Previous posts in this discussion:
PostIs Socialism to Blame for Venezuela's Plight? (Tor Guimaraes, USA, 12/07/18 11:56 am)
I agree with Nigel Jones (November 6th) that the situation in Venezuela is absolutely horrible, but I think it is ideological nonsense to blame it all on Socialism. There is social, political, and economic disaster and decay everywhere.
We capitalist pigs, enamored with profits. We'd better watch out or the ghost of Karl Marx will come back to haunt us. There are numerous countries around the world under the mentorship or the jackboot of the US government. Several raging civil wars never seem to end under the greedy eyes of profit-oriented weapons manufacturers. Their situation is just as bad as, or worse, than Venezuela.
Then we have super-capitalist countries like Colombia and Mexico when the profit from drugs run the country. There is a lot of money sloshing around, but the level of violence is incredible.
Who or what should we blame? Socialism, Communism, Capitalism, imperialism, terrorism, rampant drug consumption in wealthy nations, drug dealers fighting for profits?
JE comments: And then we have the quasi-socialist nations of Scandinavia, which are among the wealthiest and happiest of the world. Perhaps it's time for new term, "dysfunctionism"? It's the "ism" that guarantees a given country is, or soon will become, a shambles.
Are We on the Verge of a Recession? From Ric Mauricio
(John Eipper, USA
12/08/18 4:48 AM)
Ric Mauricio responds to Tor Guimaraes (7 December):
Capitalism is good, until greed takes over. Socialism can be good, until people try to take advantage of it. Religion can be good, until the powers that be attempt to control the minds of the people. Exercise can be good, unless you overdo it. In other words, balance is the key. Extremes are not good.
But let's turn a page in history here. On June 17, 1930, the US government enacted the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. It raised US tariffs to record levels on more than 20,000 imported goods. This populist legislation sounded appealing at the time--America First, right?--but it helped create and worsen the Great Depression. Foreign governments retaliated by shutting out US exports. International trade ground to a halt. The world economy contracted 25%. And a quarter of Americans were thrown out of work--and into bread lines. Is this something we want to emulate? Earlier this year, self-proclaimed Tariff Man President Trump said trade wars are "great and easy to win." Hmmm.
The biggest question I am being asked lately? Are we headed towards a recession? The talking heads point at the inverted yield curve. It's inverted between the 2 year and the 5 year. But that inversion has never predicted a recession. It's the 2 year vs. the 10 year, and that has to be in effect for a quarter before it becomes a true recession indicator. Yes, by feeding the public through the media that because we have the start of a possible inverted yield curve, the brokerage firms and their lapdogs are trying to get the public to sell their stocks, so that they can buy cheap.
Does that mean we are not heading towards a recession? No, but the indicator doesn't yet signal that. With the Tariff Man steadfastly holding to that thought, I believe we will eventually head into an inflationary recession as more and more fiat currencies are digitized.
Already, my supplies at the gym have jumped 25%. That, folks, is inflation.
JE comments: One of Ric Mauricio's many day jobs is that of gym owner. So what do other WAISers think? Is the recession looming? Has it already begun? One look at my retirement portfolio is enough to answer in the affirmative. Yes, securities are now on sale. But who buys at a 10% discount when you believe that next week the markdowns will go to 20% or higher?
Are We Headed for Recession?
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
12/10/18 9:29 AM)
I think my favorite intellectual sparring partner, Ric Mauricio (December 8th), is right stating that nothing will work long term when people try to take undue advantage of other people (lack of respect for people) and by not balancing the extremes. The only exception might be searching for the truth on everything, without which we won't know what is going on, how some people are taking advantage of others, and how to balance things. That is basically why I believe in God the Universe.
Ric asks the question, "Are we headed towards a recession?" Here I break my own rules and look at financial markets statistical evidence and heuristics with a large grain of salt. Trends are also very important in some cases, like today's economy and stock market (two very different things). To me the real economy is the people's standard of living, so our economy (the world's for that matter) has been sick and getting worse for a long time.
