

INCOME DISTRIBUTION—WHAT’S IT REALLY ALL ABOUT?

      Nothing is more straightforward and easy to understand than the fact that people can earn more than others, for a variety of reasons. Some people are simply older than others, for example, and their additional years have given them opportunities to acquire more experience, skills, formal education and on-the-job training—all of which allows them to do a given job more efficiently or to take on more complicated jobs that would be overwhelming for a beginner or for someone with limited experience or training.

     With the passing years, older individuals may also become more knowledgeable about job opportunities, while more other people may become aware of them and their abilities. These and other commonsense reasons for income differences among individuals are often lost sight of in abstract discussions of the ambiguous term “income distribution.”

      Most income is of course not distributed at all, in the sense in which newspapers, milk, or Social Security checks are distributed from some central place. Most income is distributed only in the statistical sense in which there is a distribution of heights in a population—some people being 5 foot 4 inches tall, others 6 foot 2 inches, etc.—but none of these heights were sent out from some central location.

     Yet, it is all too common to read journalists and others discussing how “society” distributes its income, rather than saying in plain English that some people make more money than others. More is involved than a misleading metaphor. Often the very units in which income differences are discussed are as misleading as the metaphor. Family income or household income are not like individual income.

     An individual always means the same thing—one person—but the sizes of families and households differ substantially from one time period to another, from one racial or ethnic group to another, and from one income bracket to another. For example, there are 39 million people in the bottom 20 percent of households, but 64 million people in the top 20 percent of households.

      These differences in  the sizes of families and households are not incidental. They radically change the meaning of income distribution statistics that are thrown around in the media and in politics. For example, real income per American household rose only 6 percent over the entire period from 1969 to 1996, but real per capita income rose 51 percent over the same period. The average size of families and households were simply declining, so that smaller househokds were now earning about the same as larger households had earned a generation earlier.  

     As so often happens, the facts are not complicated, but misunderstandings abound nevertheless. A Washington Post writer, for exanple, declared in 1998 that “the incomes of most American households have remained stubbornly flat over the last three decades.” It would be more accurate to say that some writers have remained stubbornly blind to economic facts. When two people in the one household today earn the same total of money that three people were earning in that household in the past, that is a 50 percent increase in income per person—even when household income remains the same. 

      It is equally misleading to compare high-income families or households with low income families and households. There are more people per family in upper-income families compared to low-income families—and more of these people work. That is part of the reason for some families having higher incomes than others. It is not uncommon for families in the top 20 percent of income-earners to supply several times as many man-hours of work per week per year as families in the bottom 20 percent. Many of the latter work very little or not at all, whether due to illness, retirement, single mothers raising children on welfare, or for other reasons. Yet plain facts like these are often omitted by those who write or speak of how “society” unequally or unfairly “distributes” its income. A closer look at these households reveals that those in the top quintile contain more than 40 million people of working age—18 to 64 years of age—while the bottom quintile contains fewer than 20 million prople in such age brackets.

     Perhaps the most radical difference between individual and family or household statistics are those used in comparing different American racial or ethnic groups. For example, real income per black household rose only 7 percent in the two decades from 1967 to 1988, but real per capita income among blacks rose 81 percebt over those very same years. Average black household size was simply declining during these decades, so that a substantial increase in real income per person appeared statistically as a triviality small increase per household. Moreover, because black household size was declining more sharply than white household size, black incomes appeared to be falling behind white incomes when household statistics were used, but were in fact rising faster than white incomes when individual statistics are examined.    

     For both blacks and whites, rising prosperity was one reason for more people to be able to go set up their own individual households, instead of continuing to live with parents or as roomers or by sharing an apartment with a roommate. Yet these consequences of prosperity generate household statistics that are widely used to suggest that there has been no real economic progress.

     Among individuals in the general population, age makes a big difference in income—and a huge difference in wealth. Inexperienced young people beginning their careers in their twenties sekdom make as much money as their parents who are in their forties and fifties. Having just begun to work, these younger workers are usually not as valuable as older and more experienced people. Having just begun to save, they are more likely to have much less money in the bank or in a pension fund, as compared to their parents, who have been saving for decades and acqutring other assets for decades.

     Although people in the top income brackets and the bottom income brackets—the “rich” and the “poor,” as they are commonly called—may be discussed as if they were different classes of people, often they are the very same people at different stages of their lives. An absolute majority of the people in the bottom 20 percent in income in 1975 were also in the top 20 percent at some point over the next 17 years.

      This is not surprising. After 17 years, people usually have had 17 years more experience, perhaps including on-the-job training or formal education. It would be surprising if they were not able to earn more money as a result. It is not uncommon for most of the people in the top 5 percent of income earners to be 45 years old and up.

     Although people in the upper income brackets are often characterized as “rich,” in reality a family or household can reach the top 10 percent with incomes that fall far short of what truly wealthy people make. As of 1998, a household income of $75,000 a year was enough to put the people in that household in the top 10 percent. A couple making $38,000 each hardly seems like “the rich.” Even the top 5 percent of households could be reached with a combined income of  $133,000—comfortable, but hardly in the same categories as millionaires and billionaires.

     Even people in the top one percent in wealth bear little resemblance to “the idle rich” conjured up in popular legend or ideological rhetoric. The average person in the top one percent works 52 hours a week. At the other end of the scale, more than half of all those in the bottom 20 percent do not have a full-time job.

