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What That Letter Should Have Said

9:54 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

On Valentine’s Day, Senator Bernie Sanders sent a letter to the President, authored by himself and signed by 15 other Senators, all Democrats. The letter was a response to the rumors that the President intends to include his Chained CPI proposal to cut Social Security benefits in the budget he will soon send to Congress. It summarized:

Mr. President: These are tough times for our country. With the middle class struggling and more people living in poverty than ever before, we urge you not to propose cuts in your budget to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits which would make life even more difficult for some of the most vulnerable people in America.

We look forward to working with you in support of the needs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor – and all working Americans.

The letter also stated a number of the usual talking points made in arguments against cuts to Social Security. In addition, it also contained praise for the President for his actions in improving the economy, creating jobs, and reducing the deficit, and it mentioned some specifics, including reduction of the Federal deficit to less that half of the $1.4 Trillion deficit he began with. The letter also asserted the need to do much more, especially in the areas of the economy, reducing unemployment and wealth and income inequality, and reducing the deficit “. . . in a fair way.”

It is a positive development that a group of Senators decided to preempt the President’s budget offering stating their disagreement with any proposed cuts to SS, Medicare, and Medicaid, but I think there were a number of ways in which the letter could have been done more effectively. First, It would be great if progressives urging the President not to cut the safety net would stop reinforcing the frame that lower deficits are good and that the President is due praise for cutting the deficit so sharply (CBP projects a 3.0% of GDP deficit this fiscal year). It is not good that he has cut the deficit so much, because in doing so, he has subtracted from Federal Government additions of Net Financial Assets (NFAs) to the economy. These contributions are projected to be so low this year that they will only compensate for the demand leakage due to the trade deficit, leaving no additional NFAs for net aggregate private sector savings.

Given the presence of unequal economic power to collect financial assets in the hands of economic elites, the implication of this is that the lower deficits will only further exacerbate inequality in the United States as well as contribute to continued high and long-term unemployment and stagnation (low growth) in the economy. In short, the austerians, including the President and other Democrats and Republicans who have been insisting on lower deficits are responsible fr the stagnation we see all around us.

Second, the letter would also have been more effective, if it had more than 15 signatures on it. Many Democratic Senators are running for re-election this year. Do they really want to be running as one of the faces of a party whose head is advocating for cuts to Social Security? Is this really good for Kay Hagan, Jeanne Shaheen, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Mark Warner, Cory Booker, Tom Udall, Mark Udall, Chris Coons, and John Walsh? So why haven’t they signed the letter? Do they really expect to re-elected if they decide to support a budget that contains chained CPI, and, even if they don’t support it, will they benefit if their party leader is proposing chained CPI? So why wasn’t Bernie Sanders able to get these additional signatures from Democrats who face challenges and are running this year?

And third, this letter would have been much, much stronger if the Senators who signed it said to the President directly that they know that there is no short or long-term debt problem and hence no further need to worry about cutting the deficit to achieve fiscal sustainability or ficsal responsibility. And that they also know that any debts that the Treasury has incurred in the past, or deficits that it incurs in the future, can be either paid off as they fall due, or covered completely by revenues from High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage (HVPCS) used under the authority provided by legislation on denominations, specifications, and design of coins, passed in 1996. (Full details and issues surrounding HVPCS are given in my e-book.) They also should have added that since there is never any need based on the idea that “we’re running out of money,” to cut any safety net programs, that they want the President to know that everyone signing the letter is committed to voting to kill any budget offered by the President including the chained CPI, or any other provision cutting safety net programs.

A letter enhanced in the three ways I’ve just outlined would have been a damn sight more effective in warning Obama off the chained CPI, than the one Bernie Sanders and the other 15 Senators sent. And it also would have been much more effective in getting those Democratic Senators who signed it and are running, elected in November.

Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

What Happens Now?

7:12 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

In the aftermath of the great 2013 government shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, and the kicking of the can down the road while maintaining austerity once more, the subject on many minds is where do negotiations over fiscal policy go from here? Will the new “budget committee” produce more austerity and do a grand bargain including the “chained CPI”? Will Congress finally turn towards economic growth and job creation, or will we continue to have more shutdowns and debt ceiling crises in 2014?

