Posts Tagged ‘Economy’

Making Work for ATT

December 29, 2010

At work, we had a phone line through ATT that we didn’t use anymore. We also had a DSL line that we use for our phone system tied to that account. We wanted to cancel the phone line, but keep the DSL line. Sounds pretty simple, right?

Let’s just say it ended up being a lesson in the power of the International Communications Workers Union. When we canceled the phone line, they told us we would have a new account number. Nobody thought anything of it.

Then, the next morning, our phones were dead. I checked the DSL modem, to see if it was that or the phone system itself. The lights on the modem were all dead. Definitely a DSL problem. After calling ATT, we figured out that our new account number meant we had a completely new account. They couldn’t just cancel the phone line and keep the DSL line active. Perhaps this was a quirk in ATT’s system.

They told us that they would be able to turn it on for us in a few hours.   Then we got a call back from another rep saying that since we were in California, they couldn’t just turn it back on.  They had to send someone out to install the line.

We told them that we already had the modem, everything was hooked up, and we just needed the line switched. The answer was no. We had to have someone come out. So we scheduled it between 8 am and noon in a few days.

This was during a time when our office was closed for the Holidays, but I had some work to do so I came in with our IT guy. That morning at 9:30, we got an automated call from ATT saying that our line was now ready to use and we needed to register our account.   So now I came in to wait for an install that wasn’t even going to happen? They also were kind enough to tell us if we were having trouble, they could send someone out for $150.

I was mad, so I got on chat support with ATT. We got the modem activated and were up and running. I asked them why they told us someone had to come out. They said that on their records, no one was ever scheduled. I was dumbfounded.

After all this, an ATT truck pulls up in front of our office. The guy sits there for a minute, then comes in and asks “So you’re all up and running?”

We said that we set it up ourselves. We suspected that there had to be some sort of subcontractor or union agreement behind his visit, so we asked him if he was part of a union. That’s when he told us he was part of the ICW. We asked what he was going to do, and he said “say hi and leave.”

This was one of my first direct experiences with a union “make work” program. There was no need for him to come to our office at all, but the State of California requires him to do so. The union lobbied for these regulations not to ensure that our connection was up and running, but to make sure this person had a job.

Makes you realize why we’re so uncompetitive here in CA and in the US in general…

TARP Success?

October 5, 2010

Today, the Treasury Department declared that the government will only lose $29 billion from the TARP program.  This is being hailed as a huge success and that we saved the financial system and the economy, preventing a second Great Depression and barely losing any money.

I have some big problems with these statements.  First of all, most of the big banks that were infused with cash paid back that money within a year of the program starting.  How can a bank go from about to collapse to financially stable so quickly?

Think about Goldman, it received $10 billion from the government.  If they just took that money and invested it for a year in 3% government bonds, that’s $300 million!  Citi and Bank of America got $20 billion each.  That could turn to $600 million of pure profit.

Did the big financial institutions create a sense of panic, in order to get the government to step in and “save” them by taking over all their bad debts?  Did they know that this panic would lead the government create a web of regulations that stifles future competition?  Anytime banks and government come together, I have a feeling the banks are going to win.

Also, where did this money come from anyway?  We created $700 billion out of thin air, gave it to banks to earn interest on, took on their bad loans, and then they gave it back to the Treasury.   Will the government now put that money to rest?  Or will it eventually make it back into the economy.

And finally, $33 billion is still a lot of money.  We have just become desensitized to the number because we saw the $750 billion stimulus package and the $700 billion bailout.  $33 billion just seems like a drop in the bucket.

While the government claims the success of TARP, I find it hard to believe that it saved our economy and that the true cost was really that low.  We’re still mired in a stalled economy and the bad debt is still out there and has not been liquidated.  And with all the success of this bailout, business now knows that future bailouts will be sure to follow, allowing them to take more foolish risks and setting us up for even bigger failure.

Obama’s Healthcare “Overhaul”

May 10, 2009

Update – The more I read about this “savings” plan, the more I realize that it is really a way for the healthcare companies to lock in profits for the next 10 years.  You know that any time an industry as big as healthcare voluntarily offers a deal to the government, it is really to benefit themselves.  So, rather than opening a real healthcare debate, they have preemptively offered a $2 trillion savings.  They say “savings” but it is really a reduction in the rate of growth of healthcare spending.  Since the current rate growth is 7%, they are saying that if it was only 1.5%, the country would save $2 trillion in 10 years.  That’s not savings.

