Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Party Paradox

With the election drawing near we see editorials from both parties claiming that they have the economic solution to help those folks losing their homes, watching their 401K get eaten by fees and dropping asset prices, doing the same job for decades with no increase in pay. Both parties claim the same goal, creating the right balance of government and market power to satisfy both groups customers, taxpayers.

Both parties want government to pay for something, with the Republicans talking up small government, strong business performance and a powerful military. The Democrats want more government social programs, more regulations for business and less guns. There are certainly other issues but most people would be able to identify the party from those policies.

The problem for the customers (citizens) of what these parties are selling is that when we make our purchase at the polls and bring the box home it often seems as if the contents were mixed up. As an example, if Republicans are the business party why has the stock market performed almost twice as well under Democrats? According to the Stock Trader's Almanac the market's average annual gain since 1901 under Republicans (56 years) has been 6.9%, a return we all would have loved to have over the last 7 years instead of the loss we have incurred. But under the Democrats the market has grown 13.3% (48 years) on average per year over the same period.

Republicans are also small government advocates, while the Democrats are argued as being big spenders, throwing your money at every problem they see. In reality the parties only varied by .5% in the growth of government as measured by budget growth in the four budgets passed by both parties prior to 2000, with the Republican Congress's growing government by 13.9% and the Democrats growing the budget by 14.4% (source GAO).

From 2000 on government has grown at unforeseen rates but factor that out if you like to blame everything after 9/11 on that event, and use it to justify the huge growth of government.

Finally look at free markets, Republicans have fought tirelessly to convince us customers that we have the best health care system, educational system and financial system because we let free market forces do our thinking for us, leaving us to reap the benefits of Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand". The results of these experiments are now in, and we pay the most of our income of all countries for the 32nd ranked health care system, our children are 3-4 years salary (gross) in debt if they have to borrow for school, both groups raise prices at over twice the inflation rate. Competitive price pressures are no where to be found.

The banking system has been de-regulated and the results are mixed at best, it now appears that risk has been moved to the citizens, we are picking up $5.7 Trillion (that's a T) of Sallie Mae and Freddie Mac after years of quarter billion dollar a year bonuses for the fine job they were doing. It may seem strange for one small rich group to get the profit and another larger poorer group to take the risk. So Republicans like government to pay bills but like Wall Street elites to make all of the money, Democrats just don't have much to say here, they get a deer in the head lights look when you see them yelling at naughty executives on C-SPAN at hearings (no one hears anything in these get togethers so the name "hearing" should be reconsidered).

So what do you do? Ignore the facts, vote the bums out (the other bums, not your own bum), vote the other party ever other election so you can always take the high road in conversations about politics?

What you must do, what we must do, is remember Lord Acton's warning from over 100 years ago, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." So the next time you see a politician shooting basketball, pretending to like people that they would never invite to dinner, changing their position on a heartfelt issue every week, disowning old friends after a negative news story, remember what these politicians are really saying, "Help Me Before I Lie Again".

Friday, July 11, 2008

Free Markets - Free to who?

As the religion of free market grew during the Reagan years, continuing through the Bush I, Clinton and now Bush II, one genius financial minds after another has preached from the pulpit of Wall Street a sermon of confidence. Confident that the US was infallible, confident that everyone from an Ivy school from a "good" family was a genius and confident that the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith would guide them through the storms. 

The idea was the Government was wasteful and inefficient, welfare queens were driving Caddy's in the Ghetto and there was no incentive to work if you gave someone a little less than needed to live, mediocre health care and school lunches.

Now the truth is clearer, the private managers are far more corrupt than government, the guys from the Ivy's are mostly inbred 3rd and 4th generation guys that are dumb as a stump and feel entitled to, well, everything.

This country was built on the backs of immigrants and the middle class, the hard working people who didn't think about Country Club memberships, status cars and getting into "elite" schools. Now we are being asked to bail out the all of the organizations that were put in better hands by the neo-economists in the last two decades. The IPO's are over, the money is in off shore banks and now pension funds and common shareholders are being asked to pay for the failures of the best and brightest.

