Sunday, September 26, 2010

Unintended Consequences (Reprinted)

Here is a reprint from April 10th, 2008 that I added a few paragraphs to that still hits home.

In 1939 we had “Appeasement” to keep from fighting a war with Germany. It kind of worked for a couple of years; we still had a war, but if we had nipped it in the bud, it would have been small. World wars tend to be large.

Congress gave a subsidy for growing corn to make ethanol, and the price of beef went up. Turning food into fuel is pure lunacy (IMHO). The funny part is the subsidies more than make up for the unprofitably of the venture. God bless Congress for their infinite wisdom, their group stupidity will kill us (if their kindness doesn’t). I would like to see the gas stations give you the quart of ethanol instead of mixing it in your gas. You’d be able to fill your tank and get tanked. The DUI would be an unintended consequence.

The Fed dropped the interest rate when the stock market took a dive in 2001 and the real estate market took off. The solution to one problem created a new problem; of course everyone knows that real estate has hit “bottom.” The Fed bailed out Bear Stearns and God knows where that is going yet. Ben’s 30 billion dollar loan will buy a lot of “Blue Sky” (assets with intangible value). B of A is about to throw away the sucked out dry carcass of Countrywide. I guess they get to keep CW’s loan servicing department. This outcome however, was far from unintended.

Congress a few years back passed a law that allowed farmers to depreciate heavy farm equipment over five years. Every business in the US bought a Hummer as a 50K write off! A great business expense when gas was $1.50.

Three paragraphs following, added September 26, 2010

Congress enacted a fine on airlines that could cost them a couple of million if they left a plane waiting the the tarmac for 3 hours. The net result,The airlines eliminate the possibility of a fine by canceling the flight. It's very upsetting to fly into Chicago and find out your flight to DC has been canceled--I remember it well!

Obamacare prevents insurers from putting caps on medical payments for children. The net effect, insurers will stop offering coverage for kids.

A few years back the Georgia legislature passed a bill against abusive loans by banks. The net result, you couldn't find a bank to borrow money from to buy a home, in the state of Georgia. That got fixed rather fast.

We need to accept the idea that the solution to one problem creates a new problem. If that wasn’t the case, we would have solved all of humanity’s problems hundreds of years ago. Once you realize this, you begin to understand politics. The problems are real, but the solutions are only trade offs. The whole mess will sort itself out with or without any intervention. Intervention will not change the final outcome.

It reminds me of the saying “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. The unintended consequence here is you have a couple of guys in a boat drinking beer all day. The additional unintended consequence is a mad wife with a frying pan waiting for her drunk husband to crawl home. Ouch!

Copyright 2010 All rights reserved

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Tax Cut, a Carrot on a Stick

Obama wants to raise taxes on the rich but not the middle class. Is it really a bright idea, to piss off the rich by singling them out? It is kind of like a pick-pocket walking up to you and telling you he is going to steal your wallet; at that point he has little chance of success. It sounds like a great statement to the masses, but when you look at the Health care bill that just passed, whose going to get the bill for that (I give you one guess)? So if you are rich, what do you do? Hop on your jet and move to the Bahamas where tax laws are nonexistent? Hmmm Of course I will have to admit, people who get rich quick assume it’s because they are more intelligent than those around them. That mistake can cost a lot if you buy the multi-million dollar homes and the toys that go with it. There is high tax maintenance on all of that stuff. The “Look at me, I’m Rich,” game cost money to play--- I’m just glad there are people out there that enjoy playing that game.

Obama’s idea that we are coddling millionaires is ludicrous. When I was a kid, the average wage earner might earn a quarter of a million dollars in a life time. Millionaires today are a dime a dozen now. Many people I have bumped into have matter a factly mentioned that they are millionaires. I don’t know who they are trying to impress, but when my dad earned 5K a year and our home cost 25K, a million dollars was something. In today’s world, the “air” part of millionaire is the only real part. Not too long ago a million dollars in the bank would earn 100K in interest a year and there were taxes to pay; but at 2 percent interest, your return from the bank is a paltry 20K. Many a person saving for retirement needs to consider the fact that a million dollar nest egg isn’t much if you end up in a rest home at 70k per year ( that goes double in spades if you are married). It will only last about 8 to 12 years. The concept of being a millionaire hasn’t lost its luster in the mind’s eye; everyone overlooks the reality that the bar has been moved up to billionaire, and that of course has nothing at all to do with inflation (cough cough).

If these George W Bush tax cuts expire, the rich escape,  the middle class gets hit and the poor get a free ride. And the funny thing is, it happens without Congress doing a damn thing; everyone’s taxes return to pre-Bush rates (Is "pre-Bush," "Democrat" spelled backwards?). The concept of making a tax cut permanent, runs against the grain of Congressional job security; it would be the last tax cut we would ever hear about. This way the tax cut expires and Congress can vote again to cut taxes.  It's a little like a furniture store holding their annual "Going out of Business sale," only in this case, Obama wants the rich people to pay full price. I guess millionaires don't shop at Walmart, do they?

Copyright 2010 All rights reserved

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Educational Loans, Student Slavery to a Bank

It school time, and a lot of our sons and daughters have headed on to college. This is where parents and the young who wish to improve their station in life seek out college loans to finance their great quest. Whether it is a trade school or college, the government will co-sign on these loans. What most people don’t realize is that a college and a trade school are businesses. Without customers who can pay for the services to be rendered, they cannot survive. Student loans are the life blood of higher education and more so for the fly-by-night trade schools.

