Bill Frezza’s complete column is reproduced here – but, please visit his site.

How can the American people be so stupid….indeed.

The Dawn of a New Age In the United States

By Bill Frezza

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, after a tumultuous year of political theater, the Age of Obama has dawned.

With legislative success however tarnished by rancor and dissent, the hopes and dreams of generations of Progressives have been fulfilled. The trifecta of Social Security, Medicare, and the first installment of Universal Healthcare are now the law of the land.

Based on a common set of financial principals and an unshakable faith in the wisdom of government the productive power of the young, the healthy, the successful, and generations yet unborn are now fully lashed to the yoke of redistribution. The poor, the old, the infirm, the government employee, the union worker, the dropout, and the slothful have cause to rejoice as their party has delivered the goods.

Or so they think. Let’s take a quick look at the numbers.

According to the most recent Social Security and Medicare trustees report, the unfunded liabilities of these New Deal and Great Society programs exceed $100 trillion dollars. Add the unfunded Medicaid mandates imposed on the states along with the pension liabilities of millions of federal, state, and local government employees and the total becomes almost impossible to comprehend.

Try this on for size. If you confiscated the entire Gross Domestic Product of the US for ten years you couldn’t cover all these liabilities.

Confiscate the GDP? That’s Communism! OK, how about confiscating half the GDP? Too late, that money is already spoken for.

Combined Federal, State, and Local government spending is now at 37.5% of GDP and heading north. The European Union, our Progressive model, has already passed the 50% mark.

Note that these confiscatory levels of taxation can’t even cover this year’s spending. None of the money already being diverted from the economy is being used to shore up the aforementioned liabilities. These not only remain but are swelled by annual deficits.

Get the picture? Obama just handed the American people an empty gift box. Good luck collecting.

FDR promised that Social Security would never lead to runaway spending. LBJ promised the same for Medicare and Medicaid. President Obama is promising that his Universal Healthcare program will not only pay for itself but will generate savings that can be used to reduce the deficit.

The American people cannot possibly be so stupid as to take these political promises at face value. Somehow supporters must imagine that all these bills can be paid for by “the rich” while 95% of Americans enjoy tax cuts and subsidies. As citizens are invited to stick their hands ever deeper into their neighbors’ pockets, a majority of voters must believe they are going to get more than they have to give.

And why shouldn’t they? It’s worked so far hasn’t it? Our progressive income tax system has reached the point where half the population pays no income tax at all. What do they care if tax rates have to go up? And today’s retirees, like Bernie Madoff’s early clients, have already collected many times more than they paid in to Social Security and Medicare. Their thanks? A parting gift of consuming 30% of the nation’s healthcare budget in their final year of life.

FDR and LBJ died before anyone had to deliver on the promises they made. The problem for Obama is that his predecessor’s bills are coming due just as he is piling on more.

Social security recently passed its high water mark. The program now and forevermore will be paying out more than it takes in. In order to write these checks, the Social Security Administration has to redeem the vast mountain of IOUs it received when former Congressmen plundered every last penny of the so called “trust fund.” There is only one place today’s Congress can go to redeem these IOUs, and that is to the general taxpayer.

Kill the rich and eat them, there are too few to cover all these bills. The Age of Obama will certainly bring us equality. We will all be equally broke.

Meanwhile one form of inequality continues to grow unchecked, unnoticed as the media devotes all its energy to chasing banker bonuses. Studies show that government workers now get $1.45 in pay and benefits for every $1 received by comparable workers in the private sector. This should come as no surprise. While private sector unions have largely bankrupted their employers, save those like General Motors that have been nationalized, public sector unions have no such limitations. Representing a solidly Progressive voting bloc, the swelling ranks of public employees can be counted on to pass their bills along to the rest of us as they demand ever larger chunks of a shrinking pie.

This tragedy of abject profligacy can end only one way. Watch the drama unfolding in the land where democracy was born. German charity might allow the Greeks to enjoy their Progressive lifestyles a bit longer but eventually the disease of runaway social democracy will bankrupt the rest of Europe too.