Chained CPI and the “Grand Bargain”

Let’s begin with “chained CPI” and possible “Grand Bargains.” The President seems to still want one, but the question is, does anyone else? And, if they don’t, can he still get it through?

It’s dangerous for anyone running in 2014 to vote for chained CPI. Surveys show that overwhelming majorities of all Americans want no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and also that 40% of tea party respondents are 55 or over, and are not likely to support such cuts, either. Nor do they appear to be anti- “their” Medicare. It’s the corporate Republicans who oppose these things. So, I don’t think the corporate Republicans would get much love from the tea baggers for supporting entitlement cuts, apart from Medicaid, which I think the tea party views as welfare. Certainly any credit the Congressional Republicans would get from their tea party base for voting for “chained CPI” would not outweigh their having given in on the CR and the rise in the debt ceiling just passed.

So what can the corporate Republicans in Congress gain from voting for chained CPI? Very little, I think, unless the Democrats get behind it, and then they can run against the Democrats as having sold out Social Security, as long as not many Republicans vote for it. In that case, however, the Democrats won’t have enough cover to vote for it, so they are unlikely to do so.

So, then we have to ask, what can induce the Democrats to vote for entitlement cuts knowing it will hurt them in the elections? Will the President be a big factor in the Congressional elections? He wasn’t in the elections of 2012, and, he was a negative in the 2010 wave election. Can he deliver votes by campaigning for other Democrats? Does he even want to? Does it matter to Congressional Democrats if he gets annoyed at most of them? I doubt all of these things.

Why will Patty Murray and Harry Reid (both of whom may want to run again in 2016) vote for chained CPI? To end the sequester? As Joan McCarter says, the coming second round of the sequester hurts the Republicans more than the Democrats. So, where’s the incentive for Democrats to go along with the President on chained CPI? I don’t think there is any.

If the President wants chained CPI this Spring, then he needs to assemble a corporate, Wall Street-supporting coalition from both parties, and that has to be large enough for a majority in the House. Since many Republicans would see passing the chained CPI as a victory for the President if he continues to support it, and the Democrats in Congress don’t, then we’re talking about a situation where the Tea Partiers and their allies would be called upon to pull the President’s chestnut out of the fire. How many votes do you suppose he’d get from the Tea Partiers and other Republicans for this? Keeping in mind that they just got 144 votes in the House to continue the ruinous shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, maybe 40, or 50? Or even that many, given that they’ll want to run against the Democrats on Social Security in 2014, if possible, and won’t see any political gain in holding hands with him as everyone jumps off the “I voted against SS” cliff?

And how many House Democrats would he get to play along? 150? 100? More? I think if he can’t get 200, an almost impossible outcome with at least 90 “progressives” very uncomfortable with the proposal, then this dog won’t hunt. The more he’s likely to fall short, the more likely it is that Democrats will see themselves as walking the plank for nothing, and will just run away from the proposal, and vote against it if need be.

Now you may see this scenario as far-fetched, because you may be thinking there would be some big omnibus deal with the Republicans that chained CPI would just get tucked into, and that would be irresistible for “progressive” Democrats. But what do the Republicans have to give? They certainly won’t offer any additional taxes on the wealthy. That’s poison to them. And they certainly won’t offer any increased deficit spending, say on infrastructure, because that would weaken the deficit/debt play they plan to run for all they’re worth in the election, and also because they know that infrastructure spending will reduce unemployment, and perhaps improve prospects for Congressional Democrats in the elections.

So what can they offer? Only concessions on the sequester. But here, if Pelosi, Murray and Reid play tough, as they certainly ought to do, then as Joan McCarter explains, the Republicans either have to shoot themselves in the foot again by keeping in place the sequester, or they would have to come to agreement. Then, if the Democrats know what’s good for them in 2014 (not a sure thing by any means, but still likely, in light of how well refusal to budge has served them over the past two weeks), then they won’t accept anything less than full lifting of the sequester. It’s harmed the economy for long enough, we need them to get rid of it, and they need that too.

The Republicans will then play games proposing lifting the parts of the sequester they don’t like, while giving the Dems nothing or only very little. At this point the Democrats need to take an all or nothing position on the sequester, rejecting the Republican’s salami tactics, and calling on the public for an end to the sequester nonsense, which has hurt the economy so grievously already.

