Tag Archives: Institute for Fiscal Studies

Capone Syndrome

There is a larger concern in the US today (yesterday too). I have always lived by the premise that guns do not kill people, people kill people. I still live by that believe today, even as people all over the planet cry that guns are the problem. In the UK we see: “There were 726 homicides in the year ending March 2018, 20 more (3% increase) than in the previous year“, which is fine, you can a person with a knife as terminally concrete as a gun can, you merely have to move up close and personal to do so.

Yet that does not explain the American numbers and I accept that. When we consider ‘17,284 reported cases of murder or non-negligent manslaughter in the United States‘ we see that there is a much larger problem in play. Yet there is also the stage that the numbers have declined by 30% since 1991 (24,700 murders at that point). Yet that would be the facts if we take the word of Statista; it is the New York Times who gives us “There were 39,773 gun deaths in 2017, up by more than 1,000 from the year before. Nearly two-thirds were suicides“, which is an entirely different dish to serve. The article (at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/us/gun-deaths.html) becomes debatable when we see the information they do give us with ‘Nearly two-thirds were suicides‘, so there is an issue, and even as we want to blame guns, these people would have equally gone for pills and optionally tapping the vein with a sharp knife.

So when we see: “In 2017, about 60 percent of gun deaths were suicides, while about 37 percent were homicides, according to an analysis of the C.D.C.” we need to take a larger look at the issue. When we see the numbers, which I accept is disproportionate to most other nations, we need to see that the US has a much larger issue and firearms are not the cause, the economy is. We see part of that reported by the World Economic Forum (at https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/the-global-suicide-rate-is-growing-what-can-we-do/). Here we see: “Overall mortality, particularly in the middle years, is increasing as a result of the so-called “deaths of despair” due to suicide, alcohol, opioids, and liver disease. Although 94% of American adults believe mental health is equally as important as physical health, most do not know how to identify changes in mental health that signal serious risk, nor what to do in response“, I believe that this is part of the answer, but not the larger impact. Some have taken this path and it can be directly linked to isolation and the lack of quality of life. Yet it will not stop with the US, there is every indication that these waves will hit the Commonwealth (UK and Australia) as well, In Australia we saw in 2018 ‘Australia’s suicide rate is now at 12.6 deaths per 100,000 people‘, whilst it was reported to be 5.7 in 2016 down from 6.6 in 2007, to see that the numbers have well over doubled in 10 years is a large issue and the limelight on this has been switched off.

The reduced quality of life is a larger issue in the US is that the people that are living in poverty is 13.5% (43 million), which is astounding as the unemployment rate is set to 3.7%, so we have a stage where people with a job are still below the poverty line and they are not alone, the UK is pushing into a similar stage. As the BBC reported almost 3 weeks ago “Between 1994 and 2017, the proportion of people in working households in relative poverty rose from 13% to 18%, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) – eight million people in 2017” (at https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-42223497) we see a shift and the governments are not pushing to improve that setting, more important Australia is pushing in that same direction, yet they make matters worse by remaining in denial of social housing and age discrimination.

This now moves back to the beginning, We see the Capone Syndrome, Alphonse Gabriel Capone was boss of the Chicago Outfit and cause for the deaths of a large uncounted amount of people. In addition to that we must give voice that he donated large amounts of cash and was the force behind the charity that served up three hot meals a day to thousands of the unemployed—no questions asked. In all this he was never convicted of charities, not for murders and not for ‘criminal’ activities, the FBI got him on Tax evasion. Here we see the Syndrome, we blame guns, but other issues are the driving force that is causing all this. Whether the latest two are through mental health or economy driven reasons remain to be seen. However, as long as the people keep on screaming gun laws in a nation where hundreds of millions of guns are in open circulation there is a larger option that will not be tended to.

One of these problems is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It lacks leadership and at least 3 presidents are cause if this. With a budget of $1.274 billion, with a little over 5000 staff, the ATF has a massive problem. The larger failure known as Project Gunrunner (2010), as well as the dismissal of ATF special agent Vince Cefalu in 2011 with 24 years of experience is showing to be a much larger issue than the media is giving you. The top brass are an Acting Director, and Acting Deputy Director, no official named and permanent elected (read: placed) director and deputy director have been set for the longest time, so there is a large absence of long term plans and that lack has been an issue for a much longer time. In all this the oversight of second hand firearms has been lacking like almost forever. Even as gun laws are adjusted, second hand merchandise will freely move and as such there will be no improved situation.