Who wants to bet whether the Chinese will continue financing us long enough to be drawn down this rate hole of self-inflicted fiscal immolation?

Bill Frezza is a partner at Adams Capital Management, an early-stage venture capital firm. He can be reached at bill@vereverus.com. If you would like to subscribe to his weekly column, drop a note to publisher@vereverus.com.

Government jobs now exceed private sector jobs (ht Clusterstock).

Fire Dog Lake separates supposed myth from reality.  However, there’s no reference to taxpayer funded abortions that the bill makes possible, nor the moral hazard designed to drive private insurance over the edge.  It seems even liberals hate the Obamacare Bill, but mostly because they have to wait a few years for a public option to be the only option.

Besides the obvious things the healthcare bill does (artificially increasing demand for healthcare services while causing the supply of healthcare services to fall: INCREASING PRICES), here are a few less known points:

• Page 22: Mandates AUDITS of all employers that self-insure!
• Page 29: Admission: your health care will be rationed!
• Page 30: A government committee will decide what treatments and benefits you get (and, unlike an insurer, there will be no appeals process)
• Page 42: The “Health Choices Commissioner” will decide health benefits for you.
• Page 50: All non-US citizens, illegal or not, will be provided with free healthcare services.
• Page 58: Every person will be issued a National ID Health card.
• Page 59: The federal government will have direct, real-time access to all individual bank accounts for electronic funds transfer.
• Page 65: Taxpayers will subsidize all union retiree and community organizer health plans (read: SEIU, UAW and ACORN).
• Page 72: All private healthcare plans must conform to government rules to participate in a Healthcare Exchange.
• Page 84: All private healthcare plans must participate in the Healthcare Exchange (i.e., total government control of private plans).
• Page 91: Government mandates linguistic infrastructure for services; translation: illegal aliens.
• Page 95: The Government will pay ACORN and Americorps to sign up individuals for Government-run Health Care plan.
• Page 102: Those eligible for Medicaid will be automatically enrolled: you have no choice in the matter.
• Page 124: No company can sue the government for price-fixing. No “judicial review” is permitted against the government monopoly. Put simply, private insurers will be crushed.
• Page 127: The AMA sold doctors out: the government will set wages.
• Page 145: An employer MUST auto-enroll employees into the government-run public plan. No alternatives.
• Page 146: Employers MUST pay healthcare bills for part-time employees AND their families.
• Page 149: Any employer with a payroll of $400K or more, who does not offer the public option, pays an 8% tax on payroll.
• Page 150: Any employer with a payroll of $250K-400K or more, who does not offer the public option, pays a 2 to 6% tax on payroll.
• Page 167: Any individual who doesn’t’ have acceptable healthcare (according to the government) will be taxed 2.5% of income.
• Page 170: Any NON-RESIDENT alien is exempt from individual taxes (Americans will pay for them).
• Page 195: Officers and employees of Government Healthcare Bureaucracy will have access to ALL American financial and personal records.
• Page 203: “The tax imposed under this section shall not be treated as tax.” Yes, it really says that.
• Page 239: Bill will reduce physician services for Medicaid. Seniors and the poor most affected.”
• Page 241: Doctors: no matter what specialty you have, you’ll all be paid the same (thanks, AMA!).
• Page 253: Government sets value of doctors’ time, their professional judgment, etc.
• Page 265: Government mandates and controls productivity for private healthcare industries.
• Page 268: Government regulates rental and purchase of power-driven wheelchairs.
• Page 272: Cancer patients: welcome to the wonderful world of rationing!
• Page 280: Hospitals will be penalized for what the government deems preventable re-admissions.
• Page 298: Doctors: if you treat a patient during an initial admission that results in a readmission, you will be penalized by the government.
• Page 317: Doctors: you are now prohibited for owning and investing in healthcare companies!
• Page 318: Prohibition on hospital expansion. Hospitals cannot expand without government approval.
• Page 321: Hospital expansion hinges on “community” input: in other words, yet another payoff for ACORN.
• Page 335: Government mandates establishment of outcome-based measures: i.e., rationing.
• Page 341: Government has authority to disqualify Medicare Advantage Plans, HMOs, etc.
• Page 354: Government will restrict enrollment of SPECIAL NEEDS individuals.
• Page 379: More bureaucracy: Telehealth Advisory Committee (healthcare by phone).
• Page 425: Government will instruct and consult regarding living wills, durable powers of attorney, etc. Mandatory. Appears to lock in estate taxes ahead of time.
• Page 425: Government provides approved list of end-of-life resources, guiding you in death.
• Page 427: Government mandates program that orders end-of-life treatment; government dictates how your life ends.
• Page 429: Advance Care Planning Consult will be used to dictate treatment as patient’s health deteriorates. This can include an ORDER for end-of-life plans. An ORDER from the GOVERNMENT.
• Page 430: Government will decide what level of treatments you may have at end-of-life.

