July 12, 2024

“Financial Catastrophe” – Part II

President Predicting Catastrophe

President Obama declared today that “A failure to act and to act now will turn crisis into catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession.”

Alan Blinder, a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, echoed the President by proclaiming “It would be an act of extreme stupidity not to enact a big stimulus”.  Mr Blinder did not expound on the logic of his remark.  Presumably, if you were too stupid not to vote for spending one trillion dollars, then you would be too stupid to understand his rationale.

A short 6 months ago President Bush, Chairman Bernanke and Treasury’s Paulson were predicting a financial meltdown if the $700 billion TARP bill did not pass.   The $700 billion was approved and the money passed out to banks and other assorted supplicants.  How wisely was the $700 billion spent?   All we do know is that the bankers managed to pay themselves huge bonuses, the money is gone and we now face financial Armageddon (again) if we do no spend another massive amount of borrowed money.   All we really know about the new, almost $1 trillion dollar “stimulus package”, is that it must be passed immediately, no questions asked.   Maybe more questions should have been asked the first time, when $700 billion was supposed to have solved the financial crisis.

Bernanke Proclaims Financial Crisis Resolved: October 2008

In October 2008, after passage of the $700 billion TARP bill, Chairman Bernanke spoke at the Economic Club of New York.

“The problems now evident in the markets and in the economy are large and complex, but, in my judgment, our government now has the tools it needs to confront and solve them.

Generally, during past crises, broad-based government engagement came late, usually at a point at which most financial institutions were insolvent or nearly so. Waiting too long to respond has usually led to much greater direct costs of the intervention itself and, more importantly, magnified the painful effects of financial turmoil on households and businesses. That is not the situation we face today. Fortunately, the Congress and the Administration have acted at a time when the great majority of financial institutions, though stressed by highly volatile and difficult market conditions, remain strong and capable of fulfilling their critical function of providing new credit for our economy. This prompt and decisive action by our political leaders will allow us to restore more normal market functioning much more quickly and at lower ultimate cost than would otherwise have been the case.

Reading the Chairman’s comments today, we know that his assessment of the situation was wrong. TARP 2008 did not resolve anything nor will the stimulus package of 2009.

Did the original $700 billion “save” our country from a “catastrophe”?.  In hindsight, much of the money spent was wasted on zombie banks that should have been shut down.  The executives running Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo, etc. still have their high paying jobs, while many others are unemployed.

What Does The Stimulus Spending Accomplish?

If we are facing a financial catastrophe, why is so little of the spending being directed  towards solving the root of the problem –  insolvent banks and the decline in home values?  Some of the spending goes towards minimalistic tax breaks – up to $500 per individual or $1,000 per couple.  Is an extra $10 or $20 a week going to make a real difference to most people?  The vast majority of the spending goes for expanded funding of various social programs and special interest groups.  The money will be disbursed through Government agencies that will need a much larger bureaucratic staff to administer spending and regulation.  This will accomplish nothing for the real economy and we are still left with insolvent banks and foreclosed homeowners.   Maybe after passing the bill, someone should say “mission accomplished”.

End Result

The one certainty is that this will not be the last trillion asked for.  The banking industry will need many more trillions of dollars to become solvent.  Fortune Magazine estimates the ultimate banking bailout cost at $4 trillion, maybe more.  Yet there is still no overall coherent plan for resolving this crisis.  Watching the elite ruling class operate in Washington reminds me of Groundhog Day.   Washington keeps doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result – isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Why Did So Few People Save For Hard Times?

A Recession of Biblical Proportions

Consumers usually build savings in booms, then raid their troves during busts – but not this time.

In booms we put away some of the abundance because we know we’ll need it in busts to come. Then, when the bad times hit, we spend some of what we’ve saved. But no more: Our recent bizarre behavior helps explain how we got into this economic mess.

For the first time since Genesis, consumers are doing everything backward. During the expansion from 2002 through 2007, our savings rate fell rather than rose. In mid-2005 it even went negative, and it mostly stayed below 1% until late last year. Then, as the recession really took hold, we again did the opposite: We increased our saving. As the economy shrinks, our savings rate has climbed to almost 3%.

Not only do we lack savings to dig into and spend during this downturn, but we’re also spending a smaller proportion of our incomes (which are themselves stagnating, so maybe it’s a triple whammy). Put it all together, and it’s clear why this recession is dragging on.