Remember when you hear the talk on private management of Social Security, that would be the last goal of the neo-conservatives, elimination of the inter-generational contract that has tied one generation to the next since the 1930's. The plan will fail, but not until all of the money is stolen by Wall Street, and then we will be England with better teeth and a new royalty.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What do you expect?

How do the parties involved in this latest clash of cultures explain the benefits of their actions to the citizens, the people that wake up and go to work, find food, pay for shelter, educate the young and old, get sick, make people well, start businesses, write plays...

How do these weapons that take so much of our money, crazy things that are either designed to destroy,  which they do very well, or to protect, not so much in this case. Both projects are insanely successful in one area, the conversion of your hard earned taxes into a corporate welfare system that supports the military/industrial complex that Ike warned us about in his parting speech. 

He warned us that the appetite for the type of power and wealth that can be gained in that area was not likely to be self limiting, like any addiction the demand increasing, the lengths that the individuals in the system would go to to preserve the rush of that existence would make a junkie blush. 

We now have sitting Vice Presidents on the payroll (yes we know that it OK now, every press secretary has rolled their eyes and tried to explain how this person is above reproach to those skeptical of a former Defense Secretary who walked into a CEO position as his first job in private industry) of a defense contractor who was awarded the largest no bid contracts ever to serve in a war that he started. 

Noam Chomsky predicted the escalation of the stereotype of the Islamo-Terrorist as the next reason for massive investments in military platforms, although to avoid the retooling costs the platforms (militarese for a technological system design to destroy, the opposite of things like MRI's, cars and plumbing, which are technological systems designed to sustain and enhance our lives as opposed to ending them horribly and in great amounts.

Now we are working hard to raise tensions with Russia just as Korea becomes impossible to represent as a threat due to wide spread starvation. Iran, which spends a tenth of a penny to every dollar we spend on defense is the last remaining Global Threat, and they have raised toothless ranting to a new level of absurdity.

The good news is that people are able to see the foolishness and demand more accountability from the ego maniacs that call themselves leaders, produced through the new media moment mentality that puts more and more emphasis on manipulation and less and less on information. 

Obama is a product of the system, but all change agents  are, how else do you get in the position to make change, but with his new administration maybe we can grow to expect something else.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Anti-America Oil Use

When people look for Patriotism it is often seen as a uniform, a public display such as singing the National Anthem or flying the Flag at their home or the rear window of their car???

In the public forum lapel pins are the clearest way to detect a patriotic person, at least judged by the TeeVee News folks, making the natural assumption that if a person is willing to spend $2 for a lapel pin there is clearly nothing they wouldn't do for the Mother Land USA.

But for those with more than $2, there is an even more Patriotic action one can take, buying the biggest, most fuel inefficient vehicle they can but. Nothing extends a middle finger to the world, especially the Middle East, than a 200 pound person using one gallon of gas to go 8 miles. If you drive with the abandon you deserve as an American you can get the milage down to 5! Take that you oil barons and sheiks. 

Now the fact that we get most of our oil from Canada and Mexico, with less than 20% coming from the Saudi fields, should make us turn from the east and look North and South for the evil doers that are trying to change our way of life. 

In the 70's we were the evil ones, we built smaller cars, even doubled our average milage. And what did we gain from this self inflicted humilation? We reduced our oil use so much that oil dropped from $40 to $15 a barrel and stayed there for 20 years, until the true Americans told us that we deserved to use more oil and drive not only large cars, but GIANT cars, Suburbans moved from the farm to the suburbs, Hummers were hatched from the Army, showing that they could design and build ridiculous items for the commercial sector also.

So here we are, losing our homes, jobs and pumping our paychecks into our huge cars that no one will buy anymore. The support the troop ribbon is a little tattered, deep down we figured if we went into Iraq, we could leave with the oil. The reality is we were sold a false dream, one of hubris and grandeur, we felt like kings in our big cars.

The right dream is one of humble striving and caring, not just about our wants, but the future generations needs. Humility is not weakness as some would have you believe, it is strength and belief in the large responsibility that we have for being born so lucky. We can do this people, we did it before many times when we were in dark times and we are in those days again, we can be the beacon of the emerging global family or we can put out the lights for good.