Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tax Cuts

I am sorry, but we can't afford them. The Federal government needs revenue desperately. Its present and future obligations, both for bonded indebtedness and for entitlements (Social Security, Disability, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, etc.), exceed its revenue producing capability as the current tax system is configured. Further, the US must rebuild the armed forces it has squandered so wastefully both by use and by abuse such as the F35 and the Zumwalt destroyer.


The deficit in the recently ended fiscal year* (FY 2017 ended 9/30/17) was $666 Billion Dollars, which was 3.5% of the GDP. Of course the deficit was financed by issuing bonded indebtedness. At the turn of the century, the US Government ran surpluses for the FYs 1998 through 2001. FY 2001 ended 30 September 2001 -- just 3 weeks after 9/11. FY 2002 began a string of deficits that peaked in FY2009 when the Panic of 2008, and the political panic spending in its wake, produced a post WWII record deficit of 1.4T$ (pseudo-scientific notation here, T stands for Terra or Trillion), but the string has not ended. The four year period, FY 2009 through FY 2012 saw 5T$ of deficits. Since then we have settled down in the 500G$ range.
*A Fiscal Year of the Federal Government begins on October 1 of the previous calendar year. FY 2017 began on 10/1/2016 and ended on 9/30/2017.

The GDP is about 20T$.  So is the gross Federal Debt. You could say that we have reached the point where the Debt equals, and soon will exceed, the size of the economy. But, only about 15T$ is in the form of outstanding bonds that are owned by persons who are not agencies of the Federal Government, mostly Social Security*. As such, the bonds owned by the Federal Government in so-called "Trust Funds" are just promises to keep paying SS pensions, medicare benefits, etc. even though the payments exceed the payroll tax revenues that have funded them for most of the past 80 years. (CBO is currently projecting that will happen in about 10 years).
Note: the CBO Web Site has lots of very informative reports and data. Their budget projections are here. Spend enough time with that stuff, and you will join the late, great B.B. King in singing: "I've got a mind to give up living, and go shopping instead, buy me a tombstone, and be pronounced dead") It is that depressing. Who is the CBO? The Congressional Budget Office, a supposedly non partisan body created and tasked by Congress with tracking the budget and Federal finances and explaining to Congress the cost of its folly. They do excellent work.
While we are at it, I should add some links to web sites that track the Debt and the deficit: U.S. Debt Clock National Debt of the United States Truth In Accounting. If you really want to wallow in it try: Financial Report of the United States Government
*The Federal Reserve banks own another big chunk of the total Federal Debt (~2.4T$), but economists and budget nerds regard that as being held by the public because the it is the  backing for all of those nice crispy Federal Reserve Notes in your wallet. What? You don't have any? Don't look at me, I haven't any either.
The optimistic political line is that the debt can continue to grow indefinitely as long as the economy grows faster. And this is true, until it isn't. The larger the debt is in relation to the economy, the more difficult it is to service. The nightmare scenario is that the interest on the debt starts to compound above the growth rate of the economy and simply compounds to the sky.

One might say, that only the publicly held debt represents an obligation that must be repaid. Much of it is owed to foreigners who might get testy if they are not paid. Especially the Chinese, who own about 3T$ of bonds and a whole bunch of ICBMs. But, even though Congress could lawfully stiff the beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare, it is absolutely inconceivable that they could or would politically.

If Congress cannot not pay, then perhaps we should think of those obligations as being ones that we should recognize upfront. Truth In Accounting linked above says that the National Debt should really include 76T$ in future obligations of the Social Security and Medicare programs.

Economists Laurence Kotlikoff and Alan Auerbach, have claimed that the relevant number is what they call the Fiscal Gap which is the difference between the present value of all of government's projected financial obligations, including future expenditures for Social Security and Medicare and servicing outstanding official federal debt, and the present value of all projected future tax and other receipts. They have pegged this amount to be in excess of 200T$.