Since Bill Clinton's administration listened to Greenspan and ripped off the boundary between consumer banking and investment banking, the stock market has been on drugs; and short term the budget deficit was wiped out and the economy felt rosy for a while. After that under the Goldman Sachs administration (Bush/Cheney/Obama) the financial system blew up and the economy has suffered since, even thought the stock market has recovered due to massive doses of free or very cheap money.
The problem has been a much lower standard of living for the majority of the people, coupled with an unsustainably high stock market. The economy was so weak that the Fed did not have to worry too much about inflation so it let things ride. Lately, as the Fed noticed that inflation raised the price of Ric's gym supplies, it had to act and introduced a gradual interest rate increase to fight off inflation. If it slows the rate increase, inflation may accelerate as the economy recovers. If it raises rates too high or abruptly (they know better), we have recession. I guess our capitalist system it is all about money now.
A few days ago I was depressed to find out that China now is producing more research (new knowledge) than we are. That spells long-term problems, because knowledge from research (not organized religion) leads to new technology, new products and processes, jobs and economic growth.
JE comments: Today we have yet another grim day on the stock market. At least no one will accuse it of being unsustainably high. My question, are we headed for recession, or does it just feel like we are? When greed turns to fear...
Is a Recession Looming?
(Istvan Simon, USA
12/11/18 2:46 AM)
Responding to Ric Mauricio's question, I do think that we are headed to a recession.
The American economy has been on a 10-year uninterrupted expansion, the unemployment rate is at 3.7%, and inflation is low. So, Tor Guimaraes' sweeping generalizations and enduring pessimism about the American (and the world) economy seem grossly exaggerated and probably unwarranted.
But, if so, why do I think that we are headed to a recession?
There are several reasons. First, we are due one simply by the cyclical nature of our economy. Ten years of expansion is unusually long, and so something is bound to go wrong, sooner or later, which tends to cause recessions. But there are further reasons for concern. The economic policies of president Trump are in my opinion all wrong. He has done nothing to help the economy along, and has done a lot of things that will tend to stall the economy. The tariffs and his trade war with China are stupid and counterproductive.
The United States has some legitimate complaints about some of China's trade policies and economic behavior. For example, China's tendency to ignore intellectual property. But the way to go about this is not Trump's "elephant in a china shop" (no pun intended) approach. There is no evidence that any of his tariffs have been helpful to the American economy, and plenty of evidence that they have been harmful. As I predicted in these pages, China did not blink, nor changed any of its trade practices, and entirely predictably retaliated.
It is stupid to put tariffs on steel and aluminum. It increases costs, and therefore contributes to inflation, and it makes American manufactured products less competitive, worsening the trade deficit rather than helping it. Since steel is used in mostly everything, it increases the costs of everything where steel is used. The number of jobs lost because of this is vastly superior to the number of jobs saved in the American steel industry. Similar considerations go for aluminum. Furthermore, because China retaliated, it caused the loss of billions of dollars in exports of agricultural products, and loss of market share to American agriculture in world markets. These effects are going to be long term, and persist even after Trump's policies are eventually reversed. The consequences of this Trump-manufactured crisis in the farming sector necessitated a $15 billion bailout to farmers, to try to placate them. It is 15 billion dollars that we do not have, so this just increases the national debt further. Likewise, the increase of over $160 billion in the defense budget was unneeded, and once again increases the national debt. The tax cut for the super-rich as predicted did not result in added growth, as the GOP claimed it would, and therefore once again just exacerbated the deficit. In 2 years the Trump administration grew the national debt by over 2 trillion dollars. Paraphrasing Everett Dirksen, $15 billion here, $160 billion there, and soon it adds up to real money.
It should be said that increasing the deficit during a robust economic expansion is imbecilic. It is Keynes turned on its head. It causes long-term pain with larger and larger burden of interest payments, without much economic benefit. So all these policies of the Trump administration are ill-conceived and causing real harm to the economy. Until recently this was masked by the generally good performance of the economy, which continued on its same upward path inherited from the Obama presidency. But the trade war with China and some of these other factors I mentioned above turned a vigorous bull market into what appears to be a bear market now.
