UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

What Will Dems Do When The GOP Says: “The Deficit Matters”?

The Daily Escape:

Big Ben being cleaned. In order to clean the four clock faces, every 5-7 years, skilled climbers hang down from the belfry on ropes, and they clean the front of each clock face. There is one removable panel of glass on each face, which is removed during the cleaning so that the clock maintenance staff can talk to the cleaners while they’re working. (“you missed a spot?”) Hat tip to Wrongo’s friends at the Goodspeed Opera House!

Yesterday we pointed out that there is a very large program that the country needs to fund if we are to maintain our position in the global superpower competition. The issue at hand is the stunning thought that we might lose up to 75 million jobs to automation in the next 13 years, and that we need to train the out-of-work unfortunates for new jobs in a different economy.

It’s highly unlikely that we would need to train that many, but it could be 25 million Americans. And we have no idea where the money would come from to accomplish that. After all, the Republicans now plan to reduce tax receipts bigly, thus adding to the deficit and thereby, to the total debt of the country.

We know that as soon as the new tax cuts begin accruing to their patrons, the GOP will start talking about reducing the budget deficit by cutting non-military expenses. Ron Brownstein conceives the Republican tax plan correctly:

Gaius Publius observes: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

As they did in the 1980s, Republicans are laying a “deficit trap” for Democrats. As they did before, they’re blowing up the budget, then using deficit [fear] to force Democrats to “be responsible” about cutting social programs — “because deficits matter.”

In the 1980s Republicans ran up the deficit, then insisted that Democrats work with them to raise taxes on the middle class to over-fund the Social Security (SS) Trust Fund. This converted SS from a pay-as-you-go system that increased revenues as needed via adjustments to the salary cap, to a pay-in-advance system. That allowed any excess SS money to be loaned back to the government, partially concealing the large deficits that Reagan was running up.

Today, Republicans are expanding the deficit again, and are already starting to talk about deficits to argue for cuts in what they call “entitlements” — Medicare, Medicaid, and eventually Social Security, even though Social Security can be self-funding.

Fear of deficits is the go-to Republican ploy to try to maim or kill the FDR and LBJ-created social safety net. To the extent that Democrats are willing to accept the GOP’s argument that both parties need to be responsible to decrease the deficits, they will support cuts in social services. Even Obama was willing to consider doing just that in the name of “bipartisanship”. More from Gaius:

The reality — Deficits aren’t dangerous at all until there’s a big spike in inflation, which is nowhere near happening and won’t be near happening for a generation…

Do we want the US government to shrink the money supply year after year after year, by running budget surpluses, or do we want to grow the amount of money in the private sector, making more available for use by the middle class?  The trillions spent on the current GOP giveaway to the already-rich could have been given to college students in debt, or people still underwater in their mortgages since the Wall Street-created crash of 2008. It could have been used to build better roads, airports, seaports or a national high speed internet backbone.

What would be the effect of that re-allocation of money?

Back to Gaius Publius for the final words. Which of these three options would you rather the government choose:

  • Spend money on the already-rich?
  • Spend money on you and the country’s needs, ignoring the pleas of the already-rich?
  • Hoard as much money as possible in a vault and spend the least possible?

The first is the GOP’s current tax plan. The second is a plan for the many, an FDR-style economic policy. The third is the GOP’s wet dream, one that they will ask Democrats to help them accomplish once the already-rich have banked their share of our tax money.

Wrongo’s fear is that at some point down the road, a compromise will be offered up: Cuts to social programs in exchange for a repeal of some of the more onerous tax cuts. The only issue will be the extent of the cuts to social programs.

It will be celebrated as bipartisan sanity returning to Washington.

Our system is revolting. Why aren’t we?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – December 4, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Old railroad tracks near Folsom, CA – December 2017 photo by Merrill Dodd

This will be Wrongo’s last column discussing the tax bill. Here is a chart describing the differences between the Senate and House tax bills:

Source: WSJ

The big question is will the tax bill really go through reconciliation, or can Paul Ryan convince House Republicans to vote for it essentially as is? The three factions Ryan has to deal with inside his own party might make a straight agreement a hard sell. Will a successful reconciliation happen? Odds seem to be in its favor. However, things could go sideways. There’s plenty in the bills to anger just enough of the three Republican House factions, and they’re more exposed to a potential 2018 wave election than the Senators. State and local tax deduction are a sticking point, and what about the deficit? It will be an interesting and stressful next few weeks.