Further there a few trillions of dollars of debts owed by agencies or instrumentalities of the Federal Government, such as the alphabet soup of mortgage lenders that floats the price of houses far beyond the ability of the mass of homeowners to afford*, such as Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association or FNMA), Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation), Ginnie Mae (Government National Mortgage Association), and FHA. These entities have issued trillions of dollars worth of bonds and mortgage guarantees. If they were subsidiaries of private companies, the SEC would make the parent companies include their operations in its financial statements. but, the Federal Government doesn't have to do that. Why? Because they don't want to, and they do not want to scare the peasants.
*In the early 1970s, the median price of a house was less than 3 times the median annual household income. The median Family, i.e. the middle class, could afford the median house. During the inflationary period of the 1970s the ratio went up to 3.5 In the 1990s it went to 4. After 2002 it took off until it hit 5 at the peak of the housing bubble. During the Panic of 2008, it dropped back to 4.5. But fear not. The bubble has been re-inflated and the average is now almost 5.5. You have nothing to worry about, it is as safe as houses. If you want to learn more go to Political Calculations. He has lots of interesting, but not comforting information.
If you are inclined to whistle past grave yards, you can point to the example of Japan, which has a publicly held debt of about 250% of its GDP. I really doubt that the US could get away with that for a a few reasons. First, the Japanese people are thrifty, and they have not run a trade deficit. Therefore, almost all of the Japanese Government bonds are domestically owned. Second, those bonds pay very little interest. Even the 30 year bonds pay less than 1%. US 30s pay about 2.8%, which is low, but not that low. Third, Japan has an extraordinary amount of social cohesion and trust. The US is closer than most of you think to a shooting civil war.

Another comeback is that the US Government cannot go broke because it can print the Dollars it needs to pay off its obligations. The response to that is yes, it can. But, how much will those Dollars be worth. If they are so abundant as to be worthless, we have hyperinflation. Welcome to Argentina. Or worse, Wiemar Germany.

Here is the way I see it. The Federal Debt is too large, and we are running large deficits even though this is a time of relative prosperity. The bigger the debt and the deficit are, the smaller our margin for error and unforeseen events is. There could be a worldwide recession not caused by the United States. War is always a possibility. We did not foresee the collapse of the Soviet Union, or 9/11, we may not foresee the next war.

Risk of a truly catastrophic event, like the collapse of the Federal Government is asymmetrical. If it doesn't happen, we go on from day to day suffering the slings and arrows. Some people say that we should throw down the Federal Government because it is corrupt and oppressive. But, history suggests that such an event is far more likely to cause enormous chaos and suffering than to lead to a happy solution. Louis XVI called the Estates General because he was out of money. What followed should be a cautionary tale for us. I have already mentioned the Soviet Union and Wiemar Germany. Bad example abound. Happy endings are rare.

Prudence suggests that this is a good time to get our financial house in order.

What follows are statements from pundits who have said good and prudent things about tax cuts. First Robert Samuelson from the liberal Washington Post:

Under-Taxed America
November 9, 2017

WASHINGTON -- We Americans are having the wrong debate. Almost all the arguing over the Trump administration's proposed tax cut centers on two issues. Will the tax reduction stimulate faster economic growth? And is the proposal too generous toward the wealthy and too stingy toward the middle class and poor?

Interesting questions, to be sure -- but mostly irrelevant to the nation's long-term well-being.

The truth is that we can't afford any tax reduction. We need higher, not lower, taxes. What we should be debating is the nature of new taxes ..., how quickly (or slowly) they should be introduced and how much prudent spending cuts could shrink the magnitude of tax increases.

To put this slightly differently: Americans are under-taxed. We are under-taxed not in some principled and philosophical sense that there is an ideal level of taxation that we haven't yet reached. We are under-taxed in a pragmatic and expedient way. For half a century, we haven't covered our spending with revenues from taxes.

Of course, there are times when borrowing (that is, budget deficits) is unavoidable and desirable. Wars. Economic downturns. National emergencies. But our addiction to debt extends well beyond these exceptions. We have run deficits with strong economies and weak, with low inflation and high, and with favorable and unfavorable productivity gains.

Since 1961 ... federal budgets have been in surplus in only five years. ...

Based on present policies, it's doubtful that things will get much better. Aging baby boomers are inflating Social Security and Medicare spending. ... the Congressional Budget Office projects that the budget deficit ($666 billion in 2017) will grow as a share of the economy.

* * *

The unspoken assumption that justifies big and continuous deficits is that -- rhetoric to the contrary -- they pose no serious danger to the economy. We can run deficits forever without suffering ill effects. ...

Excessive federal borrowing poses three theoretical dangers. First, it could raise interest rates and "crowd out" the private investment essential for higher living standards. Second, it could trigger a financial panic, if private investors would no longer buy Treasury securities except at exceptionally high interest rates. And finally, a large national debt could make it harder for the government to borrow heavily during a true crisis.

* * *

But that's not us. By now, it must be obvious: We are no longer responsible. The urgent need is to plug the huge gap between government spending and tax revenues. Naturally, we aren't doing that.

Next Robert VerBruggen from the conservative National Review:

Cutting Taxes with Borrowed Money: Will a growing debt eat away at economic growth?

November 9, 2017

* * *

The House GOP’s new tax bill would reduce revenue by almost $1.5 trillion over the next ten years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). ...

