Tag Archives: The Great Depression

Bloomberg Hits The Nail On The Head Regarding Economic Stimulus Plan

NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

There was a piece on the radio this morning which discussed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s comments about any future economic stimulus plans. Unfortunately, our searches for his comments have come up empty, but we’re guessing that he made these remarks yesterday. If we’ve misquoted Mr. Bloomberg, our apologies. We are going on our recollection of what we heard on the radio this morning.

Mr. Bloomberg (his middle name is “Rubens” – how many of you knew that?) said that the first round of economic stimulus checks the government mailed out amounted to a program that allowed Americans to go buy Chinese-made widescreen TVs at Circuit City. We couldn’t agree more. In fact, if you’ve followed RoutingByRumor, you know that we have said that the first round of economic stimulus checks amounted to little more than a subsidy for Middle East Oil producing countries, big oil and China, Inc. (You can rest assured that no matter how low the price of oil goes, no matter how much demand drops, that ExxonMobil will continue to post record profits in the quarters and years ahead.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Mr. Bloomberg said that any future economic stimulus program should fund infrastructure projects, which would be similar to what the United States undertook to help lift the country out of The Great Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s Works Progress Administration (WPA) created almost eight million jobs between 1935 and 1943. Just as importantly, this New Deal agency built highways, bridges, schools and other public works projects across America that still serve our nation today. New York City has more than it’s share of crumbling infrastructure, and like other American cities, would benefit greatly from a modern-day WPA.

Mr. Bloomberg has been critical of the Federal government’s economic stimulus plan in the past. In fact, he’s been against it all along. Last February, he said the then-proposed first round of economic stimulus checks were “like giving a drink to an alcoholic”.

Athough not in relation to the current debate on future economic stimulus spending, Mr. Bloomberg appeared before lawmakers on Capitol Hill this past June, in his capacity as co-chair of Building America’s Future.   He gave this testimony about the need to invest in infrastructure projects.

At a time when there’s more layoffs in the news every day, and the scope of those job cuts are getting wider and wider (today’s news brought word of Citibank planning 10,000 job cuts worldwide), we desperately need a government program that will give American families more than fleeting relief. We need a program that will keep the economic stimulus money the government spends here at home, instead of it being an indirect subsidy for China, which doesn’t benefit American families one bit. Walmart is doing very well, thanks to American families desperate to stretch their income. There is no need to provide Americans with stimulus checks they can take to Walmart, to buy more Chinese made goods. We’ve read that something on the order of 80% of the goods on the shelves at Walmart are made in China.

There’s slim chance that outgoing President George W. Bush will try to implement a program that will put Americans to work while also rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Our hope is that President-elect Barack Obama will seize the opportunity to lift America out of hard times by proposing a program styled on Roosevelt’s WPA. If Washington is going to spend billions of more dollars in an attempt to prevent an economic collapse, doesn’t it make sense to spend it on projects that will benefit America for generations to come, while keeping our money here at home ?

– Routing By Rumor

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, China, Consumerism, Employment, Environment, Jobs, Labor, Money, New York City, News, Politics, Routing by Rumor, The Economy, Uncategorized, World War II, Your Money

The Banking Meltdown Is Just A Symptom Of A Much Larger Problem

They’re comparing this week’s financial events in the United States with those that led to the start of the Great Depression. But make no mistake, the United States’ economy has been headed for disaster for years now. The loss of decent-paying jobs, the record number of home foreclosures and the depressed real estate market are all symptoms of a far greater problem. The near-collapse of the American banking system may be linked to the mortgage crisis, but look for a root cause elsewhere.