The central mystery: Why did we go into hock in the fat years? One argument is that we were behaving rationally. As our homes increased in value, they were doing our saving for us, so we didn’t have to save out of current income.

Nor was our borrowing binge focused only on mortgages; we were going heavily into most other types of debt as well. In fact, we were spending record proportions of our incomes just to service our personal debt – even with interest rates near historical lows.

Maybe it was just a mania, focused not on tulip bulbs but on the simple joy of buying, reinforced by a belief that bad times were no longer inevitable.

Whatever happens, don’t expect miracles. Spending and saving behavior evolves slowly, and our current mess is in some ways the culmination of a long journey. We may not suddenly start behaving with biblical wisdom. But at least let’s try not to forget how bad things can be when we get spending and saving backward.

Normal vs. Abnormal

It’s normal human behavior to want more than we have.   Our free enterprise system rewards hard workers by allowing them to live well.   What was not normal over the past decade were the ridiculous lending policies of the banks, encouraged and supported by the easy monetary policies of the Federal Reserve.

In fact, not much of anything was normal over the past ten years.  It’s not normal to lend borrowers large amounts of money without regard to income or credit.  It’s not normal to expect housing prices to rise 100% every five years.  It’s not normal to expect that a nation could borrow its way to prosperity.  The list goes on.

The really bad news here is that while consumers know what they have to do (save more, spend less) every action being taken by the Government and Federal Reserve is to continue the failed policies of the past, this time on an even grander scale.  Let’s all hope that the common sense of the governed will ultimately elect leaders who stop promising free lunches with borrowed money.

Courtesy:      mwhodges.home.att.net/

California Defaults

California to Delay $4 Billion in Payments – WSJ

California’s chief accountant on Monday will begin delaying nearly $4 billion of scheduled state payments, postponing income-tax refunds, grants to college students and welfare checks in an effort to prevent the state from running out of cash.

The delays will hurt an already wilting state economy, economists said, calling them the opposite of stimulus checks because people won’t get money they expect to receive. Controller John Chiang has said the delays will last 30 days.

Now, as lawmakers continue to haggle over how to erase a budget deficit projected to reach $42 billion by mid-2010, the state’s chief accountant has said he must delay payments to meet constitutionally mandated debt obligations.

Included in the delayed payments are personal income-tax refunds totaling nearly $2 billion, as well as bank and corporate tax refunds, among other things.

While many counties have enough cash to get through February, Trinity County in Northern California has only two to three weeks of reserves, said Dero Forslund, Trinity’s administrative officer. Once the money runs out, the county will issue IOUs to its 320 workers, he said, and then see if service reductions will be necessary as well. Trinity was expecting $2 million from the state in February, he said.

For years, California has relied on borrowing, by selling municipal bonds, to help get through difficult budgetary situations. But with a bond market that has nearly dried up — and with a poor credit rating — the state is hard-pressed to borrow.  California is already tied with Louisiana for the lowest credit rating among states.

To help close the budget gap, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month ordered some state employees to take two days off a month without pay, starting Feb 6. The order applies to tens of thousands of state workers — out of a total of 238,000

The Cruel Irony of Excessive Debt

Call it what you will.   California avoids the legal definition of default but to the many creditors stiffed by the State, it makes little difference.  Those relying on income tax rebates and welfare checks to pay their bills will not be able to.   This broadens the economic pain to other creditors, retailers, etc. continuing the vicious downward cycle.  California must cut its spending but every spending cut equates to an income cut for someone else.

End result of excessive debt –  The State is left with zero options – it cannot borrow, it is defaulting on payment obligations and tax collections are plunging as the California economy implodes.  Every action the State needs to take to survive further harms their economy.  Further defaults or “debt holidays” by the State of California are inevitable.

California Faces Fiscal Armageddon- JrDeputy Accountant

“Fiscal Armageddon” has already sunk its teeth into the country – why should California be any different? With large numbers of immigrants, low-income residents, and disproportionate amounts of wealth and conservatism planted in Southern California, we’re pretty hopelessly screwed at this point. The battle of liberal vs. conservative will be waged across our great state with the whackos up here in San Francisco yelling for more social services and the LA neocons screaming for tax cuts; the truth is we all need a break and arguing about it isn’t going to help anything.

In such tumultuous times, an anticipated tax refund check can mean the difference between a roof over your head and eviction or food in your stomach and starvation. Many Californians who may have once blown stimulus checks and tax refunds on frivolous expenses are now counting on that mini-windfall to get them through what has already worked out to be a rough beginning of the year.