The Rs will respond either by agreeing to lift it, or they will refuse. If they refuse, then the Democrats get to blame them for the down economy, we will surely see in the run up to the election, and the Democrats can run against that down economy which they would then claim was caused by the Republican shutdown, multiple debt ceiling crises, sequester, and blocking of any efforts to lower unemployment with jobs programs. (“They promised us “jobs,” “jobs,” “jobs,” and what did we get? Debt ceiling crises, sequesters, a government shutdown, more unemployment, and an economy in the ditch.)

Given that CBO projections will probably show the deficit going down to $400 Billion or less in FY 2014, which is about 2.5% of GDP, the Republican emphasis on “teh debt” and the deficit will not trump a Democratic campaign blaming Republicans for the lack of recovery and calling for jobs programs. Add to the above themes the Republican War on women, and suppression of voting rights of seniors, blacks, hispanics, and urbanites, and we have a Democratic victory in 2014 large enough to get back the House and keep the Senate.

Given all this, I don’t think there will be any Grand Bargain or chained CPI “compromise” in the near future and in the run-up to the election. It just makes no political sense for most Democrats and many Republicans. It may come up again in the lame duck and possibly in the next Congress, Republican or Democrat, if the President continues to push it. But I don’t think we’ll see it again this fiscal year.

Continued Austerity?

What we will see however, is continuing austerity from CRs or budget agreements, whether or not the sequester is lifted. Where a trade deficit exists, Government austerity is either running a surplus, or a deficit so low that it doesn’t make up for the leakage in demand due to the trade deficit. Let’s say one’s trade deficit is 3.5% of GDP, then the Sectoral Financial Balances (SFB) Model (whose terms refer to flows of financial assets among the three sectors of the economy in any defined period of time):

Domestic Private Balance + Domestic Government Balance + Foreign Balance = 0

tells us that the domestic private sector, taken as a whole, can’t increase its net financial assets, unless the Government has a deficit greater than 3.5%. And, if we wanted to provide for the domestic private sector to save 6% while it was running that 3.5% trade deficit, anything less than a Government deficit of 9.5% of GDP would not meet that objective.

Of course, no budget proposed by anyone in Congress or the White House envisions a deficit this large. Patty Murray’s Senate Budget proposed in the Spring of 2013 envisioned a 4.2% of GDP deficit for FY 2014, just a bit more than the austerity boundary of 3.5%. Paul Ryan’s House Budget proposed a 3.2% deficit, which is an austerity budget, in the precise sense that given a 3.5% trade deficit, it would entail the private sector running a deficit and losing 0.3% in net financial assets.

Will either a compromise bill coming out of the budget committee, or a CR, after a failure to agree on a budget, be closer to Ryan’s or Murray’s deficit figure? I think it will be closer to Ryan’s; partly because the Congress just passed a CR for the first approximately three months of the fiscal year that is closer to Ryan’s view than to Murray’s and which maintains the sequester, and partly because I doubt that the Democrats will even propose a more expansive budget involving a deficit, but will just focus on getting the sequester removed in early 2014, and will then turn to other problems and to positioning themselves for the fall elections.

Growth and Jobs or Shutdowns and Debt Ceiling Crises?

I think the answer is neither. We may have shutdown and debt ceiling threats before the 2014 elections; but we will not have either of these types of crises, because the cost in public opinion, if it keeps trending the way it has been, will be too heavy for many Republican candidates, except for those in the reddest gerrymandered districts, to bear in 2014. I believe they know this, and that many of them are increasingly willing to chance getting primaried by tea party candidates in order to avoid probable defeat from Democrats, if they toe the tea party line and then try to run.

So, I think the shutdowns and debt ceiling scares are over until after the elections. That means there will have to be an agreement on a CR for the first part of FY 2015 by next October 1. That will happen because there’s no way the Republicans will chance another hostage-taking taking a month before the next elections.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that there will be very little growth and very few new jobs. If the sequester remains in place for the rest of FY 2014, unemployment is likely to increase, not decrease, because Government will continue to be a fiscal drag on the economy, and the private sector is likely to avoid expansion without increased demand. That demand could be manufactured by a credit bubble; but it doesn’t look like that is in the offing for 2014. So, the shortfall in demand produced by the Government will not be made up from private sector spending.