There is one little snag to the whole warm and fuzzy idea of higher education. Nowhere does it say that you will be offered or even find a job after graduation. The other thing not mentioned is that your field of study might be flooded with graduates or technicians already looking for a job, X-ray technician and dental assistant come to mind. You might not like the idea of moving to Montana, Wyoming or Tennessee, they are not the greatest places if you’re single looking for a wife. Plus usually the single mom with kids, looking for a new career gets cornholed into a trade school that spits out plenty of hope but no real jobs.

So here is what happens, the student applies for these student loans and gets everyone of them. Your kid can run up 20K a year on student loans. So it is not uncommon for a college graduate to have 80K (or more) in student loans and the payments start 6 months after you graduate. Sounds just great doesn’t it, but what happens if you can’t find a job? Once you sign that promissary note, you can never file bankruptcy and wipe that student loan off of your slate. It follows you for life.

Here is a little story of what happened to me many, many years ago at Syracuse University. I graduated in June of 1971. My student loan came due six months after I graduated. The bank sent me a letter with a promissory note to sign for all of the money I had borrowed. The amount was for $4,000 which by today’s standards would be about $40K (inflation—go figure!). As a young padawan, I read the note and several things stood out. (This is from memory, so the wording is not legalese and it has been a long time—39 years) My debt to them was to be paid first even if I filed for bankruptcy. I thought that a little unfair if I owed money to other people, I thought everyone should get a slice of what was left. Then there was a passage that said if the US government no longer existed, I would owe the money to the new government. I thought that a bit strange also. Anyway, there were three lines of verbiage that I did not like, and took a ruler and a pen to and crossed them out. I signed it and mailed it to the bank. They called me and asked me to come down to the bank and I did. When I got there, they informed me that I couldn’t cross out items on their legal agreement, they wouldn’t allow it. The bank manager was saying “You can’t do this!” I explained to him that I already received the money, spent it, and if he didn’t like the agreement, I wasn’t going to sign another just to please him. They defaulted my loan even though I had never missed a payment.

To make a long story short, I paid the interest on the loan every month for 10 years. About that time I was making more money and they called again to see if I would increase my payment. I had been talking to this collection agent for several years and I asked him what the payoff was? He said something strange, “Offer 50 cents on the dollar and see if they take it. So I offered them $1,500 to pay off the $4,000 note and they countered with $1,800. I wrote them a check.

I don’t know if things are still the same, but when Congress offers money to students and these loans are excluded from the bankruptcy laws, they have enslaved our college students to the banks. My advice to students who receive a promissory note to sign, tell the bank to go fish. You already have the money. All they can do is ruin your nonexistent credit rating.

I'm not suggesting that college students walk away from their obligations. But the right to file bankruptcy would make these lenders think twice about the amount of money they would lend to a teenager who has never held a job.

Bankruptcy is a way we can preserve our right to prove to Congress that we don’t have to pay for their bumbling stupidity. College should be the door that opens to new opportunity, not one that leaves students prey to their trusting naive innocence.\

Copyright 2010 All rights reserved

Monday, September 06, 2010

Where's the Money?

A while back Congress came out with the 814 billion dollar stimulus program. In essence they borrowed money to pay others who lost money in the grand scheme of investment finance. Today Obama announced a 50 billion dollar work program. Isn’t it missing a zero? It seems rather paltry. And then on top of it he blames the Republicans for our current economic plight because they are opposing his plans for the country. From my vantage point, it looks like the Republicans only have an issue of how do we pay for all of this. It’s a little like taking 10 of your friends to a massage parlor and telling the Madam that the last guy is paying. If the lady of the house is a Republican, the last guy with the money, is going to move to the head of the line—naturally of course he can’t find his wallet.

The Democrats are beginning to look like dead beats in a restaurant with no money,trying to stall for time by ordering another entrée. The New York Times today suggest that the government should let the housing market collapse.

“Housing needs to go back to reasonable levels,” said Anthony B. Sanders, a professor of real estate finance at George Mason University. “If we keep trying to stimulate the market, that’s the definition of insanity.”

The further the market descends, however, the more miserable one group — important both politically and economically — will be: the tens of millions of homeowners who have already seen their home values drop an average of 30 percent.

The poorer these owners feel, the less likely they will indulge in the sort of consumer spending the economy needs to recover. If they see an identical house down the street going for half what they owe, the temptation to default might be irresistible. That could make the market’s current malaise seem minor.

Caught in the middle is an administration that gambled on a recovery that is not happening.
And then we have all of this stuff exploding around us, absurd government salaries, retirement benefits and States going broke. Unemployment is doing just great; too bad it’s not a stock. Most graphical comparisons to historical statistics are off the charts. One news article the other day, called this, “The worst recession since the Great Depression.” When you think about it, most things in life, start out small and get bigger. So we started out with a “small” recession and now it’s getting bigger.

The Democrats think that the solution lies in bigger government and increased spending. The Republicans are not quite so sure. The elections are coming up in November and they could prove quite interesting. California could be the state to watch Jerry Brown Dem vs. Meg Whitman Rep; one’s too old and the other’s too rich. The present Republican Governorator has been giving the Democratic legislature a wedgie, still no budget for the fiscal year that started in July.

The State of California will be writing IOU’s in a couple of weeks. I wonder how that works if your paycheck is direct deposited? The electronic transfer of an IOU to your bank account?? It looks like Halloween pranks are a little early this year.

Copyright 2010 All rights reserved