What exactly are we supposed to do with an IOU? California will not solve this budget crisis. Instead of IOU, an FU might be more appropriate because no one is going to be able to collect on these without putting the state in even deeper trouble.

The upside? These IOUs earn interest. Sadly, it’s a false upside – imagine millions of Californians owed 5% on promissory notes trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. It just isn’t happening.

And no, California will not allow you to remit an IOU with your tax returns. This is a one-way dicking, my friend, and you are on the receiving end.

California’s “Super Stimulus” Program Fails

California has been living on vast amounts of borrowed money for decades.  The State has effectively been running “super stimulus” programs on a vast scale for years.  The false prosperity created by stimulus spending  is now over.  The economic pain that follows will destroy the financial security of many State residents.   Was the excessive spending with borrowed money worth the results?  The California example of failure should be considered in Washington as lawmakers attempt to “super stimulate” the entire country by burying us in more debt.

Job Losses – Symptom Of The Economy’s Downward Spiral

Major Job layoffs become a non stop story

Here’s a list of Monday’s horror show.

Sprint Nextel Cuts 8,000 jobs

Texas Instruments 3,400 jobs

Caterpillar 20,000 jobs

Corus 3,500 jobs

Philips Electronic 6,000 jobs

Home Depot 7,000 jobs

ING 7,000 jobs

Pfizer 8,300 jobs

GM 2,000 jobs

A total of 65,200 job losses in one day that will in turn result in further job losses as the jobless drastically cut back spending on all but essential items.

Points to consider about the ever increasing job losses:

1.  Only the large layoffs by national firms make the headlines.  Small businesses that employ over half of all private sector employees probably laid off a comparable number of people as demand and spending evaporate throughout the economy.

2.  Given the high unemployment rate, very few of the recently laid off will be finding new jobs.

3.  The stimulus plan is unlikely to re-employ the armies of workers now unemployed.  The government simply cannot manufacture enough make work jobs to replace those lost in the free enterprise productive sector of the economy.  The cost of every non productive job “created” will put a further burden on the private sector that creates the majority of jobs.

4.  The downward spiral of home prices and increased foreclosures will continue as many of the unemployed will be unable to make their mortgage payments.

5.  Car loans, credit cards, student loans and personal loan default rates will continue to rise based on the inability to pay.

6.  Asset values backing the defaulting debt will decline, causing further defaults.

7.  Destruction of confidence will cause major spending reductions even by those still employed and contribute to further job losses.

8.  Huge job losses and credit defaults will cause further massive losses for lenders of every type.  Lenders with exploding delinquency rates will drastically cut back their lending.   The current situation is unprecedented and the lending models based on income, credit, job stability etc. no longer work; every potential borrower will be viewed as a future default.

9.  The demands on the Treasury will be of such extremes, that economic triage will be necessary.  Rescuing the system will take precedence over millions of individual cases of economic ruin.

10.  Ultimately, it is always about jobs.

Despite all the optimism about the “stimulus” program, it will not work.  The amount of spending proposed is insignificant compared to the amount of asset and job destruction taking place.  The government will vastly increase its spending throughout 2009, but ultimately it will be time and price that bring the over leveraged system back into equilibrium.  A majority of Americans will see much of their wealth destroyed before we reach the end of this national tragedy.

Early Results On “Stimulus Package” – Greed, Corruption & Stupidity

The US Senate and House of Representatives is busily putting together a stimulus package that should cost $825 billion.  The massive spending package, all conducted with borrowed money, will be spread over a wide variety of programs designed to “stimulate the nation back to prosperity”.   All of the debate on the stimulus package seems to center on how the money should be spent.  No one is debating whether we can afford this massive spending.  There has been no intelligent discussion or analysis of whether the stimulus will work, despite the historical evidence that it won’t (See Stimulus Plan Condemns Us To Further Wealth Destruction.

Most Americans seem optimistic that the stimulus plan will work and that the money will be wisely spent.

Let’s look at some early returns for an idea of how $850 billion will be spent.

Politicians Asked Feds to Prop Up Ailing Bank

Two Illinois congressmen urged the Treasury in October to avoid taking any regulatory action against a struggling bank in their state, illustrating the aggressive efforts some politicians are taking to help hometown lenders during the bank crisis.

“This is a disturbing parallel to precisely some of those things that made the savings-and-loan debacle into a political scandal as well as a financial scandal,” said William Black, an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who was a bank regulator in the S&L crisis.