Returning to yesterday’s David Stockman’s analysis: The standard deduction is doubled in both bills to $24,000 per household, costing $737 billion while changing the tax brackets from seven to four (in the House bill) costs $1.17 trillion.

When all the puts and takes are finished on the personal income tax side, what America gets from 2018-2027 is a $1.20 trillion net reduction in personal income taxes. But, as we showed in yesterday’s chart, dead people and rich people stand to benefit the most.

So, what’s left is a tiny $352 billion tax cut for rest of America’s 145 million tax filers over the entire next decade. On average, that’s about $242 per person per year!

Couldn’t $1.4 trillion been better spent on refurbishment of our infrastructure rather than in giveaways to corporations? Do corporations really need more government aid at a time when they are recording near-record profits, and hold huge cash reserves that they are not spending on hiring, wage increases or investment in the USA?

It’s long past time for America to wake up!! Whether you support the tax bill or hate it, it’s also past time to clean out the sewer that is Congress. It will take about six years of organizing, finding progressive candidates, and GETTING OUT THE VOTE, to deliver mostly new faces in DC.

We must break up the “old thugs club” that Congress has become. To help us wake up and start on political renewal, let’s listen to George Harrison’s “Taxman”. This was the Beatles’ musical complaint about how much they were paying in taxes in the UK. “Mr. Wilson” and “Mr. Heath” are mentioned in the lyrics. They are former British Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, who contributed to writing English tax laws that at one point had a 95% marginal tax rate.

There are no high-def video recordings of the tune available online by the Beatles (it was released in 1966 on “Revolver”), so here is Joe Bonamassa performing “Taxman” live at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, in June 2016. It’s his bluesy take on the Beatles’ pop sensibilities:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Reagan’s Tax Cuts Are No Model for Today’s GOP

The Daily Escape:

Colima Volcano, Mexico, December 2015 – photo by Sergio Tapiro, National Geographic 2017 photographer of the year

Republicans are patting themselves on the back about their coming tax cuts, comparing it to the famous (infamous?) Regan tax cuts, known as the Tax Reform Act of 1986. From the Economist:

During the three decades since its passage, Democrats and Republicans alike have hailed the law not only for overhauling the country’s tax system…but also for doing so with bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.

Unlike the bi-partisan review of our tax system that occurred from 1984 to 1986, Donald Trump has promised to sign a bill by Christmas, just two months after the first legislative text was introduced.

Congressional Republicans originally promised that any reform would not reduce overall revenues. But they have flip-flopped: The current plan is expected to raise deficits by between $1.3 and $1.5 trillion over its 10-year life. And according to figures from the Joint Committee on Taxation, most of the benefits will go to the rich. Reagan’s reform did the opposite. The left hand chart below shows the Reagan tax cut in blue and the Trump tax cut in red. The x axis is annual income, while the y axis is the percentage of taxpayers receiving a tax cut:

Source: The Economist

The gaps in share of taxpayers receiving a cut are stunning. Between 35-55% of those under $40k in income will receive a benefit under the Trump plan, while between 70-80% of the same group received a cut under the Reagan tax plan.

It gets worse when we look at the right hand chart above. The x axis shows the percentage change in after-tax income by earnings level. Reagan’s cut gave those making between $10k-$50k an increase in take home pay by between 0.25% and 1.5%. Trump’s plan will leave them at ± 0% change in take-home income, while those who make from $50k to $200k will do significantly better under the Trump plan than under Reagan.

And an article of faith for the GOP is that the tax cut will stimulate the economy. Let’s unpack this a bit. The bill provides interim tax relief of about $1.38 trillion during 2018-2025 before the tax sunset provisions kick-in. That equals 4.2% of current tax revenue collections during the 8- year period, and only about 0.8% of GDP.

It’s hard to see how an 0.8% stimulus to GDP is going to bring on a growth tsunami, or add tons of new jobs.