      Another common statistical illusion comes from determining whether “inequality” is increasing or decreasing by comparing the incomes of those in the top 20 percent with the incomes of those in the bottom 20 percent. Nothing is easier to find than media and academic proclomations that the difference between incomes in these top and bottom brackets has grown wider over the years. Even when the changes are only of a few percentage points, there may be much hand-wringing and moral indignation. However, if our concern is not with statistical categories but with flesh-and-blood human beings, then we must focus not on brackets but on the people who are constantly moving in and out of those brackets.

      Fewer than 3 percent of those in the bottom 20 percent in 1975 were still there in 1991, while 39 percent of them were now in the top 20 percent. Most of “the poor” of the 1970s had reached higher income levels in the 1990s than most of the whole American population had in the 1970s. To compare the current incomes of these now “rich” people  with the incomes of the currently “poor” ignores the likelihood that todays “poor” will continue to repeat the pattern and be even more prosperous in 2010 than our current top 20 percent are today.[Parenthetically, I’d like to point out that Dr. Sowell’s book, Basic Economics—A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy, was copyrighted in 2000.]  

     Time has an even stronger effect on the accumulation of wealth. The average amount of wealth held by people in the older age brackets is usually several times the amount held by people in their twenties. But these are not the enduring economic differences we usually have in mind when we talk about classes.

     People in their forties and fifties are not a different class from people in their twenties, because all forty-year-olds were once twenty-year-olds and all twenty-year-olds are going to be forty-year-olds, unless they die prematurely. Not only are most uf them likely to be both “rich” and “poor” at different stages of their lives, even at a given moment many of the low-income people are the children of high-income people—and their heirs.

     Genuinely rich and genuinely poor people exist—people who are going to be living in luxury or poverty all their lives—but they are much rarer than gross income statistics would suggest, when these statistics are not broken down by age. The turnover was huge in all income brackets in just 17 yrars, less than half of most people’s working life.

      Just as most American “poor” do not stay poor, so most rich Americans were not born rich but only achieved wealth at some point in their own lifetimes. Moreover, the genuinely rich are nearly as rare as the genuinely poor. Even if we take a million dollars in net worth as our criterion for being rich, only about 3.5 percent of Americans are at that level at a given time. This is in fact a fairly modest level, given that net worth counts everything from household goods and clothing to the total amount of money in an individual’s pension fund. Nevertheless, the genuinely rich and the genuinely poor, put together, add up to less than 7 percent of the American people, even though political rhetoric might suggest that we are all either “haves” or “have nots.”

      While, in some senses, those who are called “the poor” are not as badly off as instantaneous statistics might suggest, in other respeccts they are worse off. They must often pay higher prices for inferior goods and services because there are higher costs of delivering those goods and services to low-income neighborhoods. A suburban supermarket has lower costs of delivering groceries to its customers than does a typical neighborhood store in the inner city, and that translates into higher prices charged to low-income customers than to high-income customers. Similarly, banks serving middle-class people have lower costs per transaction than institutions serving people in poverty, such as pawnshops or check-cashing agencies. It does not cost a hundred times as much to process a $5,000 loan to an affluent person as it does to make a $50 loan to someone in poverty.

     Cashing a check for an affluent person whose employment and credit history is known to the bank, and who has had an account in the bank for years, is much less risky than cashing a check for someone who walks off the street into a check-cashing agency in a low-income neighborhood and who probably does not have a bank account or perhaps even a permanent job. Thus affluent people have their checks cashed free of charge in their banks and receive bank loans at a lower interest rate than those charged the poor by pawn shops or other sources of credit that will take a chance on them. Being poor is expensive. Fortunately, most Americans do not remain poor very long.

 DR. THOMAS SOWELL’S BIOGRAPHY

      Thomas Sowell was born in North Carolina and grew up in Harlem. As with many others in his neighborhood, Thomas Sowell left home early and did not finish high school. The next few years were difficult ones, but eventually he joined the Marine Corps and became a photographer in the Korean War. After leaving the service, Thomas Sowell entered Harvard University, worked a part-time job as a photographer and studied the science that would become his passion and profession: economics.  

     After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University (1958), Thomas Sowell went on to receive his master’s in economics from Columbia University (1959) and a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago (1968).

     In the early ’60s, Sowell held jobs as an economist with the Department of Labor and AT&T. But his real interest was in teaching and scholarship. In 1965, at Cornell University, Sowell began the first of many professorships. Thomas Sowell’s other teaching assignments include Rutgers University, Amherst College, Brandeis University and the University of California at Los Angeles, where he taught in the early ’70s and also from 1984 to 1989.

     Thomas Sowell has published a large volume of writing. His dozen books, as well as numerous articles and essays, cover a wide range of topics, from classic economic theory to judicial activism, from civil rights to choosing the right college. Moreover, much of his writing is considered ground-breaking — work that will outlive the great majority of scholarship done today.

     Though Thomas Sowell had been a regular contributor to newspapers in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he did not begin his career as a newspaper columnist until 1984.       George F. Will’s writing, says Sowell, proved to him that someone could say something of substance in so short a space (750 words). And besides, writing for the general public enables him to address the heart of issues without the smoke and mirrors that so often accompany academic writing.

     In 1990, he won the prestigious Francis Boyer Award, presented by The American Enterprise Institute. Currently, Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute in Stanford, Calif.

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