Regulators didn’t think National Bank of Commerce qualified for a cash injection because its financial condition was so perilous. On Oct. 22, Ronald G. Schneck, an official of the bank’s federal regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, told the bank it should “act as if capital replenishment funds will not be received,” according to the letter by Reps. Davis and Gutierrez.

Instead, on Nov. 6, OCC officials told the bank it wouldn’t be getting any TARP money. They said the Treasury had decided “to not grant assistance to restore to the Bank to an adequately capitalized status,” according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

An OCC spokesman said: “While we don’t comment on TARP applications, it should be noted that the amount needed to recapitalize the bank was far in excess of what was allowable under TARP’s capital purchase program.”

The US Treasury did the right thing when they refused to invest more money in this failing bank.  What thought process lead these 2 congressmen to believe that they would be spending money wisely by investing taxpayer money in a Zombie bank?

Political Interference Seen in Bank Bailout Decisions

Troubled OneUnited Bank in Boston didn’t look much like a candidate for aid from the Treasury Department’s bank bailout fund last fall.

The Treasury had said it would give money only to healthy banks, to jump-start lending. But OneUnited had seen most of its capital evaporate. Moreover, it was under attack from its regulators for allegations of poor lending practices and executive-pay abuses, including owning a Porsche for its executives’ use.

Nonetheless, in December OneUnited got a $12 million injection from the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. One apparent factor: the intercession of Rep. Barney Frank, the powerful head of the House Financial Services Committee.

Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner, testifying Wednesday at his Senate confirmation hearing, acknowledged “there are serious concerns about transparency and accountability…confusion about the goals of the program, and a deep skepticism about whether we are using the taxpayers’ money wisely.”

“It’s totally arbitrary,” says South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. “If you’ve got the right lobbyist and the right representative connected to Washington or the right ties to Washington, you get the golden tap on the shoulder,” says Gov. Sanford, a Republican.

Several Ohio banks received funds after Ohio’s congressional delegation complained bitterly about the treatment of Cleveland-based National City Corp., which regulators forced into a merger rather than provide with cash. And in Alabama, the state’s top banking official says a windfall there — five banks are slated to receive funds — is testament to the influence of two powerful Alabama lawmakers who sit on key congressional committees.

Rep. Frank, besides heading the Financial Services Committee, has longstanding ties to OneUnited, and recalls having had a deposit account at a predecessor bank in the 1960s.

Later that month, Rep. Frank was intimately involved in crafting the legislation that created the $700 billion financial-system rescue plan. Mr. Frank says that in order to protect OneUnited bank, he inserted into the bill a provision to give special consideration to banks that had less than $1 billion of assets, had been well-capitalized as of June 30, served low- and moderate-income areas, and had taken a capital hit in the federal seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

On Oct. 27, the FDIC and Massachusetts bank regulatory officials, alleging poor lending practices and executive-compensation abuses by OneUnited, slapped it with a strong enforcement action, a cease-and-desist order. Among other things, the officials told the bank to get rid of a 2008 Porsche for executives.

Mr. Frank said he didn’t try to interfere with the regulatory process. “We have never told the regulators that they should ease up on them or not order them to do this or that,” he said.

He cites the bank’s status as the state’s only financial institution owned by African-Americans.

The free market should have been allowed to work in this case and this poorly run bank with its overpaid executives should have been closed.  Instead, based on Mr Frank’s parochial interests and ties to this corrupt institution, OneUnited receives $12 million from the taxpayer.  It would be interesting to know how much in political contributions Mr Franks received from OneUnited.

Even at a time of an unprecedented national crisis, our politicians cannot take the high road and look at the situation from a standpoint of the National interest.  The US itself will be just as bankrupt as OneUnited if we attempt to bailout every failed business entity in the country.  If the nation survives this crisis, it will be in spite of the actions taken in Washington.

In an incredibly ironic statement on the stimulus plan, Democratic Senator Inouye of Hawaii stated that “We must respond to this crisis with all the weapons at our disposal.  If we fail to act, the situation will almost certainly worsen, and the American people will continue to pay a heavy price.”  With clueless fools like Senator Inouye voting to spend trillions of taxpayer dollars to help us, we will be lucky to survive as a nation.  The Senator clearly does not see that the government and the Fed caused the financial meltdown.  He clearly does not see that the government is only going to make the situation far worse by trying to reflate the asset bubble.  Most of all he clearly does not see that he is putting the nation on the road to financial destruction by burying us in more debt.