Back to the Reagan tax cut, it had no measurable effect on the trend rate of economic growth, and when it was fully implemented, it amounted to 6.2% of GDP, not 0.8%, .

Finally, when the Tax Policy Center costed out the Senate Finance Committee bill, it showed that by year 10, not one of the 150 million individual filers will still be getting a tax benefit. And most importantly, the single tax cut item left in the statute, the 20% corporate rate, which stays in place permanently, costs America $171 billion in lost revenue in 2027. From David Stockman:

Likewise, the latest distributional analysis [probably from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities] shows that in 2025, before the sunset,-the bottom 30 million tax filers would get an average “tax cut” which amounts to the grand sum of $1.15 per week….the next 30 million filers would only get $7 per week; and the middle quintile—-the 30 million tax filers between $55,000 and $95,000 per year and the heart of the middle class—– would get just $17 per week of tax relief in 2025.

Hardly seems worthy of Paul Ryan’s gloating about how he’s helping the middle class. The people know that they have no control over what happens, they just want to see how much more they will have to spend (pay?) when the dust settles.

And that’s why Paul Ryan and Donald Trump gloat. They show the rubes a dollar, and then send $1000 to their corporate benefactors.

This will be the GOP’s paradise after they enact the Trump tax plan:

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

Here Comes the Retail Apocalypse

The Daily Escape:

The Oberlausitzische Library of Science, Gorlitz Germany

There is a growing concern that the mall as we know it is in big trouble. RadioShack, The Limited, Payless, and Toys“R”Us were among 19 retail bankruptcies this year. From Dave Dayden: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

This story is at odds with the broader narrative about business in America: The economy is growing, unemployment is low, and consumer confidence is at a decade-long high. This would typically signal a retail boom, yet the [retail store] pain rivals the height of the Great Recession.

Many point to Amazon and other online retailers as taking away market share, but e-commerce sales in the second quarter of 2017 were 8.9% of total sales. There are three reasons for so many sick retailers.

First, while online sales are “only” 8.9% of total retail sales, these businesses have very high fixed costs and low net profit margins. The Stern School at NYU tracks net profit margins on thousands of businesses across many sectors, including retail. The margins for Specialty retail for the year ending January 2017 was 3.17%. It was 1.89% for Grocery and 2.60% for General retailers. If a high fixed cost business loses 9% of sales, it can easily wipe out the bottom line.

Second, many retail companies carry high debt levels. Bloomberg explains that private equity firms (PE’s) have purchased numerous retail chains over the past decade via leveraged buyouts, where debt is the primary source of the money used to buy the business. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder if interest rates rise.

Third, there are just too many stores in our cities and suburbs to sustain sales in a world where online shopping is growing rapidly.

Worse, billions of dollars of that PE-arranged debt come due in the next few years. More from Bloomberg:

If today is considered a retail apocalypse…then what’s coming next could truly be scary.

This chart shows what percentage of retail real estate loans are delinquent by area:

Source: Trepp

There are large areas of America where more than 20% of the loans are past due. More from Bloomberg: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Through the third quarter of this year, 6,752 locations were scheduled to shutter in the US, excluding grocery stores and restaurants, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That’s more than double the 2016 total and is close to surpassing the all-time high of 6,900 in 2008…Apparel chains have by far taken the biggest hit, with 2,500 locations closing. Department stores were hammered, too, with Macy’s Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. downsizing. In all, about 550 department stores closed, equating to 43 million square feet, or about half the total.

This threatens the retail sales staff and cashiers who make up 6% of the entire US workforce, a total of 8 million jobs. These workers are not located in any one region; the entire country will share in the pain.

These American retail workers could see their careers evaporate, largely due to the PE’s financial scheme. The PE’s, however, will likely walk away enriched, and policymakers will share the blame since they enabled the carnage.

Our tax code makes corporate interest payments tax-deductible. So the PE kingpins load up these companies with debt and when they walk away, they get tax credits for any write-offs, incentivizing them to borrow and play the game again. The PE firm might lose some or all of its equity, but in most cases, it already drew cash out via special dividends and fees, so it has made its money.