Washington’s blog is encouraging debate on what monetary system we should have in the United States.  In the discussion, Australian economist Steve Keen advocates that equity shares owned by the original owner when the physical underlying capital was formed would have perpetual life.  However, once the original owner sells the shares in the secondary market, the share begins to expire over (say) 25 years.  Dr. Keen points out the benefit of this arrangement:

Shares purchased in an initial public offering or float would last indefinitely while held by the original purchaser. But once these shares were sold, they would have a defined life of (say) 25 years.

This would have several benefits over our current system:

(1) Purchasers of shares on the secondary market would be forced to do what the Capital Assets Pricing Model (the delusional neoclassical theory that dominated academic finance prior to the GFC) pretended they do now: to value shares on a sensible valuation of expected future dividend earnings. You would only buy a share under this system if you expected a reasonably good stream of dividends from it, because in 25 years it would expire; and

(2) It would encourage the act of providing finance to new ventures. At present, the share market does a very poor job of providing new finance, with over 99% of the transactions being secondary market sales in search of capital gains. With my change, the only way to secure an indefinite stream of revenue from a new venture would be to provide it with some of its initial capital. This proposal would drastically shift the balance in favour of raising initial capital, which is the only truly socially beneficial role of the stock market.

We applaud this sort of thinking…good luck in getting it past Goldman Sachs.

However Dr. Keen has an even more valuable piece that strongly supports the arguement of the “deflation camp”:

So the following numerical example might make it easier to understand their arguments:

  • Imagine a country with a nominal GDP of $1,000 billion, which is growing at 10% per annum (real output is growing at 4% p.a. and inflation is 6% p.a.);
  • It also has an aggregate private debt level of $1,250 billion which is growing at 20% p.a., so that private debt increases by $250 billion that year;
  • Ignoring for the moment the contribution from government deficit spending, total spending in that economy for that year–on all markets, both commodities and assets–is therefore $1,250 billion. 80% of this is financed by incomes (GDP) and 20% is financed by increased debt;
  • One year later, the GDP has grown by 10% to $1,100 billion;
  • Now imagine that debt stabilises at $1,500 billion, so that the change in debt that year is zero;
  • Then total spending in the economy is $1,100 billion, consisting of $1.1 trillion of income-financed spending and no debt-financed spending;
  • This is $150 billion less than the previous year;
  • Stabilisation of debt levels thus causes a 12% fall in nominal aggregate demand.

With the fall in demand, we can expect falling prices.  Consider: unless the government is able to create debt in amounts sufficient to offset more than the current decline in private debt (virtually impossible in the current political environment), we will see continued declines in GDP and…deflation.

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Robert J. Samuelson has a good article at the Washington Post on some of the Illusions of Cost Control. He makes a pretty good point about politics in this country: We ALWAYS take the easy/obvious way out:

There’s a parallel here: housing. Most Americans favor home ownership, but uncritical pro-homeownership policies (lax lending standards, puny down payments, hefty housing subsidies) helped cause the financial crisis. The same thing is happening with health care. The appeal of universal insurance — who, by the way, wants to be uninsured? — justifies half-truths and dubious policies. That the process is repeating itself suggests that our political leaders don’t learn even from proximate calamities.