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President Obama has announced an “overhaul” of the healthcare system that he touts will save trillions of dollars.  Big healthcare companies are on board as well, because they promise to only raise costs 1.5% a year.  That sounds great, that costs will be controlled, but why should they go up anyway?  This just guarantees a 1.5% increase in their revenue each year.  We should be making huge cuts that result in decreases, not capped increases.

Also, Obama’s plan basically revolves around digitizing our medical records to make hospitals more efficient.  I guess, over the next 200 years, that could save trillions, but what about the up front costs?  There will have to be an increase in cost to digitize all the records and buying equipment to store them.  Who will pick up the tab?  If the government does, then it falls on the taxpayer.  If the government doesn’t, then it will be passed on through premiums.  It’s a lose-lose for the American public.

The only way we will ever control costs and cut health care costs is going to be to get the government and big healthcare providers out of the game.  Until then, costs will continue to skyrocket, and the quality of care will continue to decline.

Credit Cards – Regulation for Regulation’s Sake

April 23, 2009

Today, President Obama is meeting with the CEOs of credit card companies, in an effort to protect consumers from rising rates and high fees.  Both the House and Senate are currently working on versions of such a bill.

I agree that a simple law, stating that credit card companies have to inform you when your rate increases and a chart showing the fees you could incur if you missed a payment or went over your limit, should be welcomed by consumers.  Right now, all you get is a little “average daily rate” table but it doesn’t tell you if your rate went up or down.  

However, the need for the government to enact laws to “protect” us are insane, and another example of the government meddling too much in private affairs.

Really, who’s fault was it that we ran up so much credit card debt?  Part of the blame has to fall on the card companies for giving cards with high limits to just about everyone.  The problem was that they were able to securitize their loans and sell them on Wall Street.  So the card companies were just intermediaries between the consumer and Wall Street.  They bore almost no risk.

A large portion of the blame has to fall on the Federal Reserve as well because their easy money policies allowed the card companies to just keep giving away money.  To stave off a recession after 9/11, the Fed kept rates too low for too long, pumping up a huge spending/debt fueled bubble.

However, to act like consumers were just taken advantage of is absolute nonsense.   Even the most uneducated person knows what credit cards are and how they operate.   The card companies did not take advantage of them and did not force them to spend.  Consumers wanted instant gratification and put items on their credit cards they could not afford, with the intent to pay it off later.  Rather than saving, they took out a loan for all sorts of purchases.

Instead of putting regulations on the credit card companies for the sake of regulation, the government should put simple laws in place to inform consumers, and then back away.  By placing all of these restrictions on the companies, we are not solving the problem, which was too many unqualified people having high limit credit cards.  

Obama needs to let the markets work, and let the companies set limits and interest rates in line with the risk of lending people the money.  Until the government stops propping up the securitized credit card debt and meddling in the credit markets, no one will have a clear picture of who should be able to lend and borrow.  The longer the government distorts the markets and meddles in private business, the longer the recession will last.

Tea Parties or Bank Runs?

April 19, 2009

Last week, there were hundreds of new-age “Tea Parties” all across the country on Tax Day, April 15th.  There is currently a lot of frustration out there, which has led to tremendous momentum for financial reform in our country.  Thousand of people attended the protests.  Some people wanted to protest the role of the Federal Reserve, others were mad about our tax dollars being spent to bail out failing companies.  Others wanted to reduce the size of government and federal spending.

The problem with the Tea Parties, is that the media and Democrats have miscontrued the meaning behind them.  They are saying they are just politcal stunts, organized by Republicans and Fox News, who are against anything President Obama does.  Even though there were both Democrats and Republicans at the Tea Parties, the protests have been marginalized by the mainstream media.  All of the effort that people went through to organize these rallies is essentially being wasted because those in Washington are not taking the protests seriously.

There is another method of protest though, that the government, big corporations, and Wall Street cannot stop.  We can all take our money out of big banks that are getting bailouts and put it in a local, community bank.  Most of these smaller, local banks have been able to withstand the downturn because they were prudent with the money we deposited and did not get involved in all sorts of derivatives, trying to make a quick buck.