The lenders, employees, state development authorities are the ones left holding the bag.

The GOP’s new tax plan proposes a cap on the deductibility of interest payments over 30% of a company’s earnings. But, the GOP left a loophole: Real estate companies are exempt from the cap.

Surprisingly, this benefits Donald Trump’s businesses! It also helps PE firms that split the operating side of the businesses they buy from the property side, as most do. They put the borrowing onto the property side, and continue to deduct the interest.

So financialization businesses like PE will continue to strip the value out of companies with hard assets.

Billions in asset-stripping and thousands of operations sent overseas. Labor participation rate is stagnant, yet we are assured that if we pass big corporate tax cuts, the US economy will grow fast enough to more than compensate for the losses.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – November 20, 2017

The Daily Escape:

El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore in Buenos Aires, which has more bookstores per person than any other city in the world – photo by Alamy

One of the arguments that Republicans use to support their tax bill is that it will unleash investment, but the data say otherwise. Currently, most US economic sectors are operating far below maximum capacity utilization. Here is a Federal Reserve chart showing current industrial utilization/capacity:

The left axis shows the percentage of utilization across both durable and non-durable goods. The US is currently tracking at about 75% utilization, which is about as low as it gets in non-recession times. What that implies is corporations have no need to invest in additional capacity in the US. They have plenty of spare capacity to meet any spike in demand, should it arise. So, today, it makes far more sense for companies to bring unused capacity back online rather than to buy new equipment.

So, what would corporations do with a windfall tax cut that they didn’t need to invest in the US? Won’t they just invest it outside the US in order to keep expanding their global markets? There would be no increased revenues or jobs from investment at home, so why would they keep the windfall at home? That wouldn’t be smart, and those guys and their tax lawyers are pretty smart.

What corporations might do with increased after-tax income:

  • Buy back more of their own stock
  • Update their factories in Mexico, China or elsewhere around the world
  • Invest in companies working on artificial intelligence or robots with human-like dexterity. You know, something on the bleeding edge!

The corporates will ask the question: What do Americans need that they do not have? More self-driving cars?

American consumers simply do not earn enough money to purchase the products that are already available. Total household debt now exceeds the previous peak in the 3rd quarter of 2008. You know, the peak driven by the housing bubble and the accompanying refinancing of debt.

So if a corporation does come up with some product for which there is a genuine need, who will have the money to buy it? What products (or services) would Americans stop purchasing so that they could use their borrowed money to buy this new product?

And given that the tax cuts will not accrue to anyone who makes under $75k the way the GOP has designed their tax cuts, there won’t be any more money in the pockets of the middle class to add jobs and GDP growth here at home. Here is a chart from David Leonhardt in the Sunday NYT, showing what everyone who will gain from their discredited trickle down tax plan, once it is fully implemented:

Notice that it doesn’t go to the people who really need it.

The Republican’s belief in tax cuts and supply side economics is a cult religion. They just don’t care about evidence.

So, time to wake up! We have broken subways, broken bridges, and stagnant wages. Why not spend the money on infrastructure instead of giving it away in tax cuts to be used offshore?

That might actually do some good. This could be the final opportunity for the Senate (the House is a lost cause) to do the right thing and actually represent the interests of the middle class in the US. It is way past time for this 100-member body to set aside the petty complaints of their corporate benefactors and the rich, and offer something real to the ordinary tax-paying citizens who try to pay their bills and put a little aside for retirement.

Time to wake up Senators! We need you to escape your cognitive dissonance, and think about what you are doing. To help you wake up, here is U2 with “Stuck in a Moment” from their 2000 album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”:

Takeaway Lyric:

You’ve got to get yourself together

You’ve got stuck in a moment

And now you can’t get out of it

Don’t say that later will be better

Now you’re stuck in a moment

And you can’t get out of it

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 19, 2017

The week was dominated by two stories, the Republican tax cut efforts; and the variations on the sexual harassment theme by men in positions of power.