Argument 1: The uninsured use expensive and ineffective emergency rooms for primary care. Once they’re insured, they’ll have regular doctors. Care will improve; costs will decline.

UNTRUE

A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the insured accounted for 83 percent of emergency-room visits, reflecting their share of the population. After Massachusetts adopted universal insurance, emergency-room use remained higher than the national average, an Urban Institute study found. More than two-fifths of visits represented non-emergencies. Of those, a majority of adult respondents to a survey said it was “more convenient” to go to the emergency room or they couldn’t “get [a doctor's] appointment as soon as needed.” If universal coverage makes appointments harder to get, emergency-room use may increase.

Argument 2: Insuring the uninsured will dramatically improve the nation’s health and thus decrease healthcare costs.

UNTRUE

Medicare’s introduction in 1966 produced no reduction in mortality; some studies of extensions of Medicaid for children didn’t find gains. In the Atlantic recently, economics writer Megan McArdle examined the literature and emerged skeptical. Claims that the uninsured suffer tens of thousands of premature deaths are “open to question.” Conceivably, the “lack of health insurance has no more impact on your health than lack of flood insurance,” she writes.

How could this be? Possible explanations include: (a) many uninsured are fairly healthy — about two-fifths are age 18 to 34; (b) some are too sick to be helped or have problems rooted in personal behaviors — smoking, diet, drinking or drug abuse; and (c) the uninsured already receive 50 to 70 percent of the care of the insured from hospitals, clinics and doctors, estimates the Congressional Budget Office.

Here’s the bottom line on healthcare cost control:

Unless we change the fee-for-service system, costs will remain hard to control because providers are paid more for doing more. We have to change the provider INCENTIVE! Just giving people free health insurance makes the problem worse. Healthcare providers will be able to continue doing more and getting paid more because there will be NO INCENTIVE for consumers to shop for the best prices OR control their own costs!

The U. S. Geological Service issued a report in April 2008 that only scientists and oil men knew was coming, but man was it big.  We have plenty of oil right here within the borders of the United States. The report was an updated one to the old 1995 version on how much oil was in the area of the western 2/3 of North Dakota, western South Dakota, and extreme eastern Montana known as the “Bakken”.    The Bakken is the largest domestic oil discovery since  Alaska ‘s  Prudhoe Bay and has the potential to eliminate all American dependence on foreign oil. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates it at 503 billion barrels. Even if just 10% of the oil is recoverable… at $107 a barrel, we’re looking at a resource base worth more than $5..3 trillion.. “When I first briefed legislators on this, you could practically see their jaws hit the floor. They had no idea..” says Terry Johnson, the Montana Legislature’s financial analyst…

The problem is the environmentalists won’t let us drill for it and the foreign oil producers don’t want us to access it either.  Whose side are they on – the terrorists?  Hmmm….

Update: the US Geological Service report referenced above refers to 3.65 billion barrels of recoverable oil —not 503 billion…

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Republican senator George LeMieux of Florida was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Mel Martinez, who resigned. His analysis shows that ALL WE HAVE TO DO TO BALANCE THE BUDGET is go back to 2007 spending levels!  It’s a no-brainer!  But not for idiots who buy votes for a living.

If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.

Could we live with what we did in 2007?” LeMieux asks—the “we” a collective reference to Congress, the federal government, and the country. He thinks so. Because of the recession, “most Americans are living with less than they had in 2007.”

Trillion dollar deficits or a balanced budget?  Ask your president why…

John Authers at FT has a good piece about long term price to earnings ratios. The bottom line is that:

…last year stocks were never nearly as undervalued as they had been at the previous great bear market lows.

…the Shiller data still suggest that stocks needed to get much cheaper than they did at last March’s low before they could start a true renewed bull market. His cyclically adjusted p/e fell to 5.8 in 1932, and 6.6 in 1982. Last year, it started to rebound at 13.3. Surely this is not the compelling cheapness that is needed for a new bull market?

Perhaps earnings will have risen some before the next test of the March 09 low (if there is one) so that the next time the p/e will be closer to the 6 or 7 required for a true bull market.  We’ll cross that “brideg when we get to it…

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