If these people who are crying and shouting ‘Gun Control‘ actually wanted any of that, then the ATF would get the needed budget of $3.8 billion, they are trying to get done what they can with a 30% budget, in addition, to properly overhaul second hand firearms an additional 1500 agents would be needed. Yet the power players are not willing to touch this economy. The National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that their group paid $6.82 billion in taxes (including property, income and sales taxes), the government does not want to touch it.

We need to accept an understand that this problem is a lot larger and the fact that everyone is looking at a busy crossroad and they are actually only looking and focusing on that one traffic sign called ‘amendment 2’, how is that ever going to fix anything? You can add a maximum speed of 15 bullets per minute to that crossroads, yet when we consider that the roads themselves are part of the problem, an actual large part, whatever you claim to fix, will not fix anything at all, not until you fix the road, the current signs will have a negligible impact.

Now when we look at the El Paso event at Walmart, we see the accused Patrick Crusius and the fact that he killed 20 people and wounded more than that. We see the mention of some ‘manifesto’ implies a larger issue. It could be a hate crime, yet we still need to learn what set him off. The fact that the person was taken into custody (with little to no force according to the Guardian) implies that this person seeks the limelight, which could give a larger rise to a mental health issue, but time needs to tell us that. In Dayton, Ohio we have another setting. Here a man killed his sister and 8 others. Here the shooter did not survive, something clearly set him off, yet what is unknown at present. Here the Washington Post gives us: “The guns had been legally purchased, police said, and there was nothing in Connor Betts adult criminal background that would have raised concerns“, we could argue that gun control might have been some impact, the issue with millions of guns on the open second hand market, there would have been little to slow this person down. So as we learn that ‘Connor Betts never seemed interested in extreme ideologies, nor did he seem racist‘, we see one optional extremist with racism tendencies and one not, and when we realise that we need to consider that the issue is a lot larger and we need to properly address this issue. Yet screaming ‘gun control laws’ all whilst the ATF is not able to do a proper job now implies that the US is currently heading towards a much larger issue soon enough.

By the way, the fact that the ATF issues have been known for the longest time and the last time it was addressed was on May 19th by David Thornton in an article and not after that, optionally even less before that, does that not warrant questions on several levels?

I reckon that the ATF is not a sexy enough topic for the media, but cadavers certainly are. So when we fix that part, we might begin to fix the mass shooting issues at some point in the future and do not forget that the absence of a permanent director has been an issue since before the Obama Administration, he too never addressed it, which after the Newtown shooting should warrant a question or two as well.

This is not about the NRA, this is not about the NSSF and this is not about guns, this is about policy and how to properly go about it, as I personally see it, until there is a clear mandate and a clear path that includes the ATF, we are unlikely see clear resolutions for years to come.

 

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A slave to greed

It is time to take a stance a little more vocal and a little more ‘anti’ certain voices. You see, the people are being led astray, misinformed and basically lied to. It is a clever lie that some people spin, where the involved players (like in Greece) focus on one part of the story and after that story is told, those who think they are getting informed, are told a fairy tale with no concrete connection to reality or to the factual complete truth. Those advocates work from the concept of ‘in the eye of the beholder’, which sounds nice, but when you pay your electricity bill, there is no eye of the beholder, there is just the invoice!

To get this party train started, let’s take a look at the definition. We are looking at Austerity!

According to the Investopedia it is: “DEFINITION of ‘Austerity’ a state of reduced spending and increased frugality in the financial sector. Austerity measures generally refer to the measures taken by governments to reduce expenditures in an attempt to shrink their growing budget deficits“.

Whilst dictionary.com tells us “strict economy

Both apply here!