Let’s talk about sexual predation by men. We shouldn’t be pushing all predators to the front of the same firing squad. Without diminishing or excusing what any of these scumbag politicians have done (Al Franken, Bill Clinton) pedophiles are in a detestable class all by themselves. We are now in the middle of a teachable moment, where publicizing how badly men have treated women in our society might bring about real behavioral change. This is solely due to those many, if not most, women who are saying that they aren’t going to take it anymore. This tsunami of accusations and personal testimony will bring down some of the worst of the predators. In this case, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The GOP wrote the bill. Now, we’ll see who votes for it:

The elephant will always protect his best constituents:

Using the Pot/Kettle meme brings risk:

Mitch has selective beliefs when women tell their truth:

The sexual predator issue focuses the thinking of Republicans:

Trump chose Jeff Sessions for Attorney General in part because Alabama would be a lock to elect another Republican. We’ll see in 3 weeks if that works out as planned.

Bonus Republican hypocrisy: Do these people ever hear themselves?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – October 30, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Fall at the Statehouse in Augusta, Maine – photo by Robert F. Bukaty

Welcome to what we may start to call Robert Mueller Monday. Ray Dalio, the founder of the Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund has serious concerns about the uneven recovery of the US economy.

In a LinkedIn post, Dalio said that if politicians and business people look only at the economy’s average statistics about how Americans are doing, they could easily make “dangerous miscalculations” because the averages mask deep differences in how people in various income segments are doing.

Dalio divides the economy into two sections: the top 40%, and the bottom 60%. He then shows how the economy for the bottom 60% of the population, (that’s three in five Americans for you English majors), has been much less successful than for those in the top bracket.

For example, Dalio notes that since 1980, real incomes have been flat or down for the average household in the bottom 60%. Those in the top 40% now have 10 times as much wealth as households in the bottom 60%, up from six times as much in 1980.

Dalio says that only about one-third of people in the bottom 60% (20% overall) save any of their income. Only a similar number have any retirement savings. These three in five Americans are experiencing increasing rates of premature death. They spend about four times less on education than those in the top 40%. Those in the 60% without a college education have lower income levels, and higher divorce rates.

Dalio believes these problems will intensify in the next five to ten years. The inequality problem is caused by our politics and our fiscal policies, not by the Fed’s monetary policies.

OTOH, Dalio’s concerns aren’t a surprise to anyone who follows the political economy. In fact, it isn’t a surprise to anyone who has walked through any mid-sized American city, or driven through any small town in the heartland.

The problem is not low wage growth.

The problem is not long-term unemployment, as degrading and humiliating as that is.

The problem is that the US economy has been restructured over the past 30 years as an underemployment, low-wage economy in which most new jobs created are temporary jobs (whether you are a laborer, a technician, a service worker or a professional) with no job security, low wages and few benefits.

The real question is can we solve the problem? Many old lefties argue for a Universal Basic Income, (UBI), but Wrongo thinks that’s, er, wrong. If the UBI were high enough to provide even a subsistence living for every American, it would be massively inflationary. And it would merely allow businesses to pay lower wages, which is why some wealthy business people, like Peter Thiel, support a UBI.

Wrongo thinks we should support guaranteed work, not guaranteed income. Most people need and want to work in order to keep their place in our society. Getting a check just isn’t sufficient. If people matter at all, and if 95% of them lack the means to live without working, society must strive to employ all of those who have been deemed redundant by the private sector.

And there is plenty to do around America. Start with the 5,000+ bridges and dams that need replacing, or the 104 nuclear power plants that are falling apart.

We need real tax reform that can’t be loopholed. Corporations must pay more, not less. Stop the move to give corporations incentives to repatriate offshore earnings by lowering their effective tax rates. That only compromises our future tax stream. Corporations have to pay more in taxes, and agree to increase the wages of average workers.

Economically, we are in a pretty scary place. People across party lines and socio-economic levels are frightened for their financial security. We need a jobs guarantee, not a UBI.

So, wake up America! Letting corporations and the rich dictate our investment in human capital or infrastructure has us on the road to eclipse as a country. To help you wake up, here is Todd Snider performing “Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White American Male“, live at Farm Aid 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina in September, 2014:

Why aren’t the Dixie Chicks singing harmony on this?

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 1, 2017

(There will not be a Monday Wake Up Call column tomorrow, you are on your own! There will be a Tuesday Wake Up, however.)