On the other hand, if the sequester is lifted, then this will make some difference. We will probably see declining unemployment if that happens, but since the deficit was much too small to sustain a vigorous expansion, even before the sequester, the decline in unemployment, increased job creation, and economic growth, will all happen only slowly, and by election time we will still see an unhappy public, but maybe one that is a little more hopeful about the future than we are now seeing.

I don’t know yet whether the falloff in economic activity due to Government austerity or near austerity, will be enough to produce another recession in the middle of this long stagnation period, Richard Eskow has aptly named “the long depression.” But there is some chance that this will happen before the fall elections. If it does, then we will see a messaging war on who bears the blame for the downturn, and the outcome of the elections will hang on the outcome of that war.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

Reply to Reinhart and Rogoff’s NYT Response to Critics

7:27 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Warren B. Mosler

By Warren Mosler

(Cross-posted with permission of the author from The Center of the Universe)

The intellectual dishonesty continues. As before, it’s the lie of omission.
R and R are familiar with my book ‘The 7 Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy’ and, when pressed, agree with the dynamics.

They know there is a more than material difference between floating and fixed exchange rate regimes that they continue to exclude from their analysis.

They know that one agents ‘deficit’ is another’s ‘surplus’ to the penny, a critical understanding they continue to exclude.

They know that ‘demand leakages’ mean some other agent must spend more than its income to sustain output and employment.

They know federal spending is via the Fed crediting a member bank reserve account, a process that is not operationally constrained by revenues. That is, there is no dollar solvency issue for the US government.

They know that ‘debt management’, operationally, is a matter of the Fed simply debiting and crediting securities accounts and reserve accounts, both at the Fed.

They know that if there is no problem of excess demand, there is no ‘deficit problem’ regardless of the magnitudes, short term or long term.

They know unemployment is the evidence deficit spending is too low and a tax cut and/or spending increase is in order, and that a fiscal adjustment will restore output and employment, regardless of the magnitude of deficits or debt.

Carmen’s husband Vince was the head of monetary affairs at the Fed for many years, serving both Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke. He knows implicitly how the accounts clear and how the accounting works, to the penny. He knows the currency itself is a case of monopoly. He knows the Fed, not ‘the market’ necessarily sets rates. He knows that, operationally, US Treasury securities function as interest rate, and not to fund expenditures. He knows it all!

Carmen, Vince, please come home! I hereby offer my personal amnesty- come clean NOW and all is forgiven! As you well know, coming clean NOW will profoundly change the world. As you well know, coming clean NOW will profoundly alter the course of our civilization!

Carmen, Vince, either you believe in an informed electorate or you don’t!?

Hell No! The Ultimate Pushback against the Grand Bargain

7:09 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

The underlying rationale for “a Grand Bargain” and the President’s deficit reduction budget including cuts to both Social Security (SS) and Medicare and many valuable discretionary programs, apart from the pragmatic justification, that he may be able to complete such a bargain with the Republicans and blue dog Democrats in Congress, is that the fiscal health of the United States requires that we can’t keep running annual deficits of the size we’ve been running. Why? Because that results in increases to our debt-to-GDP ratio, which in turn will cause the bond markets to drive up our interest rates higher and higher and eventually make interest on the Federal debt such a large share of the Federal Debt that we won’t have money for anything else. So, we have to implement a long-term deficit reduction plan to ensure the fiscal sustainability of the Federal Budget. To do anything else would be fiscally irresponsible.

I think that’s the essence of the President’s case for long – term deficit reduction. Then if one asks, well why make the burden fall on spending cuts rather than tax increases, the answer is that “tax increases” will never happen in today’s political climate. So, really the president has no choice, if he really wants to end this period of budgetary uncertainty, and also deal with the budget in a fiscally responsible way, then he must take the self-described “courageous” step of proposing cuts to the safety net including Social Security.