Normally, the argument against raising the deficit is put in simple terms — by whatever party is out of power, of course. Our debt is already about 77 percent of our GDP, a number that will rise to 91 percent by 2027 under current law and will only get worse from there. Realistically speaking, this is going to force a combination of tax increases and entitlement cuts at some point in the future, and the longer we wait, the more brutal those measures will have to be. Starting from such a precarious position, we have no business making our deficits even worse, whether by cutting taxes or by increasing spending. ...

But there’s an additional layer of complication to the debate over tax cuts funded through higher deficits, one amply illustrated in competing studies of the GOP tax plan from the Tax Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. The former says the plan would boost economic growth and create jobs, and that as a result we would lose significantly less than $1.5 trillion in revenue. The latter, by contrast, says the bill would have essentially no long-term effect on the economy.


*    *    *

We’ll start with the Tax Foundation. The organization predicts “3.6 percent higher GDP over the long term, 3.1 percent higher wages, and an additional 975,000 full-time equivalent jobs.” Furthermore, it projects that the “after-tax incomes of all taxpayers would increase by 4.4 percent in the long run,” a benefit fairly evenly distributed across the economic spectrum.

The group says the plan will reduce tax revenue by $1 trillion when economic growth is taken into account. Interestingly, without accounting for growth, it pegs the revenue loss at almost $2 trillion over a decade, higher than the estimate from the JCT. (The gap apparently stems from some differences in the data and assumptions the two groups use in their modeling.) This means the Tax Foundation foresees enough economic growth to create $1 trillion in federal revenue, and to cut the total revenue loss in half.

That huge gain doesn’t come from the reforms to the individual income tax. In fact, the Tax Foundation estimates those reforms’ effect on economic growth at zero. Instead, “the larger economy and higher wages are due chiefly to the significantly lower cost of capital under the proposal, which is mainly due to the lower corporate income tax rate.” The statutory corporate rate would fall from 35 percent to 20 percent under the plan, putting the U.S. roughly in line with the average for other developed countries.

... the CEA wrote, “by lowering the user cost of capital and making more investments profitable, multinational corporations and foreign capital can be attracted to invest in the U.S. economy.”

*    *    *

The Tax Foundation’s analysis is more or less what conservatives have had in mind when pushing “dynamic scoring,” as opposed to the old “static scoring”: Tax cuts benefit the economy, and a stronger economy means more tax revenue, so tax cuts “pay for themselves” to some significant degree (if not entirely).

But it turns out two can play at that game. The Penn Wharton study is dynamic, too, and its results are shockingly different. It finds that there would be some economic growth by 2027 -- but not much: GDP would be a whopping 0.33 to 0.83 percent bigger. ...

Why do the GOP’s tax cuts fail to boost the economy in Penn Wharton’s analysis? ... The simplest way to put the argument ... is this: When the government borrows money ... people will lend the government money that they otherwise would have invested in the American private sector. Thus the deficit “crowds out” private investment, counteracting the pro-investment effect of cutting the corporate tax.

This is hardly settled science. A Congressional Budget Office paper in 2014 rounded up the literature and reported a “high degree of uncertainty”: “For each dollar’s increase in the federal deficit, the effect on investment ranges from a decrease of 15 cents to a decrease of 50 cents, with a central estimate of a decrease of 33 cents.”

The Tax Foundation doesn’t even model this effect. “While past empirical work has found evidence of crowd-out, the estimated impact is usually small,” it contends in the new report. “Furthermore, global savings remain high, which may help explain why interest rates remain low despite rising budget deficits.” ...

Penn Wharton ... points out that “since the year 2000, foreign savers purchased about 40 percent of annual increases in Treasury security issues impelled by higher federal deficits” — implying the rest had to have come from U.S. savers, who most likely would have found other domestic investments otherwise.

*    *    *


First, even in the Tax Foundation’s more optimistic analysis, the bill would reduce federal revenue by $1 trillion over a decade. So Republicans should stop pretending that they won’t be making the debt significantly worse if they continue down this path. If they think it’s a good trade to hike the debt in exchange for (hopefully) boosting the economy, they should make their case openly.

And second, the uncertainty around economic growth is important in itself, because it means we need to plan for numerous possible outcomes.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Italian Spice Meatballs









Ground Meat
1 lbs.
Whatever you like. 
I used turkey



Liquid
1 T Red Wine
optional



Fat
¼ cup olive oil
This depends on the meat. 
The Turkeywas 2% fat
and needed some oil.



