Look, we're five years into this slump, millions of people have lost their homes and jobs, 44 million people are on food stamps, the economy is in the tank, and congress won't lift a finger to help. What's that all about? You'd think that the revision in GDP and the uptick in unemployment claims would set off alarms on Capital Hill. But it hasn't. They just shrug it off and move on. What do they care? They get their fat paycheck one way or another, so what difference does it make to them? Besides, if they play their cards right, they'll nab a 6-figure lobbying job as soon as they retire and spend the rest of their lives working on their chip-shot and swilling single-malt at the club with their moneybags friends. Doesn't that piss you off?
Congress just doesn't seem to "get it." They don't understand what people are going through; how maxed out they are. We're in the middle of a Depression and all they want to do is score points playing political circle-jerk by stonewalling the debt ceiling or jacking-around with Medicare. Meanwhile, unemployment is on the rise (initial claims rose to 424,000 on Thursday), GDP is falling (1Q GDP revised to 1.8%), durable goods are down 3.6-percent in April, the market is topping out, business investment is flat, Europe's on the ropes, Japan is in a historic slump, China is overheating, the output gap is as wide as it was six quarters ago, bank balance sheets are bleeding red from falling home prices and non-performing loans, and the housing market is crashing.
Did I miss something?
Oh yeah, and the Fed's goofy QE2 program is winding down, which means that the last drop of monetary stimulus will be wrung-out by the end of June. That ought to be good for stocks.
So, excuse me for asking, Mr. big-shot Congressman, but would you mind lending a hand? A little stimulus would be nice. You know, just enough so we can get a job and feed the kids. And if you're worried about the deficits; don't be. They're not a problem. That's just more GOP scaremongering. Here's how economics professor Bradford DeLong sums it up:
"The biggest problem generated by this right now is that Washington DC's focus on the Dingbat Kabuki theater of the long-run fiscal stability of America is keeping it from taking any effective steps to use government to boost employment and output now. And things aren't helped by the fact that the way the rescue of the banking system was carried out convinced a lot of people that stimulus policies exist to enrich the top 1% of Americans at the expense of everybody else.
"This means that our hopes for economic recovery right now rest not on any government boost to aggregate demand -- whether through fiscal, monetary, or banking policy -- but rather on the natural equilibrium-restoring full-employment achieving market forces of the economy, especially in the labor market.
"And so we are in trouble: right now there are no signs that the economy is crawling up back to anything like full employment on its own. ... The economy will grow, but we won't close the gap between actual and potential output. We will not for a long time to come get back to the 62 to 64% of the adult population having jobs that we thought was normal back in the decades of the 2000. And that is the depressing overall macroeconomic picture. I wish I could paint a better one."
Deficits aren't the problem, they're the solution. The government needs to increase spending to make up for the loss of activity in the private sector, otherwise, we're back in the soup. But, here's the good part; the government can borrow at rates that are lower than ever. Just look at the bond market. The 10-year is stuck at 3.12. That means that money is cheap because no one is borrowing, because, well, because the economy is dead-in-the-water. It's like Treasuries are yelling, "Wake up, you idiots, we're in a Depression!"
Besides, deficit spending isn't always a bad thing anyway. Just ask a guy who's been out of work for 99 weeks how much he cares about deficits. Not much, I'll bet. All he cares about is getting a job and paying the bills. Here's a clip from economist Mark Thoma who explains how deficits can actually rev up the economy:
"When the economy goes into recession, deficit spending through tax cuts or the purchase of goods and services by the government can stop the downward spiral and help to turn the economy back around. Thus, deficits can help us to stabilize the economy. In addition, as the economy improves due to the deficit spending the outlook for businesses also improves, and this can lead to increased investment, an effect known as crowding in. Deficits also allow us to purchase infrastructure and spread the bills across time similar to the way households finance the purchase of a car or house, or the way local governments finance schools with bond issues."
Deficits are just a way of investing in the future, like student loans. You don't hear anyone crybabying about paying for college, do you? No, because it improves their chances for making more money in the future. Sometimes you have to take on a little debt to create better opportunities for yourself. That's just the way it is. It's the same with the economy, the deficits are a bridge to the next credit expansion. But once things are up-and-running and revenues increase, then the government can throttle-back on spending and balance the budget. That's how we've always done it in the past, until we started listening to the Voodoo crackpots, that is. Besides, if we don't increase the deficits now and put people back to work fast, we're going to be stuck in this "under-performing" funk for a very long time. So, we're just shooting ourselves in the foot.
How did we get to where we are today?
Well, when the financial system crashed, the economy plunged and then reset at a lower level of output. So -- while we're no longer in freefall -- we're still nowhere near where we should be. And, guess what, we can't get back to trend when 9% of the workforce (16.5% underemployed) is on the sidelines. We have to put people back to work and get them spending. That's the only way to boost demand and kick-start the economy. Of course, big business doesn't mind the current policy, because more of the profits from productivity go to them during a sluggish recovery. So, they're just fine with the way things are right now. They also like the fact that high unemployment puts more pressure on wages. CEO's love that part.
So, how dire is the situation right now?
Well, consider this: QE2 ends on June 30, right? But according to economist David Rosenberg, there's a "89% correlation between the Fed's balance sheet and the movements in the S&P 500 over the past two years." So when the Fed stops purchasing US Treasuries, then stocks will retreat.
Add that to the fact that the states are cutting costs and laying off state workers at record pace to balance their budgets. That just increases deflationary pressures. When money is drained from the system, activity slows, demand weakens, revenues shrink, deficits bulge, and more people are laid off. It's a vicious circle.
Here's how Paul Krugman breaks it down on his blog this week:
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