For the last few years, many of us have set forth various arguments against this case, especially with respect to safety net cuts. Some arguments are about its moral aspects showing that the “Grand Bargain” is unfair because the President’s idea of “shared sacrifice” takes no account of economic concentration of wealth over the past 40 years, or culpability for the financial/economic crash, that has created the so-called “budget crisis”. Others show that Social Security doesn’t and can’t add to the deficit. Others focus on the economic damage the spending cuts will do to the economy versus the lesser, or even little, damage that would be done by reducing the deficits through tax increases on higher incomes and wealth. Still others argue against the cuts, saying that they’re too heavily focused on domestic discretionary programs and the social safety net and are not focused on defense where we have such a large budget compared to every other nation.

All of these are good arguments and help with the pushback against the Grand Bargain. But none of them really show that the so-called problem underlying long-term deficit reduction, the eventual Federal solvency problem, is a false problem. Here’s what makes it a non-existent problem.

It’s false that If we keep running large deficits then we get increases to our debt-to-GDP ratio, which in turn will cause the bond markets to drive up our interest rates higher and higher, and eventually make interest on the Federal debt such a large share of the Federal Debt that we won’t have money for anything else.

Why?

First, running a deficit and using debt issuance to run it are not the same thing. The Congress could reorganize the Fed under the Treasury, and then the Secretary could order the Fed to create the reserves needed in the Treasury General (TGA) to deficit spend. Of course, this isn’t legal now and would require action by Congress, but it’s worth pointing out that the coupling of deficit spending to debt is due to Congressional fiscal arrangements, the rules of the game they legislated. It is not due to any immutable laws of economics, finance, or politics.

The Treasury has something else it can do to both pay down all the existing national debt, cease issuing debt instruments, and decouple continuing deficit spending from increasing debt. That option is High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage (HVPCS).

Under authority provided by Congress in 1996 the Treasury can have the US Mint issue platinum coins with face values specified by the Secretary. So, for example, the Mint could issue a $60 Trillion coin; deposit it at the Fed, where the reserves credited to the Mint’s account for this legal tender would eventually wind up in the TGA. I’ve discussed the technicalities, history, economic, legal, and political aspects of Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) in my new e-book. But the main point here, is that if the President will use HVPCS, then

– debt issuance could be ended,
– all the old debt could be paid off,

– the debt–to-GDP ratio would eventually drop to zero, and

– any possible effect of the bond markets on the solvency of the United States would be gone for as long as we conducted our deficit spending with reserves created at the Fed resulting from HVPCS.

So, in short, it’s up to the President. If he really wants to remove any possible political problem related to solvency, and any possible insolvency-based justification for deficit reduction and for cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other necessary programs that ought to be expanded rather than cut, then all he has to do is #mintthecoin; the $60 T coin, that is, not the trivial band-aid Trillion Dollar Coin (TDC) that will only bring the same “austerity” problem back next year.

Second, even if the President weren’t able to #mintthecoin; the deficit reduction/austerity argument would still be false. That’s because the bond markets don’t control the interest rates paid by the government on debt. The central bank does. If the central bank sets the overnight rate for reserves near zero, which it can always do, and the Treasury Department issues nothing but short-term debt at 3 months and under, then the Treasury can offer securities at a rate near zero, and keep the rates there whatever the debt-to-GDP ratio is, and even if that ratio is growing faster than GDP. This isn’t just theory. Japan is the test case for it.

Its debt-to-GDP ratio is what, 220% right now? Increases in it have had no effect on interest rates, and interest costs are not eating their budget. When confronted with Japan, austerians say that it’s an exception because most of its debt is owned by Japanese. But they never say why this fact should serve to keep interest rates down. Are the bond investors in Japan immune from wanting a higher rate from the Government if they can get it? I doubt it.

The austerians also say that if the Fed keeps the rates down, then one day US foreign creditors will demand higher returns. Well, they may demand them. But their choices are to buy the bonds, accept the lower interest rate the Fed pays on reserves in reserve accounts, invest in the US, or stop trading so much with us, so that our balance of trade improves and domestic labor markets can begin to come back with returning industries. Well, as they say, it’s all good for us. The choice they will not have is to get higher returns on Treasury Securities unless the Fed and the Treasury want them too. (Btw, this raises a question about the President’s budget. They have interest rates on 90 day Treasury Bills rising from 0.1% to 3.7% over the 10 year projection period. Their interest paid and deficit projections are based on that. But that won’t happen unless the ed and Treasury allow it.)