The looming failures of financial giants including Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, and insurance companies such as AIG, have created shock waves felt from Wall Street to Main Street. For the first time in memory, people were concerned that the money in their bank accounts, money market accounts and retirement plans was at risk. A 1929-style run on the banks appeared to be imminent. Indeed, people started pulling their money out of money market accounts at an unprecedented rate. Even investment professionals are running scared. Putnam Investments was so rattled by recent events, that they suddenly decided to close and liquidate their $12.3 billion institutional Putnam Prime Money Market Fund, which had experienced a run of redemptions last Wednesday. (Read about money market funds “breaking the buck” in this cnn.com article, or in this blogger’s posting.) In the seven days ending this past Thursday, Americans collectively pulled a quarter of a trillion dollars out of their money market accounts, an indication that people are frightened. This has led to the government announcing that money market mutual funds will now be insured in much the same way that FDIC insurance protects bank deposits, although the insurance coverage is currently planned for only the next year (we think you can bet your bottom dollar (pun intended) that this insurance will become permanent).

Within the space of just a few days, the government’s $75 billion bailout of AIG grew into a proposed $700 billion bailout of the entire mortgage mess. (Didn’t something like that happen in the movie “The Blob That Ate Pittsburgh”?) The government certainly has the ability to print as much money as it needs to put out these brushfires, but it’s foolish to believe that the federal government throwing money at the problem will make it go away for any length of time.

The economists here at Routing By Rumor point to two very basic problems that the country’s economic woes can be directly attributed to. The first problem is that America is sending about half of it’s cash to the Middle East to buy oil. The second problem is that the rest of America’s cash is being sent to the Far East, mainly to China, to pay for just about everything else we consume. Unless this situation changes, the U.S. economy will never recover, and the current round of federal bailouts are just the beginning.

America has made little progress towards energy independence, despite 35 years having elapsed since the oil crisis of the early 1970’s gripped the nation. A second oil crisis in the late 70’s, as well as dramatic increases in the price of oil in the recent past have done nothing to break our dependence on foreign oil.

America has become dependent on China for almost all consumer goods. This is not only foolish from an economic perspective, it also presents a grave risk to America’s national security. We manufacture almost nothing domestically any more. We’ve said this before, and we’ll repeat it again… God help America if we ever go to war with China, because if that should ever happen, you might as well just go ahead and hang a picture of Chairman Mao in your living room. Now take a look at Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States. According to wakeupwalmart.com, more than 70% of the goods on Walmart’s shelves are made in China. To be fair, that’s probably no different than any other American retailer, but in our mind, Walmart is little more than a sales agent for China, Inc.

Just how bad have things gotten ? According to this CNN article, the United States Department of Agriculture says that 50 percent of the apple juice imported into the United States comes from China (an estimated 161,000 tons of apple juice compared to the 110,000 tons produced in the United States). If we’re reading those numbers correctly, that means the United States only produces 25% of all the apple juice it consumes.

Apple juice !!! What the hell is happening to our country ?

People, there’s something very, very wrong with the U.S. economy, if we can’t even grow our own apples in this country anymore. We’re in deep, deep trouble if we’ve even become dependent on China for apple juice.

They better come up with a new saying, because “As American as apple pie” doesn’t hold true any more.

When the presidential candidates show up for their next press conference or debate, in addition to the standard questions about abortion, the death penalty, Iraq and tax reform, perhaps someone can ask them to take off their shoes and tell us where they were made, and whether they see that as a problem. Or, ask them to remove all of their clothing that was NOT made in the U.S.A. That should be quite revealing.

Then there’s the U.S. banking industry, which to us, resembles nothing so much as legalized loan sharking. Banks are, on the one hand, paying minuscule interest rates to depositors, with regular savings accounts and interest-bearing checking accounts paying perhaps 1% or so, and in many cases, just a fraction of one percent APR or APY (the switch from quoting interest rates paid as APY, instead of APR is a scam onto itself, but we’re digressing). On the other hand, banks are charging 15% or 20% interest on credit card balances, and in some cases, as much as 35% or 40% APR for their less credit worthy customers. Did you know that federal law places no limit on the interest rate a bank can charge ? And while some states do so, there are states which do not cap interest rates. That’s why it’s likely that when you mail your monthly credit card payment, the address on the envelope is usually in South Dakota or Delaware, where, as far as credit card interest rates are concerned, the sky’s the limit.