So when I am looking at an article in the Guardian by Heather Steward called ‘Austerity isn’t ‘good housekeeping’: it’s dogmatic, risky and unjust‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/07/austerity-isnt-good-housekeeping-dogmatic-risky-unjust), it is time to get a few things out of the way. To help me, there is a source I used for part of this, which is at http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/5509/economics/government-spending-under-labour/. You see, in the time 1997 – 2010 several things happened, even though around 2007 the total debt was at a record low, the increase in spending has changed that. The debt is getting out of control, plain and simple. Governments (both sides) tend to hide behind GDP percentages to validate their spending, yet, in the previous conservative government, it was at 40% of GDP, by the time Gordon Brown was done, it was at 45% of GDP, considering that the UK GDP is decently high, that 5% amounts to a lot. Yet, that figure does not tell you the whole picture.

The UK public sector debt went in the period 2008 – 2010 from around 36% to over 65%, which is massive, this current government has been adding to that, but they are trying to stem that tide, which is not done overnight. Now this is not me blaming Labour (which is always fun), Health care spending almost doubled in real terms between 1999 and 2010, which is a Grim Reaper reality. Some were massive bungles by labour, but the added reality is that the UK population is growing old, that is just a natural part and we have always known that. So there is no blame, but it is therefore of a much higher importance to get a handle on it and none of the choices are nice ones.

You see, the source gives a possible connection, but not the reality behind it. We see the mention whether Keynesian economics are to blame, with the quote “Keynesian economics calls for counter-cyclical spending and deficits. Thus, in a period of strong economic growth, Keynesian economics would advocate balancing the budget or even pursuing a budget surplus“, but that is the problem, the politicians, in the era 1997-2004, in such a ‘good’ climate did not adhere to that. The GDP debt is evidence of that. You see, to some extent, politicians are like children, give a 17 year old boy  a credit card with one million pound, stating that he must be careful, and that person will find a reason to get the PS4, the Xbox One and get personal biology lessons at the ‘Steam and Sun Health Club’. At which point that person is feeling that the good life is here, alas, at some point the invoice is due and whilst it is not getting paid, the interest is getting paid from the credit card, dwindling reserves even further, this is EXACTLY where Greece is at!

So now to the first article as mentioned in the beginning!

the spending squeeze the Tories now hope to implement, starting in the current financial year, is intense, as the spreadsheet wizards at the Institute for Fiscal Studies made clear last week. Shortly before Osborne’s statement, Carl Emmerson, the IFS’s deputy director, warned that achieving the Tories’ planned cuts would be “anything but easy”” Here I agree, it will not be easy, it will be hard and it will be even harder on the people, the issue is however that £1.56 trillion comes with the added issue that at 1%, this bill gets an added 15.6 billion in interest, however, the interest is not 1%, it is higher, so we see that the annual cost of servicing (paying the interest) the public debt amounted to around £43bn (which is roughly 3% of GDP). In an age where some people get instant orgasms from reporting a 0.2% increase in GDP, they seem to forget that this amounts to the part that the UK is annually down 2.8% of GDP. If we act harshly (really harshly) it can be dealt with and even be reduced! Which is the real deal. That interest is benefitting banks and foreign investors. It boils down to ‘money for free’. So now we get the second quote “the belt-tightening is likely to be profoundly unfair. Osborne has repeatedly said his cuts plan will involve a £12bn reduction in the welfare bill. Since pensioners are protected, and out-of-work benefits are a relatively small part of the £250bn social security budget, much of the burden is likely to fall on low-wage workers and their children” I agree, it is very unfair, but when the economy was high, no one was shouting loudly to decrease spending as bad times are always around the corner, no one stopped Gordon Brown to give away the keys to the kingdom, which is what he pretty much did!

So, the term ‘pursuing a budget surplus’ sounds nice, but politicians will avoid bad news whenever they can, so cutting down on expenses will only be done when there is no other option, and preferably in the 11th hour, whilst there is no guarantee that there is a surplus at that point to work with!

More austerity is risky at a time when recovery appears to be fragile against a background of the bubbling Eurozone crisis” this is a clear misrepresentation. You see, the statement is true, but there is no ‘fragile recovery’ at present, Greece is making sure of that by not doing its part. Which is exactly why the UK is contemplating getting out of the EU in the first place. The bulk of the Euro nations are all not balancing their books and getting out now might be the only way to preserve the little gain the UK can get. Now we get to another ‘failed’ view. It comes from Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen. The statement is “A nation’s debts are mainly owed to someone else within the same society – for example the pension-holders whose funds are stacked full of gilts“. Is that so Mr Sen? Well, if you did your homework on this then please elaborate where the 1.5 trillion in UK debt is? I feel 99.324% certain that a massive amount is in other hands, not in the hands of pension holders, in addition, with the annual increase of needed funds over the next two decades, that amount is about to dwindle to record lows really fast, so where is all that debt?