So, for these two reasons there are no legitimate solvency concerns for a nation like the US that has control over its currency including an unlimited ability to issue reserves. Since the whole case for austerity and long-term deficit reduction is that there is such a problem, then it seems like messaging against sequesters, debt ceiling crises, budgetary crises, austerity, and safety net cuts should lead with attempts to educate everyone to the fact that this is a false problem, and that the damage and suffering arising from austerity efforts both here and around the world is all in vain, unnecessary, and also immoral for that reason.

The Ultimate Pushback

My own anger at the “Grand Bargain” and other austerity measures is all the more acute because I know it is all unnecessary. So, I believe that to deliver the ultimate pushback, we need to persuade the majority of Americans that the President and other austerity partisans are in the process of inflicting needless damage on most Americans — on the young, the old, the under- and unemployed, the students, the foreclosed upon, the bankrupt, the sick, the poor, the middle class, and, in fact, on most everyone who will be victimized by unnecessary economic decline and stagnation in the once proud “land of opportunity.”

I think that the best way to persuade people that this is true is to tell the story of HVPCS and its ability to allow us to pay back the public debt and stop issuing any more, and then to describe the full implications of that. I’ve outlined what those implications are in my book linked to earlier. What’s important to emphasize here is that to the extent we can broadcast the HVPCS story from the rooftops over the next few months, the case justifying the “Grand Bargain” can be undermined at its core, because people will come to understand that it is the President’s choice to do the bargain, when a much less damaging course for all concerned is his to embrace.

Also, to the extent we can spread the message about HVPCS and the non-existent solvency problem, we can also strengthen ourselves for the next round in this fight. I don’t know whether the President can get his Grand Bargain; but I do know he’s been pushing for it since January 2010, at least. So, it’s pretty clear that he will keep pushing towards it in the future as the silly austerians have done in Europe and as they are doing in most of the world. As we begin to widen the sphere of people questioning the need for long-term deficit reduction, we will see the anger against it grow, and we will develop the political support we need to end the “Grand Bargain” and other forms of austerity.

The President’s new budget (Table S-2 in the budget) projects no savings (costs to SS recipients) during 2013 and 2014. In 2015 the bite is $3 Billion relative to the current CPI; and in 2016, it is $8 Billion. So, we can get a new Congress to repeal the chained CPI, if we can elect one in 2014, and I’m sure the same is true for the “health savings” cuts, as well. We can make these repeals important goals for 2014, along with substantial increases to SS and the safety net, including Medicare for All. With HVPCS, the Government of the United States can afford all of this and much more.

In addition, to possibly blocking the Grand Bargain before it can be passed, or also repealing it and replacing it with a much stronger safety net, we can also make more and more people recognize; that President Obama’s “Grand Bargain” is no “legacy”, for which he ought to be fondly remembered, but the beginning of a curse on the rest of us for which he should live in infamy even greater than Herbert Hoover’s. For, at least we can say of President Hoover, that he was a caring man who knew no better than what he did to try to cope with the Great Depression.

But, in Mr. Obama’s case, he had the example of FDR and the period of largely Keynesian economic policy and low unemployment until the early 1970s to instruct him. And even though we are beyond Keynes now with Modern Money Theory (MMT), we can fairly say that our early Keynesian experiences should have taught him that austerity doesn’t produce jobs and end “long depressions” (h/t Richard Eskow), and that only very major and targeted job-creating deficit spending will do that.

All of which is to say that the ultimate pushback against the Grand Bargain is to use HVPCS to ruin Mr. Obama’s “legacy” by blocking it, or repealing it, and then making it well understood that it was not a legacy inspired by courage at all; but a curse inspired by ignorance and the cowardice of a man who would not choose a course open to him that would save the 99% unnecessary pain, because he was afraid of the noise and fury it would cause among those whose plans to weaken and eventually end the safety net were thwarted.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

They’re Making Love to the Third Rail: What Are We Gonna Do About It?

7:40 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Obama Arms Crossed, Frowning

Should President Obama be censured for lying about social security?

OK, the President has officially proposed the “chained CPI” cut to Social Security in opposition to what the heavy majority of American voters want him to do and in contradiction with promises he and Joe Biden made during their re-election campaign. So, what punishment should we exact from this Administration, and what should we do to prevent cuts from happening in addition to signing petitions, and calling Representatives and Senators?