Take a look at the off-the-wall late fees and other penalty charges that banks are getting away with, since a 1996 Supreme Court ruling removed limits on such fees. Today, typical credit card late fees are as high as $40, and continuing to go up. In fact, if there’s one thing that amazes us, it’s the way that banks continually come up with new ways of putting the squeeze on credit card holders. That’s why you continually get notices from card issuers, announcing changes in your account terms. It’s surprising to us that none of those notices have yet advised us that a late payment will result in a guy named Guido paying us a visit around midnight, to negotiate a repayment schedule using his Louisville Slugger.

We think most American’s have lost any trust they might have had in that cesspool called Wall Street, where, it seems to us, the average investor doesn’t stand a chance. Maybe Eliot Spitzer was on the right track after all, with his aggressive investigations. The well publicized scandals, insider trading and other illegal activities involving Wall Street firms and the companies that trade their stock there have eroded investor confidence. And while we don’t think it’s fair to single out any one individual, just take a look at the Dick Grasso case. How do you think the average American who is struggling to pay their mortgage or feed their family, feels about a situation like that one ? And yet, despite the current financial crisis in the United States, don’t expect CEO compensation to decrease much, even at companies that have to be bailed out with federal money.

So while the billions of dollars that Washington is throwing at the financial crisis will probably stabilize things in the short term, don’t start singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” just yet. They are not.

If you want to hear what it will sound like if happy days ever do get here again, check this out.

– Routing By Rumor

2 Comments

Filed under Business, China, Consumerism, Employment, Energy, Energy costs, Food, Jobs, Labor, Money, News, Politics, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Shopping, Stock Markets, The Economy, Walmart, Your Money

Stimulus, Schmimulus ! Why The U.S. Economic Stimulus Plan Won’t Have Much Effect

They are saying that the President’s economic stimulus package might be agreed upon today. Woo Hoo. Happy days are here again.

But wait a minute… I can still hear that “giant sucking sound”,  and it’s getting louder (oh, how I wish I could have found a clip on youtube of Ross Perot coining that wonderful phrase). What will the U.S. economic stimulus plan actually accomplish? Will it lower the U.S. trade deficit or increase it? Will it lower the unemployment rate? Will it have any effect on the crumbling real estate market? We believe that the proposed U.S. economic stimulus plan will not work. It is an attempt at a quick fix. It is an ill-conceived band-aid approach to what ails the U.S. economy, proposed by an administration that does not seem to grasp the root causes responsible for the American economy being in deep, deep trouble.

What the United States needs now is something along the lines of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which put Americans to work and helped pull the country out of the Great Depression. The WPA existed between 1935 and 1943. A chicken in every pot, and two hybrid (or electric) cars in every garage wouldn’t be a bad idea either. (We’ve copyrighted that new twist on an old campaign phrase, so if Rudy, Hillary, Barack or John want to talk, you know how to reach us.) It’s quite likely that many of the government buildings and infrastructure projects in the American city or town where you live today were constructed by the WPA during that period. The WPA was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s New Deal programs.

Taking the money the U.S. government is proposing to distribute as tax rebates, and putting it into a massive infrastructure improvement program would have several benefits, both immediate and long-lasting. It would…

– Provide long-term employment for millions of Americans

– Stimulate spending by reducing the unemployment rate, and giving the currently-employed higher incomes

– Repair or replace our crumbling infrastructure, particularly bridges

– Provide an infrastructure that will facilitate future economic growth

– Keep the money in America rather than giving the recipients of the rebate checks the ability to buy even more imported goods, a major reason we’re in this mess to begin with

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that every taxpayer in the United States gets a check for $1,000 (although it looks like many, if not most Americans will receive far less). Let’s say that Americans will spend every one of those checks rather than putting the money in the bank. Where will that money go?