I disagree with Tor Guimaraes that the rise in the stock market was caused by "cheap money." The stock market predicts future profits, and while not always right, generally does that pretty well. That is also what caused the rise in stocks so far, and it has been mostly justified. Profit growth has been healthy, and so stocks rose.
Conversely, the recent reversal of markets seems also sound. Add to this that markets do not not like uncertainty, therefore the constant zig zags of the Trump administration do not help. Neither do the constant lies which are soon contradicted by the actual facts.
JE comments: One silver lining of a possible recession is the unlikelihood it will bring about a collapse in housing as in 2008. Having just procured a mortgage, I can assure you the banks won't cough up a penny unless you're solvent and can prove it with forest-killing reams of documentation.
A recession is formally defined as two successive quarters of negative growth. We haven't had one of those yet--but the fourth quarter of 2018 feels very shaky.
- The "Goldman Sachs Administration" (David Duggan, USA 12/11/18 4:32 AM)
Richard Rubin, chairman of Goldman Sachs, was Clinton's second Secretary of the Treasury, succeeding political hack Lloyd Bentsen in 1995. Of course, Lloyd Bentsen beat George H. W. Bush in the 1970 Senate race in Texas, but was the 1st mate on the Titanic of the Michael Dukakis's presidential campaign of 1988. Maybe there is karma after all.
JE comments: David Duggan writes in response to Tor Guimaraes's reference to the "Goldman Sachs Administration" of "Bush/Cheney/Obama." David reminds us that Bill Clinton was a GS acolyte, too. And what about Europe?
Who can answer this naïve question: why are political leaders so enamored of Goldman Sachs?
"Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Hack or not, Lloyd Bentsen left us with one of the most memorable quotes of the decade, perhaps the century.
- There are No "Happy Socialist" States (Nigel Jones, -UK 12/08/18 6:56 AM)
Both Tor Guimaraes and John Eipper (7 December) are wrong in attempting to exculpate the utterly discredited and murderous doctrine of socialism for the catastrophic situation in Venezuela.
Twenty years of dictatorial socialism has reduced what was once one of the most prosperous states in Latin America to the abject condition described in the Guardian report I posted. This was not right-wing propaganda but a rare instance of honesty in that leftist rag.
Nor, as John claims, are Scandinavian countries happy socialist states. John may not have noticed, but these countries have long since abandoned socialism and populist anti-left parties are on the rise there as they are all over Europe.
JE comments: Tor and I weren't trying to exculpate socialism. Tor's point was that it (socialism) does not have a monopoly on dysfunction and murderousness.
David A (Bert) Westbrook also wrote in to tell me that I'm not current on Scandinavian politics. Let's turn this into a "teachable" moment. I'm aware that the Right is gaining more political power in Sweden. What about Norway? Or Denmark? Is the welfare state being dismantled? I hope Paul Levine can send an update from Copenhagen.
- Is Socialism to Blame for Venezuela's Plight? Yes, but Not Entirely (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/09/18 4:38 AM)
Tor Guimaraes wrote on December 7th that it is ideological nonsense to blame Venezuela's current drama entirely on socialism.
I agree partially with him.
In the Venezuelan case, it is true that there are other factors such as corruption, drugs and weapons trafficking, and a sophisticated form of political dictatorship, but it is also true that the basic ideology that inspired all this current state of affairs is 21st-century socialism, a new form if you will of the most radical expression of socialism supported by the Castro regime. Everything that socially and politically is happening here has been carried out in the name of the Social Revolution.
For sure there have been other regimes inspired by other ideologies around the world in the past with similar results, ruining the country to levels never before experienced, but this has likely never happened in peacetime.
JE comments: Has another nation in history gone from such wealth to such poverty? Probably not, although there might be a few rivals to Venezuela, such as Zimbabwe and tiny Nauru, which ran out of guano. It's time to write a sequel to Adam Smith: The Poverty of Nations.
- The "Goldman Sachs Administration" (David Duggan, USA 12/11/18 4:32 AM)
- Is a Recession Looming? (Istvan Simon, USA 12/11/18 2:46 AM)
- Are We Headed for Recession? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/10/18 9:29 AM)