If we are so upset about the government using our money to bail out banks, why not show the government that we have no confidence in these institutions?  As a business, banks depend on us, the consumer to lend them (deposit) our money so they can make loans.  If we all pulled our money out of the big, failing banks, they would be forced out of business.  We need to literally, put our money where our mouths are.

Local banks are at a disadvantage because they do not have the resources to devote to technology and security that the big, national banks.  But if we all deposited our money with them, their business would naturally grow and they would be able to make banking as convenient and easy as a Wells Fargo or Bank of America.

The same can be said for our investments.  If we are upset that JP Morgan and other Wall Street investment firms are getting our tax dollars, move your account to another broker.  We can’t protest with our words and then let our actions directly contradict our views.

A lot of talking heads have made fun of people for withdrawing their money from banks so they can have cash (as if this is such a bad thing in the first place).  In fact, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow called Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina “Bank Run Burr” and Keith Olbermann named him the “Worst Person in the World” because he told his wife to withdraw $500 from an ATM.  They said it showed Republicans do not have a plan and that it was unpatriotic to pull his money out of the bank.  Burr said that he does not have any cash at home, and after a briefing that basically told him that banks would be out of cash, he panicked adn told his wife to take out the money.  Like $500 in his account is going to make a difference, anyway.

My plan is not to just take your money out and put it under your mattress in fear of failure.  It is a protest against the big, national banks that are on life support, sucking up billions of our tax dollars a day.  We should embrace our local banks, that know the local economy and community.  They will make prudent decisions and not take unnecessary risks trying to please Wall Street and investors.  Instead of making clever signs and protesting with our words on Tax Day, we should give the banks a vote of “no confidence.”  Only with our actions and our money will we show the government that we do not support the bailouts, or the banks and institutions they are propping up.

Obama’s “New Foundation”

April 14, 2009

Today, President Obama gave a speech entitled “New Foundation” which gave an update on the economy and all of the government policies that are currently underway.

His opening portion of the speech ended with this remark:

And most of all, I want every American to know that each action we take and each policy we pursue is driven by a larger vision of America’s future – a future where sustained economic growth creates good jobs and rising incomes; a future where prosperity is fueled not by excessive debt, reckless speculation, and fleeing profit, but is instead built by skilled, productive workers; by sound investments that will spread opportunity at home and allow this nation to lead the world in the technologies, innovations, and discoveries that will shape the 21st century. That is the America I see. That is the future I know we can have.

The funny thing is that most of what he says makes sense and I totally agree with.  We do need an economy based on production and savings and not debt and spending.  This is the fundamental problem with our current economic system.  He goes on to blame our current crisis on “greed” and “instant gratification” but those arguments don’t hold any water.  We’ve always had greedy people who want things now.  If that were the case, we’d be in a permanent depression.

The problem is that Obama thinks that only the government can implement policies and programs that will accomplish these goals.  I believe that government is the worst possible agent to try and lead us into the future, and that they are only making matters worse.

From a purely economics standpoint, the government is taking resources away that the private sector would be using, or they are undertaking tasks that are not being done by private sources because they are unproductive and inefficient.  Look at the auto bailout, for example.  Imagine what a startup like Tesla or some other company could do with one billion dollars, a fraction of what the Big Three have gotten so far.  We could have a brand new, competitive auto industry for the amount of money that has been wasted propping up dead bankrupt companies.  I do not believe in bailouts and handouts, but if we are going to give money away, it should go to new production, not financial means.

Other examples of Obama’s “stimulus” are building roads, weatherizing homes, and building green energy sources.  If these were profitable endeavours, don’t you think the private industry would already be doing these things?  The reason they aren’t is because there is not any money or benefit to gained at this point in time.  By directing resources to these projects, we are taking money that could be used for other, more profitable forms of production, and putting it to unproductive uses.

To make matters worse, we are funding these projects and bailouts with printed money.  When you think about how a bank works, you realize that they need to have people depositing and saving money in order to make new loans.  The more money saved, the more money that can be loaned out.  The same should be true for the government, except Bush and Obama have been running trillion dollar deficits.  We aren’t funding our “stimulus” with saved resources.  We are just piling on more debt and creating money out of thin air.  In the long run, this misguided form of “stimulus” will hurt our economy more than help it.

