February 24, 2012

Punk Economics

Here's a good explanation of the European debt crisis that's also applicable in the US:

A few points that might warrant further explanation:

First, there are good reasons why it's both more fair and more constructive to require lenders and derivatives speculators to eat losses arising from bad loans, rather than passing them on to innocent taxpayers. A basic concept in the law as it's evolved through the centuries is that, when a transaction or other course of conduct results in harm, if the person who was the primary cause (in this case, the borrower) lacks the financial means to make things right, the next person who should be held liable is the person who was in a position to figure out that there could be a problem but who, rather than investigating the situation and preventing the bad transaction, facilitated it and profited from it. In the present situation, this next person would be the banks that made and securitized the bad loans and especially those that created and sold pools of those loans and who also placed bets that those loans would go bad.

If the bankers are required to eat the losses on the loans and the bets they made on them, they'll be motivated not to make the same mistakes or commit the same frauds again. If, on the other hand, innocent taxpayers are required to pay for bankers' mistakes and frauds, the bankers are given every incentive to do it again. So it's both more fair and more constructive to let the bankers eat the losses they should have known would result, rather than imposing them on innocent taxpayers.

I personally also have no problem requiring borrowers who took out loans that went bad to eat their losses, although I do believe we should have a decent social safety net, so they don't end up on the streets.

Instead, we're doing the exact opposite of what would be most fair and constructive – we're bailing out the bankers and some of the borrowers, at the expense of the people who took no part in any of the foolishness or fraud.

Second, the reason excessive austerity won't help is that it's demand that drives economic recoveries. Even proponents of austerity occasionally slip up and admit this; and it's consistent with actual, historical experience in the US – the fact that the economy has tended to grow and deficits have tended to shrink during Democratic administrations, which tend to favor social safety nets and protections for workers, while the economy has tended to shrink and deficits have tended to grow during Republican administrations, whose policies have favored the 1%.

Giving money to people who already have more than they can spend does not stimulate the economy because they don't spend it. More particularly, rich people know it makes no sense to use the money to create inventory when so few others can afford to buy it, so they know it makes no sense to hire workers to create more inventory. When you give money to rich people during a recession, you encourage not job-creation but money-hoarding, which helps no one other than the rich. Thus, despite – or rather, because of – the fact that so much of the U.S. stimulus has gone to banks and big corps., employment has risen very little, while cash reserves held by those businesses have swollen dramatically. Time and again, "trickle-down" has been proven not to work, and that's why conservatives have abandoned the phrase; but they're still pushing the policy.

(It's ironic, too, that in order to believe that trickle-down could work, you have to embrace something its proponents emphatically reject: namely, you'd have to assume it makes sense for the rich to create products regardless of whether the market demands them, even at the risk that they're products no one would ever want, rather than letting the market – i.e., in this case, the rest of us – decide. I.e., you have to embrace centralized planning, only it's planning by the oligarchs rather than by an elected government.)

As a result of the way we've handled things under the undue influence of the rich, vast sums have been sucked out of the productive economy and pocketed by the oligarchs.

Basically, economics can be boiled down to one metaphor: you generally can't eat a carrot unless someone cultivates one. To the extent we allow the 1% to loot our carrots without doing anything to help grow them, we starve. The same is true vis à vis deadbeats among the 99%; but the 1% have perfected the means to loot our carrots faster and on a vaster scale. And we're not just practicing socialism for the rich; we're literally making crime pay, while impoverishing the people who have been the most economically productive . . . because the latter are the only people with any money left but who still lack (or who have as yet failed to effectively exercise) the political clout of the rich.

Finally, I agree with ar47yrr4p, who commented on the video, " . . . I think it might have been beneficial to mention Iceland and what happened there a couple years ago . . . you see they jailed their bankers and some of their MP's, threw out their government, [and] told the banks to shove it . . . and now Iceland is prospering." The same thing happened in the wake of the S&L debacle that resulted from Reagan's deregulation of those institutions: we liquidated the bad S&L's, prosecuted the fraudsters, and moved on.

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