A few last thoughts on the controversy about kneeling during the National Anthem. This is by David French at the National Review, not some liberal snowflake:

If we lose respect for the First Amendment, then politics becomes purely about power. If we no longer fight to secure the same rights for others that we demand for ourselves, we become more tribal, and America becomes less exceptional.

A comparison for your consideration: A year ago, Colin Kaepernick knelt for the Anthem, and then pledged to donate $1 million to American citizens in oppressed communities. He has donated $800k so far. In the past eight months, now deposed HHS Secretary Tom Price has sat on chartered jets, stealing $1 million from American citizens.

And who do most Americans think is a real patriot?

On to cartoons. Trump’s helping hand for Puerto Rico is insufficient:

Trump’s tax plan looks like it will cost $2.4 TRILLION, but he alone can fix it:

Trump moves on in his quest to make America great:

With so many pre-existing conditions, the GOP should insist they are included in Trumpcare:

Wrongo doesn’t understand the Hefner mania:

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

Tax Cuts Won’t Pay for Irma and Harvey

The Daily Escape:

Talking Heads Decision Wheel

It’s time to question how we pay for disasters. The estimated costs of Harvey and Irma are $290 billion. That might turn out to be high or low, it is still early days in assessing total costs. The insurance industry says that they expect to take a $70 billion combined hit for Irma and Harvey.

That leaves $220 billion to be funded by individuals, or taxpayers. Where will that money come from?

The president and his GOP buddies want to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, but they call it tax reform. They’ll throw some chump change at the middle class, so that their base feels they got something for their vote last November, but at best, their tax plan will be revenue-neutral. That will provide nothing new for the rebuild of Texas and Florida.

We shouldn’t accept the usual “revenues can’t be increased” mantra when we know cities and people will not be able to afford rebuilding on their own. We have to raise revenues. It’s time for a specific and time-limited National Recovery Tax. And everybody has to chip in. This can be a unifying moment. Nobody wants to pay more, but the job must be done.

Think for a second about the Hand In Hand benefit. The idea was that celebrities would induce the average person to donate to disaster relief. The minimum donation that Hand In Hand asked for on their web site is $25. The average US Net worth for 45-54 year olds is around 84k. $25 is .0003% of the average US family’s net worth.

Celebrities should ask us to open our wallets, but that can’t be the way we raise the billions necessary to fund this recovery. And we can’t count on the corporations. Apple gave $5 million, that’s nice. Apple is worth about $850 billion; $5 million is .0000058% of Apple’s net worth. They gave less proportionately than the average American. Apple pays very little tax relative to their profits, most of which are kept overseas. Here is a link to how Apple’s income is sheltered.

Think about where Apple’s money comes from. You bought the iPhone, iPad and maybe a MAC computer. You were the source of their money. The same is true for Michael Dell’s $36 million donation to Harvey relief. He gave a heroic amount, but it’s a pittance when we need $220 billion.

Disasters happen. We need a fund to make people whole, and it has to come from increased revenues. Some could be from state-level taxation in the states impacted, but other states won’t do that voluntarily. That assessment has to come from a new federal tax assessment. Congress should work out the details.

We need to wave off any discussion of additional tax breaks for corporations or for the wealthy, until we rebuild Texas and Florida.

We are all beneficiaries of living in America, including those companies that keep their money offshore. We all should be in this together. If we don’t look out for each other, we’re screwed.

There are other questions, such as, should we be rebuilding in the “bathtub” parts of Houston or Florida? Should we continue allowing coastal homeowners access to federal flood insurance when they tap into it every few years? Maybe we shouldn’t build on waterfront. The NYT had a piece about St. Augustine, FL. They routinely have sunny day flooding caused by rising sea water. What do we need to do to protect historic sites like St. Augustine? Should we protect them?

Can we even ask these questions? Can we agree to do a study? Views differ. But the truth doesn’t travel far in America, because the truth hurts. So, we never ask the big questions, or seek answers to them. We just occasionally donate a little to the disaster of the moment in order to feel a little better.

