Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Project for the UN and WTO

The Kyoto environmental accords failed and little progress has been made on world poverty. The US administration is pushing cap and trade as an alternative to Kyoto and has no defined program to reduce world poverty.

Cap and trade is a corporate program, subject to market manipulation that we’ve seen in other commodity markets, and that is pushing marginal farmers into survival mode in Brazil as corporations buy up large tracts of land for it’s carbon trade potential.

Maria Cantwell has a better idea: Cap and Dividend. It would add a carbon fee on all hydrocarbon products and rebate the collected funds to individuals to compensate them for the increased prices of petroleum products. The only problem is, it’s only a national program. American consumers would continue to buy the products at the same rate  if they are compensated for the increase in price.

A better answer is an international program, where rebates would go to many people living on a dollar a day and not using any petroleum products. Such a program would fight carbon buildup while at the same time fighting poverty, a win-win for the world.

Instead of beating their heads against the wall trying to sell climate change to people who won’t get interested until it affects them, environmentalists should be working in a world forum like the UN and the WTO to sell the benefits of carbon reduction in, not only improving the environment, but reducing world poverty.

Petroleum products have a world market. Petroleum producers are multinational corporations. The world is suffering wars in the name of petroleum resources and third world countries are benefiting little from them. It’s time for an international efforts to combat climate change and world poverty in a unified program.

The Tea Party Doublethinkers

Doublethink is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously. The credo of the Tea Party is lower taxes and smaller government. By shrinking the structure that was designed to protect them they are committing economic suicide. The business community has been successful in duping quite a large number of people into thinking that government is the problem, but it certainly hasn’t been a problem for business. They have been successful in turning the people against the government,  while at the same time lobbying to capture the government for themselves.

Business promotes expenditures and taxation for the military industrial complex and for bailing out banks while condemning them for any purpose benefitting people. It has successfully perpetuated an inefficient private health care system that rations health care by ability to pay rather than by need for care.  And, it is trying hard to destroy Social Security and Medicare. Yet, it has been able to convince the Tea Party that the solution is to further reduce taxes and limit the government’s power to protect the people.

What is needed is to bring government back to its original mission of promoting the general welfare, and not that of business and banking. There is a reason that taxes on the highest incomes were high and regulations were strong during the most prosperous period in the country’s history. Over the last several decades regulations have been decimated and taxes on high incomes and capital have been reduced dramatically, to the point where we are again experiencing an age of robber barons while aggregate demand atrophies and wages stagnate. Unless the people in organizations like the Tea Party realize they are working against their own interests, there is little hope of correcting the problem.

Friday, May 07, 2010

An Alternative to Unemployment Payments

Fundamentally, economies thrive when everyone is engaged in productive work in the most efficient way. As disturbing forces arise to create unemployment, the most prevalent solution has been to pay unemployment benefits to workers until they can find employment. There has been no other course, since there has been no facility to employ them beyond the private sector. This is where it might pay to make a fundamental change in national policy.

The government is always engaged in funding projects to improve national infrastructure and defenses. These projects could be structured so that the pace of activities can be adjusted relatively quickly to accommodate the increase or decrease in employment needs. If a segment of the private sector is temporarily slumping, public projects could be accelerated to employ people facing layoffs in the slumping sector. Obviously, there will be mismatches in qualifications and mobility problems, but keeping people productively employed may be better than paying them to do nothing and then having to encourage them to seek other employment or forcing them off the unemployment rolls when they’ve been out of work for some time and their skills have deteriorated.

The Basic Conflict Between Balanced Budgets vs Incurring National Debt or Printing Money

Putting an economy largely in the hands of a central government or unregulated private enterprise have been shown to have different, but comparably troublesome, problems. Central government control destroys initiative and retards the accumulation of private capital that is necessary for growth.  Unregulated private enterprise concentrates wealth in the hands of a few and destroys opportunity for the broad mass of citizens. Both government and private enterprise are authoritarian in nature and take measures to advantage themselves, if checks and balances or regulations are not in place to control them.

Historically, management of economies has become complicated, particularly by the introduction of fiat currencies, making national economies issuing fiat currencies very different from local and personal economies which don’t have that power. The latter must operate under budgets which balance incomes with expenditures, while the former can simply borrow or print money with only devaluation of its currency as the controlling factor. Unless this difference is recognized, there is always a battle between forces that want to treat national economics like local or personal economics and the forces that want to use the national power to borrow or print money to counter instability. Over the years, the forces that want to balance income and expenditures have prevailed except in times of great crisis.

This is the crux of the problem we face. We have two choices, either demand austerity measures or tax increases in times of recession, in a attempt to rebalance budgets, or use the federal government’s power to borrow or print money to prop up the slumping economy.  The first hurdle we must get over is that these are real alternatives. One or the other is not the only course. And, depending on the circumstances, one or the other may be the more advantageous. We must not let preconceptions or past policies prejudice one alternative or the other.

If it can be shown that national budgets have become wasteful or bloated, programs have become obsolete, or lobbying pressures have caused expenditures to become excessive, austerity programs can be very useful. If taxes have become excessive or unbalanced among different segments of society, changes may be required. But if the country faces a crisis of instability due to natural sources or accumulated risks, austerity measures or tax policy changes may not be the best answer. When faced with reduced demand, government stimulation of demand to replace lost private demand may be a better alternative.

If the national government borrows to increase demand as a result of a reduction in private demand, it is subject to its ability to borrow and at what rate. If rates become sufficiently high it may become advantageous to simply print money and pay the price in a devalued currency. These are real alternatives that must be weighed. If a country is disadvantaged in its trade relations with the rest of the world because of the value of its currency it may be more advantageous to print money. If the rest of the world is awash with capital and borrowing can be done at a low rate it may be advantageous to borrow.

Until we can agree as a nation that we have these alternatives we will be unable to reach the best solution when confronted with recession or other forms of instability.