If you’re about to loose your home to foreclosure, chances are good that that rebate check wouldn’t even allow you to make a single mortgage payment. Even if it does, that’s just postponing the inevitable for a few more weeks.

Perhaps you will take that rebate check and go on a shopping spree at Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Target. Wal-Mart is already America’s largest retailer and largest employer, but bigger is always better. If Wal-Mart grows, that means more low wage jobs for Americans. It means more Americans with little or no healthcare coverage. It means paving over more open land for new parking lots and big-box stores. It means more tough times for the few American manufacturers left, who are already being squeezed by the way Wal-Mart deals with their vendors.

About the only place you can spend that rebate check where the majority of the products are made in USA is at the grocery store. Unfortunately, for most Americans, eating is not a discretionary activity, and the amount of money you spend at the grocery checkout is unlikely to be influenced to any measurable extent by your rebate check.

Ben Bernanke will probably tell you that buying goods is exactly what you should do with your new found windfall. But wait a minute. As I’ve pointed out in this blog, and what you already know, unless you’ve been in a coma for the past few years, is that the vast majority of consumer goods you’ll find on retailer’s shelves are imported, overwhelmingly from China. In fact, we think that China will be the real winner if Americans go on a shopping spree. If you doubt this, just wait a few months and look at how our trade deficit with China increases as a result of this plan. Go to the mall and try to find clothing, shoes, toys, hardware or housewares made in USA. You won’t.

How is buying foreign goods supposed to help the U.S. economy? The U.S. national debt is being increased substantially by the stimulus plan in the first place. Buying foreign goods will only increase the trade deficit. Few American jobs will be created by this plan. That’s because we manufacture few products here any more, with the notable exception of food products, and even those are increasingly being imported.

With the cost of heating your home and filling your gas tank becoming an unaffordable luxury for many Americans, perhaps all of us should use our rebate checks to buy fuel oil or gasoline. The oil producing countries would love that more than oil itself. The American oil companies would support that too. Despite the fact that the oil companies have been raking in record profits, you can never be too rich, or too thin. On second thought, I think we will just cash our rebate check and ask the teller to give it to us in one dollar bills only. Then we’ll take the cash home, and use it as kindling in our fireplace. That’s one way to stay warm this winter, and it should reduce our heating bill slightly. Is it illegal to burn money?

About the smartest use we think you could put that rebate check to would be as a down payment on a hybrid or other low-emission or zero-emission vehicle. That would reduce America’s dependency on foreign oil, while helping the environment at the same time. The only problem is that very few low-emission vehicles, and almost no zero-emission vehicles are being manufactured today. And chances are good that your next car will be a foreign make that might not even be assembled in America anyway. So much for stimulating employment.

The biggest reason that the economic stimulus plan will not have any significant or long-lasting effect on the U.S. economy, is that it does nothing to address the two underlying causes of our economic problems; loss of jobs (particularly loss of good paying jobs) and the U.S. trade deficit. Until those issues are addressed, the administration can throw all the money they want at the problem, but it won’t go away. The deepening economic recession will turn into a depression, as sure as Winter will be followed by Spring.

I just came across a posting on the AFL-CIO’s website outlining their views regarding what a U.S. economic stimulus plan should include. Unfortunately, it looks like a couple of their suggestions which were originally announced by the President as being part of the package, have been eliminated in the final draft. Although I have never belonged to a labor union, I was struck by how many of their ideas match my thinking on the subject.

Maybe those rebate checks should come with the stipulation that they are not to be spent on food, imported goods or foreign oil, gas-guzzling vehicles, and may not be burned.

– RoutingByRumor

Leave a comment

Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, China, Consumerism, Employment, Energy Conservation, Environment, Jobs, Labor, Money, Politics, Retail, Retailers, Shopping, Stock Markets, The Economy, Walmart, Your Money