My take on the stimulus plan is that the money will be largely wasted by keeping alive Zombie business entities that are poorly run by overpaid executives.  Money to the losers will only serve to hurt the successful.  The successful should not have to subsidize those who fail; this type of wealth shifting will  make us all equally poor.  Much of the stimulus money spent will be based on political connections, self interest and self dealing.   The economic situation will worsen as borrowed money is spent foolishly.  The only sure result of the stimulus package will be to put the sovereign credit of the United States at further risk.

‘Atlas Shrugged’ – Banned in Washington

Equality Through Poverty

Ayn Rand’s 1957 classic novel, Atlas Shrugged, depicts how governments ultimately destroy the most productive sectors of a society, leaving everyone equally poor.

‘Atlas Shrugged’ : From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years

Stephen Moore – Wall Street Journal – No One Explains It Better – (Highlights)

Some years ago when I worked at the libertarian Cato Institute, we used to label any new hire who had not yet read “Atlas Shrugged” a “virgin.” Being conversant in Ayn Rand’s classic novel about the economic carnage caused by big government run amok was practically a job requirement. If only “Atlas” were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I’m confident that we’d get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.

[Atlas Shrugged] Getty Images

The art for a 1999 postage stamp.

Ultimately, “Atlas Shrugged” is a celebration of the entrepreneur, the risk taker and the cultivator of wealth through human intellect. Critics dismissed the novel as simple-minded, and even some of Rand’s political admirers complained that she lacked compassion. Yet one pertinent warning resounds throughout the book: When profits and wealth and creativity are denigrated in society, they start to disappear — leaving everyone the poorer.

Many of us who know Rand’s work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that “Atlas Shrugged” parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.

Rand, who had come to America from Soviet Russia with striking insights into totalitarianism and the destructiveness of socialism, was already a celebrity. The left, naturally, hated her. But as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated “Atlas” as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.

For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises — that in most cases they themselves created — by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

The current economic strategy is right out of “Atlas Shrugged”: The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you. That’s the justification for the $2 trillion of subsidies doled out already to keep afloat distressed insurance companies, banks, Wall Street investment houses, and auto companies — while standing next in line for their share of the booty are real-estate developers, the steel industry, chemical companies, airlines, ethanol producers, construction firms and even catfish farmers. With each successive bailout to “calm the markets,” another trillion of national wealth is subsequently lost. Yet, as “Atlas” grimly foretold, we now treat the incompetent who wreck their companies as victims, while those resourceful business owners who manage to make a profit are portrayed as recipients of illegitimate “windfalls.”

The full article is well worth reading, not to mention the book itself.    Unfortunately, this book is more likely to be banned than read in Washington.

The Stimulus Plan Condemns Us To Further Wealth Destruction

Will Spending Borrowed Money Create Wealth?

There seems to be near universal agreement at all decision making levels of government that we can borrow and spend ourselves into prosperity.  Let’s consider some worthwhile contrary opinions.

Leave the New Deal in the History Books

When Barack Obama takes office on Tuesday, his first order of business will be a stimulus package estimated to be close to $1 trillion.   Sages nod that replicating aspects of FDR’s New Deal will help pull the country out of a recession. But the experience under FDR largely provides a cautionary tale.

Mr. Obama’s policy plans are driven by the conventional economic wisdom that the New Deal economic programs ended the Great Depression. Not so. In fact, thanks to New Deal policies and programs, the U.S. economy faltered for years longer than it might otherwise have done.

President Roosevelt came to office much as Barack Obama will, shouldering an economic crisis that began under his predecessor. In 1933, Roosevelt’s first year, unemployment hit nearly 25%, as people lost jobs and homes in towns across the country. Believing that government played a key role in restarting growth, FDR, within his first 100 days as president, created an alphabet soup of new agencies that mandated actions or controlled public spending and impacted private capital flow within the U.S. economy.

At first, it seemed to be working.  Then things turned for worse again: By the fall of 1937, the U.S. entered a secondary depression and unemployment began to rise, reaching 19% in 1938.

By 1939 Roosevelt’s own Treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, had realized that the New Deal economic policies had failed. “We have tried spending money,” Morgenthau wrote in his diary. “We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. . . . After eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. . . . And an enormous debt to boot!”

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson have been correctly focused on shoring up financial institutions to prevent a collapse of the financial system, and stave off a severe decline in the general price level. If that were to occur, the unspoken fear has been that the U.S. and global economy could go into a deflationary death spiral that would cause the collapse of the international financial system.