Immediate Punishment for Lying

President Obama and Vice President Biden clearly lied to our faces about what they would do when the Republicans came for Social Security if they were re-elected. I know politicians lie frequently during campaigns. But, I think that if we want to make them accountable, then we need to develop zero tolerance for that. A politician’s word has to become his/her bond; or he/she must be defeated as soon as we can make it possible. That has to become both the perception of politicians and the reality of how our system operates, if we’re going to save our democracy.

Accordingly, I propose that a Democratic Congressperson introduce a bill of impeachment in the House for this President as soon as possible. The grounds for impeachment could include failure to prosecute the torturers from the Bush Administration, failure to prosecute the control frauds in the FIRE sector, as well as the charge that the President lied to the American people about his intentions on SS policy in the last election campaign, in order to deceive us into re-electing him. I think that’s fraud.

It’s essential that a Democratic Congressperson introduce the bill of impeachment. Otherwise, the first step in making it clear that the party has repudiated its leadership on the safety net issue will not be clearly made. Of course, the more Democrats who sign onto the bill, the more the point of repudiation will be made. If a majority of Democrats can come together to this, then candidates of the Party will be free to run against the President on the chained CPI in 2014.

There’s certainly a reasonable chance of indictment in the House and conviction in the Senate for failing to prosecute in the first two areas mentioned, provided that the public can mount an impeachment movement (a long shot, certainly). But whether or not the President could ever be convicted in the third area of lying about SS is less important than that the issue be vetted in public at length. We need to have a debate about politicians lying to the public in order to get elected. An impeachment forum is probably the only vehicle that can teach them a sufficiently searing lesson.

Even though the Vice President guaranteed no cuts to SS even more strongly than the President, I don’t propose that he be impeached. The reason is that the fish rots from its head, and that the disposition to mess with SS surely comes from the President, completely apart from whether or not Joe Biden was lying when he delivered his flat-out guarantee, or was just acting as a tool for his boss.

Yes, yes, I know. I’m not a Very Serious Person (VSP) for making this proposal. It has no chance to pass, and little chance of getting anywhere in Congress unless people become so angry that a real movement for impeachment begins. So why do it?

I say do it to express the anger of the base. And do it to introduce the possibility of impeachment. And do it to make the point that the President and the Democratic Party are doing things that the base will never accept. The issue of “chained CPI” will be an issue of betrayal to the base for years to come, unless it fails to pass, and even then it will leave a legacy of distrust, unless the Party resists this President. And, if it does pass, then, eventually, either it will be replaced by the CPI – E (CPI for the elderly), or the Democratic Party will be replaced by another that will take this up as a cause.

Punishment for Democratic Party Openness to Cuts

Read the rest of this entry →

Letter to the President: If Social Security Solvency’s Really a Problem Then Why Not Do This?

7:17 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Social Security card

Joseph M. Firestone suggests another course for social security.

Dear Mr. President,

Over the past 3 years you’ve returned again and again to the idea that Social Security has a long-term solvency problem, and therefore needs “reform,” even though, as of the end of 2012, the “Trust Fund” had nearly $2.7 Trillion in it. In spite of this healthy trust fund asset balance, SS Trustee projections, say that the trust fund will be down to zero by 2033 and that thereafter, until 2086, SS will be able to pay roughly only 75% of scheduled benefits without either cuts or increased sources of revenue.

As time has passed, your favorite entitlement reform proposal continues to be the “chained CPI”, which, you claim, is a better measure of cost of living changes than currently used, but which would cut SS benefits by using a new COLA formula which makes SS cost-of-living adjustments smaller and smaller over time, as seniors adjust to price increases in commodities they buy by shifting to less pricey goods. Smaller cost of living adjustments translate to lower benefits paid out and to more years of projected “solvency” for the SS program. The objective for achieving projected “solvency” is 75 years.

Critics have replied to this proposal by pointing out that “Chained CPI” is a less accurate measure of the real cost of living for seniors than the current COLA. As many have remarked, the chained CPI will say that the cost of living for seniors has decreased when they try to protect themselves from price increases in salmon by shifting to catfood instead. So, this measure makes attempts by seniors to adjust to inflation by lowering their standard of living work against them by ensuring that they will get less money in the future to cope with inflation.