Obama has the right intentions, and he keeps talking about fiscal responsibility.  However, his actions to spend more, inflate more, and expand the central government will only dig us deeper into a depression.  We need to stop printing money trying to reinflate our spending bubble, and let the markets work.  Right now, Obama needs to resist the urge to intervene and let the economy readjust and liquidate all of the malinvestment.  How can a small group in Washington know more than an economy of 700 million?  Stop trying to play hero and get out of the way, that’s what he should have said today.

The Problem with Tea Parties

April 13, 2009

There is going to be a Tea Party in Santa Ana, which is close to my hometown of Huntington Beach.  There is a series of speakers, one of which is Dana Rohrbacher, who is my Congressman.  He’s been in the House since 1988.

My big problem with this is that he was in Congress during the Bush years, when the Federal Government grew to the largest it’s ever been.  Now, all of a sudden he’s outraged?  Where was he speaking out against the budgets and taxes under the Bush Administration?

There is a political theory that when a party is out of power, they go back to their core principles, only to abandon those principles and grow the government when they go back into power.  How true is this of the Republican party?  They pushed for the biggest growth in government spending in the history of our country when they were the majority, but now that they are in the minority, they are all about fiscal responsibility again.  We need to see this for the fraud it is and not fall for this trap again.

Also, many of these figures act like they support limited government, but all they want to do is trim a program here or there and shift the tax brackets around.  We need more than these little, inconsequential tweaks right now.  We need real change and a political revolution.

We need to start to question the need for central economic planning, led by the Federal Reserve and the monopoly it has on our money supply.  We need to question our fiat currency, and if local currencies backed by gold might be a better way to manage our money.  The first step would be to repeal legal tender laws and to eliminate capital gains taxes on gold money.  Ron Paul has laid out this plan to open up our money supply to competition of gold backed money and fiat money.  This needs to be discussed at any Tea party.

We also need to not just be mad at our money being used for bailouts, but we need to be mad that the government, as Rothbard put it, “legally plunder” from us.  Why is the government entitled to a third of our hard earned money?  We should not just be mad about our money going to bail out Wall Street, but we need to be mad that it is going to build bombs, fight foreign wars, build foreign bridges and roads, and support our welfare state.  In order to truly reform our government, we need to take as much out of the hands of Washington as possible.  Our Constitution lays out the framework for a limited central government and strong local and state power.  We have moved so far from this vision that we have a tyrannical government that has overriding rule over all.  This is what we should be revolting about!

The anger and frustration over the bailouts is a good way to start to build energy towards a revolution, but we can’t keep our scope so limited.  Every one of these Tea Parties need to go beyond the bailouts and taxes and to the Constitution and the vision of our Founding Fathers.  They should have speakers who believe in eliminating the Federal Reserve, cutting or ending the income tax, ending our empire, and drastically reducing the size of our government.  We need to move beyond the symptom, which is the recession we’re in and the bailouts, and really fix our country.

Good or Bad News?

April 10, 2009

Today, a source close to the Treasury Department said that no banks failed the government mandated “stress test” and would have to be shut down.  He went on to say that some banks would still need more capital injections.  The story is linked here.

While to the layperson, this looks like good news, to a supporter of the free markets, this is just more bad news.

First, the banks administered the stress tests themselves, and then submitted their results to the Treasury.  How are we to be certain they were being honest?  Of course, they would not want to show that they were going to fail, so why do we put any faith in this report?  If a bank came out and said, “we failed,” their stock would plummet and depositors would immediately withdraw their money.

Second, in the same statement, the source said some companies would still need more government aid.  So, doesn’t that mean these banks that need aid failed?  If they passed, they should not need any more propping up by the Federal Government.  If they still need more money, they can still fail, stress test or not.  That’s just common sense.

And finally, how can we be in the midst of one of the worst banking crises in the history of the US, and only a handful of firms have failed?  We have Lehman, Bear, Wachovia, and WaMu.  That’s it!  We need to weed out the bad apples, now.  We can’t keep propping up everyone.  The government is going about this all wrong, pre-emptively saving banks.  If the government should get involved, it should be after the banks fail, helping clean up the mess.  At least this way the rotten firms and bad assets would be liquidated, and we would be able to move on.