How can we keep America great if we fail to fund the recovery from disasters? A temporary tax on everyone is the best answer to what just happened in the South.

Here are the Talking Heads with “Once in a Lifetime” from their 1980 album, “Remain In Light”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Takeaway lyric:

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

Facebooklinkedinrss

How Trump Exploited NYC’s Financial Crisis

The Daily Escape:

Iceberg floating near Ferryland Newfoundland, April 2017 – photo by Greg Locke

The Intercept has an interview of Kim Phillips-Fein by Naomi Klein about how Donald Trump made his first big deal during the New York City financial crisis of the mid-1970s. Phillips-Fein’s book is “Fear City”, which describes the NYC fiscal crisis of the 1970s that brought it to the verge of bankruptcy. The WSJ reports:

By June 1975, New York faced default on $4.5 billion in outstanding short-term debt owed to a few big banks and to thousands of unidentifiable small investors. Not only did the city have no way to repay $4.5 billion, it could not meet its routine, daily operating expenses, including payroll.

The WSJ says that between 1970 and 1980, more than 823,000 city dwellers left for (literally) greener pastures.

Ultimately the city did not go bankrupt. The banks and the city’s unions were willing to buy enough of the city’s (otherwise unsalable) debt to avoid bankruptcy. Important to the mix was the creation of the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC) run by Felix Rohatyn, who became chief negotiator between the city, its labor unions and its creditors. A new type of agency, The New York State Financial Control Board, that controlled the city’s budget, became the model for the type of emergency city managers that we saw last year in Flint and Detroit Michigan.

The NYC financial crisis helped Donald Trump emerge as a New York deal-maker. Trump convinced New York to let him take over the Commodore Hotel, which we now call the Grand Hyatt, just east of Grand Central station. Trump modernized and renovated it, it was his first construction project in Manhattan. Phillips-Fein picks up the story:

…the Commodore Hotel was a previously very fancy hotel from the early 20th century. I think it opens in 1919 at 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. And it’s owned by the Penn Central Railroad. And the hotel kind of falls into disrepair and near collapse after Penn Central itself goes bankrupt in 1970.

The Commodore had stopped paying city property taxes and was for sale. The city was terrified that if the Commodore Hotel closed, the blight in Times Square would spread east, into the area around Grand Central Terminal. Trump saw an opportunity, while the city government saw a potential disaster. Together they hatched a plan for Trump to purchase the Commodore Hotel: (parenthesis by the Wrongologist)

What he actually wants to do is buy it and sell it to a state agency, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC)…And then the UDC will lease it back to Trump, [who was] working with the Hyatt organization.

The UDC leased it back to Trump and Hyatt. And this arrangement enabled them to pay substantially lower property taxes than usual. Phillips-Fein:

The New York Times reported that as of 2016, this tax arrangement with the Hyatt had cost New York City about $360 million in uncollected taxes in the years since the development.

Naomi Klein:

So I just want to pause there, because what you’re saying is…Trump and the Hyatt put down $9.5 million…They come up with this…sweetheart deal, a tax dodge. And that $9.5 million outlay translates back into roughly $360 million in tax savings…

The Trump/Hyatt tax deal set the stage for a wholesale change in the city. The fear of bankruptcy was central to understanding NYC politics at that moment: They feared an apocalyptic future. That fear created a need for a savior, and it found two in Donald Trump and Felix Rohatyn.

The NYC government decided that working with the business community was the bail-out it needed. It set the stage for the city’s luxury developments, for using different kinds of tax breaks that stimulated the development of properties primarily dedicated to the needs of corporations and the rich. It set the stage for a wholesale change in city politics from New Dealism to Neoliberalism. And it set the stage for Trump’s political career. Phillips-Fein: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

…you can see the straight line, really, from the Commodore to this skating rink [Wollman Rink in Central Park] to the presidential bid…”I’m not a politician. Washington is corrupt. I know how to do this better…”

Fear makes things that should be impossible suddenly feel as though they’re the only answer. Klein concludes by saying we should be very wary of the political exploitation of our fears, of political exploitation of an atmosphere of crisis.

It is clear that Donald Trump’s career and his fortune were really forged by doing just that.

Facebooklinkedinrss