I’m sure you will agree, when you think about it, that this chained CPI measure is blatantly unfair to seniors. It is not an accurate measure of actual cost of living increases, as you and others in your Administration and in the media have contended. What makes this proposal to “reform” SS even more unfair is that many think that there is no impending SS solvency problem at all, and we wonder why you claim that there is.

Indeed, if you think that lack of full Social Security solvency after 2032 is really a problem, and you also really want to “strengthen Social Security,” then we wonder why you don’t just do this?

– Direct the Secretary of the Treasury to open a separate spending account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank on behalf of the Social Security Administration.

– Direct the Secretary of the Treasury to use his authority under 31 USC 5112(k) to have the US Mint create a $3 Trillion proof platinum coin, and deposit that coin in the Mint’s Public Enterprise Fund (PEF) account.

– Once the Fed credits the PEF with that deposit of legal tender, sweep the Mint’s account for the nearly $3 Trillion in seigniorage reserves resulting from the deposit and crediting by the Fed of the Mint’s account, into the Treasury General Account (TGA), the primary spending account of the Federal Government.

– Then transfer the $3 Trillion into the new Treasury spending account established on behalf of the SSA, giving it a balance of $3 Trillion, and direct the Secretary to invest the money in Treasury Securities, in such a way that the redemption of these beginning in 2033 will cover the projected spending beyond projected revenue.

– If projections continue to show a lack of full 75 year solvency as the years go by, then a future President can once again use a platinum coin to extend the solvency period.

This proposal has the following advantages:

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Richard Eskow Asks: Which Side Are You On?

9:32 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Education Social Security

Education Social Security

Richard Eskow of the Center for the American Future, posted a very good one a couple of days ago. He used the old union meme “which side are you on” to beat up the President and Congress about Social Security being placed on the negotiating table. I thought his writing on it was striking. Here’s some of it:

“This is a moment of moral clarity. Right now there are only two sides in the Social Security debate: the side that says it’s acceptable to cut benefits – in a way that raises taxes for all income except the highest – and the side that says it isn’t.

“It’s time to ask our leaders – and ourselves – a simple question: Which side are you on?”

“Nancy Pelosi says she can convince most Congressional Democrats to “stick with the President” as he pursues his gratuitous and callous plan to cut Social Security benefits as part of a deficit deal – even though Social Security does not contribute to the deficit.”

I certainly hope that Nancy Pelosi cannot convince most Democrats to risk their seats and prepare the way for a Republican sweep in 2014 by voting to cut SS. The Republicans will respond to this by casting themselves as the protectors of SS, and while this is ridiculous, the Democrats will not be credible in claiming that they are its protectors, and they will lose their identity as the protectors of the safety net, a very high price to pay for the sake of raising taxes on the rich by an amount that is insignificant in the greater scheme of things. Eskow goes on:

“Excuse me: Stick with the President? What about sticking with our seniors and our veterans? What about sticking with our disabled fellow Americans? What What about sticking with the more than 4,000 children on Social Security who lost a parent in the Iraq War?

“If you want to “stick with” Americans on Social Security, it’s time to call everybody who represents you in Washington – your Representative, your Senator, your President – and tell them that they’ll lose your support if they do this deal.

“It’s time for an end to the Orwellian doublespeak. Cutting benefits won’t “strengthen” Social Security, as Nancy Pelosi claims. Cuts of 6.5 percent for a 75 year old and 9.2 percent for a 95 year old aren’t so small that “folks won’t even notice ‘em,” as President Obama claimed. They’re not a “technical” adjustment, as his press secretary argued, nor do “most economists believe … this about getting a proper measure of inflation.

“The smart economists know that even today’s cost of living formula isn’t enough. It undercounts the things older and disabled people use the most, like health care and public transportation. Some other people know the formula’s inadequate, too: Seniors. They live with the costs every day.

“So let’s stop all the double-talk and get down to the real question at hand: Which side are you on?”

The framing is “which side are you on”? Will you stick with the President and the people, who will do a deal at any costs, or will you stick with seniors and the American people. This reminds me of the frame Randy Wray recently used in one of his posts on re-framing MMT. That framing came from Bruce Springsteen: Read the rest of this entry →