As a short-term matter, the moves of the Fed and other central banks have been correct, but in the long term a return to growth will depend on dynamic job creation by American business — not the U.S. government.

As a result, the New Deal forced the allocation of money away from the private sector. As economist Henry Hazlitt wrote back in 1946, New Deal programs prevented the creation of the types of jobs which have the multiplier effect of successful businesses. Creating “work” prevented innovation and new jobs that would create other jobs.

Governments cannot create wealth by taxing and borrowing to fund make work jobs.  The expenditure of massive amounts of money on politically inspired spending will simply deprive the private sector of needed capital.  Central economic planning has never worked nor will it work now.  The fact that there appears to be near unanimity in Washington that we need to borrow and spend our way to “prosperity” is enough to cause grave concerns since at a minimum it implies that there will be little constructive debate on the merits of the consensus view.

The Obsession With Government Spending

Despite adverse experience, the Keynesian stimulus idea has a viselike hold on policymakers

The U.S. is enacting a “stimulus” program of gargantuan peacetime proportions to rejuvenate our recessed economy. We are not alone in this. Japan, China, Europe and numerous other nations are doing the same–not yet as big as our program but based on the idea that governments can rekindle growth.

It’s all mostly wasted effort.

Despite its sheer size, the impact of the new President’s fiscal program, after the initial euphoria, will be painfully limited. Instead of a jolt like from downing a six-pack of Red Bull, we’ll get the economic equivalent of a tepid cup of decaffeinated tea. In fact, the waste and misuse of much of the money–inevitable in any quick, massive government-managed or -directed program–will negate much of the good in parts of this infrastructure-spending package.

The blunt truth is that government spending is a poor substitute for private business and consumer investing and spending. Were it otherwise, the Soviet Union would have won the Cold War, and Japan, which had numerous Obamaesque stimulus packages in the 1990s, would have boomed instead of remaining dead in the water in what was a 12-year recession.

Why this belief in government spending? After surveying the wreckage of the Great Depression, British economist John Maynard Keynes posited that markets left to themselves were inherently unstable and that government intervention could prevent debilitating economic slumps.

So why did such an approach fail so miserably in the 1930s?

What about Japan’s spending binge in the 1990s that still left its economy stagnant?

What about western Europe, which has had a massive government presence during the last 30 years but has created only a small fraction of the private-sector jobs that the U.S. has?

Despite adverse experience, the Keynesian stimulus idea has a viselike hold on policymakers, pundits and academics.

Events can also roil economies, as we experienced after 9/11. But most often, bad government policies bring on the most damaging downturns. The Great Depression was ignited by trade wars, high taxes and bad monetary policies. The great inflation of the 1970s was caused by the Federal Reserve’s excessive money printing. The current crisis was brought on by the weak dollar, the reckless extravagances of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and regulatory errors, such as mark-to-market accounting.

The fact that policy makers best solution is nothing more than a continuation of past failed policies reinforces the intellectually bankrupt theory of a borrow and spend solution.   Hurry up and do something, anything, would best describe the stimulus plan.

Final Steps To Insolvency?

Can Obama Make Government Solvent?

Mr. Obama has been handed an opportunity. He will put the welfare state on a path to solvency or he won’t, and we’re likely to find out soon. His stimulus spending plans will blow up in his face unless the bond markets (which will be called upon to finance them) are convinced the dollar will remain sound and spending under control.

Sadly, to those from whom much is expected, sometimes not enough is given. FDR can have been a great leader who sought the best for his country, and the ’30s still have been a succession of political disasters. Both things can be true. Presidents ride the tiger. Without apparent cognitive dissonance, Mr. Obama already has taken to denouncing Washington’s “anything goes” culture while simultaneously outlining plans to borrow perhaps $1 trillion to distribute to anybody and anything that happens to fit the wish list of some Democratic Party constituency group (and a few GOP ones too).

He certainly will meet with a gratifying success in the spending portion of his plan. The revelation will be whether he can deliver anything else.

Government solvency now has to be considered by serious minds as we see numerous countries headed down that path. The rush to spend  massive amounts of borrowed money is a sign of fiscal insanity.   Large government programs are always instituted in haste after a crisis has occurred.   Invariably, the government solution only makes the original problem worse.  Let us hope that at a minimum, any major government initiatives are properly debated before enactment and sharply curtailed.