The next statement is a view that I oppose “a report from the International Monetary Fund, rarely considered a hotbed of fiscal recklessness, warned about the risks of trying to tackle a country’s debt burden too quickly“, what is too quickly? You see 1.5 trillion is not going away overnight, it will take 2-3 decades to truly slim it down, so for the next generation, someone is walking away with £43bn a year, so we should get the debt down soon, preferably by a lot because the annual interest bill is around 7% of the received revenue in 2014, that whilst George Osborne spent 15% more than received, so to cut back on that increasing debt austerity seems to be the only answer.

Now we get the next issue “Paying them down rapidly distorts the economy too much to be worth the risk“, the risk to whom? To banks not getting ‘free’ money? Debt is a kicker, it always has been it has never been different. We will never be completely out of debt, but the debt at present is unacceptably high. You see a debt driven economy is based on the illusion of never ending growth. How did that work out in 2004 and 2008? In that light, how is it working out for Greece? They can no longer pay their bills. Whatever they get now in bail-out will be swallowed by debts and interests before Q3 ends. So, when I read “Debts should be “reduced organically through growth, or opportunistically when less distortionary sources of revenue are available”, the IMF’s researchers argue“, I am reading more misinformation. The theory sounds nice, but in the time when there was the option of surplus NOT ONE government created surplus. President Clinton was the only one who got a true surplus, after that due to circumstances the US could not foresee, the debt went completely out of control. In reflection on Austerity, Germany did tighten the buckle and got part of its debt down, which is why they are in a better position at present.

So this is the first article, Heather Stewart is not stating anything untrue, but the article is missing a lot and some of these points I very much disagree with (figure me, disagreeing with a Nobel prize winner, whilst I have no economy degree).

Now let’s have a go at the second Nobel Prize winner. In this case Joseph Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and the John Bates Clark Medal. The article that in centre of this is ‘Greece’s creditors need a dose of reality – this is no time for European disunion‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/05/greeces-creditors-need-a-dose-of-reality-this-is-no-time-for-european-disunion). The first paragraph is the very notion of the beginning of my disagreement. “Athens has met its creditors’ demands more than halfway“. And we care….why? Why is Athens not meeting those demands 100% of the way? You see, Greece took the debt, it went back to the markets and sold 5 billion more in bonds (I still have not figured out the name of the idiot allowing for that act of stupidity). Greece vowed to make payments again and again, yet at present the already deferred TWO payments. Now, let me be frank. They were allowed to do that! The rules were there and they played by the rules, yet we all know that Greece is out of money, there are no more options. This will be the first time that a nation goes extinct through economic inaction! Even when Syriza won, instead of going after their predecessors, instead of sitting down and getting to the tax evaders, we see (at http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4358352.ece) “The country’s financial crimes police, the SDOE, had begun shredding scores of documents linked to cases of corruption. What remained was stuffed in bin bags and discarded outside the bureau’s headquarters in Athens, in public view” the title ‘Greece shreds files on tax cheating by rich and powerful‘ Kostas Vaxevanis reported this on February 19th 2015. So, why was there no prosecution here? The entire debacle on tax evasion has been treated like a joke by 4 previous administrations, so as they cut their own jugulars, why allow for just a half way approach? So far this Greek administration has not done anything to give ample faith that there will be any level of resolution. Then we get “Greece has made clear its willingness to engage in continued economic overhaul, and has welcomed Europe’s help in implementing some of them“, is that so? So far there has been no overhaul at all, the public sector cuts were undone by rehiring. Greece needs to lower its cost by a massive amount. In all that time, which of the over 2000 of wealthy Greeks ended up in court for tax evasion (from Swiss bank accounts), perhaps one? Oh the Journalist Kostas Vaxevanis ended in the dock too, a massive miscarriage of Justice as I see it!