There is always more to the story than what the media and government reports.   Initially, the story might sound like good news, but if you read between the lines and put two and two together, you see that it is just a positive spin on more bad news.  The solution to our crisis is simple:  let the bad banks fail and liquidate the bad debts.  The sooner we allow this to happen, the sooner we will return to prosperity.

The 401k Problem

April 9, 2009

I read an interesting point in Tom Woods’ book, Meltdown, last night regarding our retirement savings.  His basic premise was that we should not have to worry about 401k’s and other retirement plans.  We should be able to put our cash in a savings account or put our money in gold coins, and be able to rely on that money when we are ready to retire.

However, this is impossible because of our inflationary monitary policy.  You have to invest in the stock market and risky instruments because you have to try and stay ahead of inflation.  You need to build a bigger nest egg because every dollar you save loses tremendous value over time.

The government only helps feed the need to risk our retirement money by giving us a tax break when we invest in a 401k.  If we did not have this incentive, most people would put their money in accounts where they would have more control of their money.

I hate the fact that I need to put money in mutual funds.  The managers of these funds are looking for short term returns, not sustainable gains over 30 years.  I’d rather have an account that had no gains for 29 years and then went up 10 times in one year, rather than riding the rollercoaster of big gains and even bigger losses.

But back to inflation and our need to invest to outpace it.  You would think that in this day and age, prices of everything would be dropping.  We have so much technology in every single sector that we should be able to pay less for everything we buy.  If prices were allowed to fall like they should, we could just sit on our money and not have to worry about higher prices in the future.

Everyone is outraged that Wall Street greed stole their 401ks.  They have the right to be mad, but they should be mad out our inflationary monetary policy and the government’s encouragement to invest in 401ks.  If greed was the problem, we’d have been dust years ago.  The problem is the government’s central economic planning and encouragement for malinvestment.

Another Look at Our Banking System

April 7, 2009

With Wall Street and the Banking System at the heart of our current economic meltdown, I think it would be good to take another look at our banks in terms that are not normally used.  I’m not an economist, so this might be pretty crude, but it really is important to think about banks as businesses, and not failsafe financial institutions.

First, when you put your money in a savings account, you are not a “depositor.”  You are actually the lender, letting the bank borrow your money to invest.  Your return on this investment is the percent yield you earn on your account.  Banks then will lend this money to businesses or people who want to buy a home.  They charge these people a higher amount of interest than they are paying you.  This is called leverage, which is using borrowed money to make money.

The big question now, is why don’t we look at a bank’s finances and what they are planning on doing with our money when we put it in a savings account?  If we went to get a loan, they would look at all of our records and make sure we had a sound plan for the money.  We just deposit our money into any old bank without a question asked.

The main reason for this is the FDIC, which used to only insure interest bearing accounts (savings) but now insure non-interest bearing (checking) accounts as well.  They also just upped their limit from $100,000 to $250,000.  The reason the FDIC exists is to protect us, the depositors in a bank, in case it goes under.  As long as we have less than $250,000 in that bank, we know the Federal Government will make sure our money is safe.

The unintended consequence of this insurance is that the bank can basically gamble with the first $250,000 of every savings account.  They can put it in all sorts of speculative products because they know if all their investments go bust, the goverment will be there to pick up the tab.  It’s like me going into a casino knowing that if I lose my first thousand dollars, the casino will give it back to me.  The real world does not work this way.  Why then, do we think it’s alright for the people who are supposed to be keeping our money safe to do this?

If banks were not backstopped by the Federal Government, they would have to take less risks, or no one would deposit their money with them.  Without depositor money, a bank cannot make loans to make a profit.  Rather than just putting our money in Any Bank USA, we would make sure that they were making safe investments and know the risks that are involved.  This would weed out the speculative and aggressive banks before the seeds of a banking collapse are sown.

The idea of the FDIC sounds great to the consumer if we think of banks as the keepers of our money.  If we view them as borrowers and business partners, we see the FDIC program makes no sense.  It just allows the banks to gamble with our money and make the taxpayer pick up the tab when their bets go bad.  We need to stop relying on government institutions to protect us and to start making informed decisions of what banks we will lend our savings.  This will help stop bank speculation and keep them honest, and be a part of preventing a crisis like this from happening again.