Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Inequity of Democracy

Last Friday the Wall Street Journal had an article on their opinion page “The Economics of a $6.75 Shirt.” The writer Rubana Huq is the managing director of the Mohammadi Group, a garment manufacturer and exporter in Bangladesh. His discussion touched on the current wage over there for garment workers of $70 to $80 dollars a month working two hours of overtime a day. He claimed that the labor cost per shirt was about 38 cents and the cost of materials was about $5.75. I tend to think that his cost of materials could be one or two dollars lower, but it reads good.

He went on to describe how the garment worker paid $40 dollars a month for rent and $13 per month per adult for 30 kilograms of rice. It kind of reminds me of when I was in Viet Nam in 1968. The wage scales and rents over there were about the same. I’ve heard a Congressman or two suggest that we need to bring back the clothing manufacturing back to the USA. The only thought that comes to mind is what were they smoking? Fast forward to today, many thousands of people emigrated from Viet Nam to the US. These people have been a real success story. They came from a world deep in poverty.

Over three quarters of the world’s population is working for slave wages, while we in this country are oblivious to the fact. Democracy is a system that allows us to inadvertently take advantage of other less developed countries. When you ask a supplier what is his bottom line on cost for producing a shirt or a cell phone is, his employees don’t even enter the equation. Low prices drive our cell phone and wide screen TV consumption.

What we are looking at is two worlds; those with real income and those living from hand to mouth. The one thing not understood by Americans is the slavery aspect of the third world. Work until you die or starve to death. In this case, having more kids is a retirement plan. The concept works but for all the wrong reasons-- an increase in the population decreases the food available for everyone.

This is where Islam is gaining support. The United States is the “Great Satin” because we benefit greatly from the sweat and toil of people in third world countries and they get little in return. Our government is claiming the recession is over, but if people in the US are consuming less, it affects these third world countries drastically. These are the countries facing substantial wage deflation pressures and possible starvation. People with a job, have no time to protest at these slave labor rates, but if unemployed, why not turn out for a riot and vent some anger?

The world seems to be in turmoil, and everything appears normal in the United States (if you’re a Democrat). The trouble is, a lot of seemingly unrelated items weave together to make us appear to be the cause for poverty in the third world. A cell phone made stateside might range in price from $500 to $1500 and an Ivy League button down shirt might cost upwards of $50. If we produced these items over here, we couldn’t go out to dinner as often as we liked plus the people that were previously building them would be unemployed and most likely starve to death.

Obama wants to give the third world Democracy. It’s kind of like passing out shoes to people with no feet. What they really need is some sort of support system for wages and food. Religious organizations seem to be the best avenue of support, whether they be Islam or Christian. The thing we need to comprehend is the inner rage of these souls in third world countries that can turn on a TV and view the world that they can only see, but not touch.

I propose a solution. Invade Mexico and make it the 51st State. As a state the minimum wage would increase and the people here illegally would now be citizens. And their country under American law would make it a very nice place to want to live. The neat thing about that, we wouldn’t have to wait for Congress to attempt to pass an immigration bill. And from there, statehood for South America.

It sounds ludicrous, but maybe Egypt or Libya might want to become the 51st state. There are definite advantages of statehood, the only problem, I doubt if any of these foreign countries have anyone in their ranks stupid enough to be a Congressman.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Let’s Do the Math

Here’s a quote from September 13,2012:
The Federal Reserve said it will expand its holdings of long-term securities with open-ended purchases of $40 billion of mortgage debt a month in a third round of quantitative easing as it seeks to boost growth and reduce unemployment.
The Federal Reserve is buying 40 billion of real estate loans per month. The median price of a home in the US for December of 2012 was $180,000. Figure the banks want a 20 percent down payment. That comes out to 36K with a loan amount due of 144k. Take the 40 billion dollars and divide that by $144,000. That figures out to 277,778 home mortgages purchased per month. Just to kick this dead horse one more time multiply that amount by 12 months. The grand total is 3.3 million homes. The total number of homes sold in 2012 was 4.96 million. It kind of looks like the Federal Reserve holds a hell of a lot of home loans; almost 3/4ths of everything written last year. Of course, I must admit that I thought there was something seriously wrong with my pocket calculator when I first ran the numbers.

The biggest problem for a bank, is loaning money long term at low interest rates. Depositors don’t put their saving in a bank for 30 years; they move it around to get a better rate. Banks have no desire to finance 30 year home loans at these rates, when they can service your Visa card loan at 18 percent. They'll write the loans and sell them to the secondary market, and guess who's buying them? The Federal Reserve, in theory, can finance the loans and wait out the full 30 years for repayment and not lose a dime on the deal.

There comes a point where the Federal Reserve has to choose between becoming the financial institution of choice for our real estate market, or get out of it. If and when they exit, interest rates should jump a couple of percent. The neat thing at this transition, a larger portion of the people holding real estate will have “skin in the game.” Most of the liar loans will be off of the books.

What will happen to the real estate market when the Federal Reserve stops buying home loans? Who will step in to provide financing? This implies a future rise in interest rates. A significant rate increase could trash the bond market. And of course the interest paid by us on the national debt would go up accordingly.

Ben’s not traveling to Jackson Hole this year for the meeting of the world’s financial wizards; he has a “previous engagement” which I find hard to believe. Tim Geithner already left at Treasury (very silently) and his replacement has noticeably kept his mouth shut. Bernanke not showing up at Jackson Hole, and Tim leaving, kind of suggests a reshuffling of policy for the world bank which they were the head of, and controlled. Several countries are repatriating their gold from our shores. Nobody has yelled "fire" yet, but this looks like an obvious move towards the exits.

How do we interpret the actions of Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke? Is there a policy change underfoot that key people disagree with? The only thing that bothers me is the annual 3.3 million home loans the Federal Reserve bought to save our real estate market from ruin. And if you read the papers, real estate sales are picking up --gee, I wonder why? --and for how long?