The one part I do agree with is the dangers of Greece exiting “I believe such views significantly underestimate the current and future risks involved“, this is true, but Greece can no longer be trusted to do what they stated to do and as such, some of the players prefer to get out, before the total debt grows with another 20% which is basically no more than a year away. There is not concrete evidence that the economy will truly pick up and those who have enabled this debt driven event are not held to account either (that small matter of a massive amount of Greek bonds on the market).

Then the last part “The ECB president Mario Draghi’s confidence trick, in the form of his declaration in 2012 that the monetary authorities would do “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro, has worked so far. But the knowledge that the euro is not a binding commitment among its members will make it far less likely to work the next time“, yes, how did it work? By spending a trillion or more one areas that are still not recuperating and will need at least a decade to regain the trillion that was spent in under a year? How is that anywhere near a workable solution?

In all this, whatever should work might have worked to a degree if politicians would control their budgets and that financial institutions would not be as greed driven as they are, which is why it all failed. When we see the quote “16 banks in five years to the end 2014 reveal £30bn increase in payouts, fines and legal bills on previous five-year period to end 2013” and this is linked to a total of well over £200bn. Lloyds alone got £117m in fines, how is this linked? Well, such losses means no taxation in the books as profits are gone, whilst many involved walked out with enough money (read: bonus) to pay their full mortgage in places like Golders Green.

Mr Stiglitz never lies or misinforms, but his view is incomplete. It is very dependent on the people involved doing the right and the correct thing. Politicians and bankers tend to be not those kind of people, Greece has shown it, Gordon Brown has spent it now the Conservatives need to repair the damage, Prime Minister Tsipras is ‘forced’ to play a high stakes game, whilst those involved are no longer willing to give leeway. In my view, that game should never have been played in the first place. By setting austerity, whilst going after the Greeks and their wealth benefitting from all this was perhaps one of the few acts that could have opened wallets all over the place, that act was never done, which is why many see that meeting half way is not really an option.

Austerity might seem unfair, and it is not fair on the payers at present, but someone opened a tap whilst the bulk of those knowing what was going on should have spoken out, and spoken out very loud. This was not done, so behold the consequence of that little caper.

There is one gem in his article at the end that is part of the entire Euro mess, which is fun as I have raised it a few times over the last few years. Not bad for a person devoid of an economics degree!

He states: “Europe’s leaders viewed themselves as visionaries when they created the euro. They thought they were looking beyond the short-term demands that usually preoccupy political leaders. Unfortunately, their understanding of economics fell short of their ambition; and the politics of the moment did not permit the creation of the institutional framework that might have enabled the euro to work as intended. Although the single currency was supposed to bring unprecedented prosperity, it is difficult to detect a significant positive effect for the Eurozone as a whole in the period before the crisis. In the period since, the adverse effects have been enormous

This is true, the one part I have an issue with is ‘Europe’s leaders viewed themselves as visionaries when they created the Euro‘. I think Europe’s leaders had nothing to do with that part. I have always viewed this change as an essential; step by the US. Their benefit of trade with a single currency was titanic in proportions, in addition, the US would keep its option to float the currency as any economy tends to do in times of hardship, whilst the nations that are part of the euro are part of a collective, which removes the option of floating a currency. This was centre in the additional growth (or diminished fall) for the US, yet, even they did not bank on the credit swap meltdown, which did hurt them. The US is getting better, but their 18 trillion in debt is choking them, even with the option to float the dollar, the Euro in the massive debt it is, can only remove the debt by paying it, which is strangling France and Italy. The UK is dealing with it, and the Euro is hurting them, but not as much as being part of the Euro is. Which is just my view on it all.

As I stated in the beginning, the articles are incomplete, misstated, not by inaccuracies, but by incompleteness, which is why people have the skewed view they seem to have at present. In the austerity path, which is unfair to some, we need to add the legal premise and the legal definitions as well as legal obstructions to remove the option of overspending to the degree that was done, we need to make sure that the law will not allow for such overstretching ever again, when that is done, we will return to times when there is hardship, but when there are good times we will all feel it too, in my view, the push of the financial sector to remove the season of ‘financial winter’ resulted in the banks getting by and the rest suffering, this must never be allowed ever again!

 

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