Eggs
2




Bread Crumbs
1 cup
Depends on meat and fat. 
The Turkey,eggs, and oil
were very runny



Salt
1 t Kosher

Sugar
1 t

Ground Black Pepper
1 t

Red Pepper Flakes
1 t

Paprika
1 t




Garlic
4/6 cloves, crushed

Onion
1 cup chopped & sauteed




Oregano
1 t

Parsley
1 t

Fennel Seeds
1 t





In a mixing bowl. (I used our Kitchen Aid mixer on the lowest speed.) Start with the eggs and the liquid. Start mixing. Add fat, and onions. Then meat and garlic, followed by salt, sugar, spices and herbs. Add bread crumbs until you get a texture you can form into balls.

Form the mixture into balls. I made 15 about 2” diameter. Cover the bottom of a baking pan with a small quantity of olive oil. Place the balls in the oiled pan.

Bake 40 minutes in a medium oven. Turn the balls over hallway through. 

Serve with pasta in a marinara sauce. 

Note: I use a free hand with spices and herbs. More is not a big problem. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Leftist Intellectual sets out to prove that a Criminal is good, and her victims are evil.

I read "Fanaticism and the New York State Parole Board: The case of Judith Clark" By Paul Berman, dated April 25, 2017 last night. The experience left me shaking with outrage. Berman wrote some interesting things after 9/11, chiefly "Terror and Liberalism", but I have not followed him in recent years.

The instant article tells the story of Judith Clark. Clark was a member of the 'Weather Underground" a violent radical leftist group. One of the founders of that group was Bill Ayer's who later mentored Barack Obama. Clark was part of the group that stayed underground after its formal dissolution in 1976 . She was part of a conspiracy of her group and others that robbed a Brink's armored car in Nanuet, New York on October 20, 1981. The robbery was accompanied by the killing of a security guard and of two police officers.

Clark was convicted of three counts of armed robbery and three counts of murder, and was sentenced to three consecutive twenty-five year-to-life sentences, with eligibility for parole in 2058. There is no doubt that she did what she was accused of and no doubt that she received due process.

By my lights Clark got off very lightly. In a more civilized era than our own she would have been hanged. But, she wasn't. And now she has reappeared.

Clark claims, or rather the true believers acting in her behalf claim that she has repented, that she is remorseful, that she has taken responsibility for her crime, that she has been rehabilitated, and that she has become a model prisoner. They think she should be released, 41 years before the end of her sentence because she is so good. And, they talked Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York into commuting her sentence to the level where the Parole Board, if it so wished, could release her.

So Clark's case was plead to the Parole Board. And the public roared in disapproval thinking it unjust that she should breathe free air whilst her victims lay in the dirt. I can't say I blame them.

Cuomo, is, like most politicians, a weasel. If he were truly convinced that justice was no longer served by keeping Clark in prison, he would have commuted her sentence to time served, but he didn't. He wanted the leftist litterati of New York to support him in his future political endeavors, but he was afraid of the anger of an enormous swath of middle class and working class of New Yorkers. So he waffled, and the Parole Board, seeing the trap, hung him out to dry.

Thus, bringing the wrath of Paul Berman down not on the Parole Board, but on the 10,000 citizens who opposed freeing Clark. Berman says: "The 10,000 signatories want to keep her in jail out of a sense of justice, or of vengeance. It is a principle, for them." Well, those are principles.

Berman goes on to ask: "But what is the principle? I think it is a principle, implacable and unyielding, that renders people deaf to human suffering." Huh? Whose suffering? The suffering of the three men Clark and her crime partners slaughtered in cold blood? The suffering of their families, who had to trudge through endless days without them. No, not their suffering. Clark's suffering of from the just punishment she has received from a merciful state.

Berman then begins his rhetorical pirouette. He says: "It is a principle without a human element—a principle that chooses to overlook the human face and the details." That is simply a lie. They know the details, they know the human faces. Not just the face of the killers, but the faces of the slain, the faces of their families, the faces of communities wracked with grief.

But, Berman is not done yet. He must turn the victims into the criminals and the criminal into a victim. "It [the popular insistence that Clark must serve her sentence] is the original sin in this tale of tragedy: heartless cruelty pursued in the name of a severe ideal. It is one more crime, on top of the other crimes—one more crime committed by people who, as they go about committing it, think all the better of themselves."

To which I can only say Holy $#;+. Clark is a murderer. She became a murderer out of her revolutionary zeal. Berman claims she was an "idealist", just like her Stalinist father. He then equates one form of "idealism", one that is understandable and, at least forgivable in the leftist literary circles in which Berman runs, with the rather ordinary belief that murderers should be punished for their crimes. And he then uses that equation to turn the moral universe upside down. Clark may be a criminal, but her victims are heartless and cruel, which makes them just as evil as Clark.

No it does not. Clark is the evil one. "Idealism" excuses nothing. Hitler was idealistic in his own warped way, So were the number 2 and 3 villains of the 20th Century, Stalin and Mao. Hitler is not excused, Stalin is not excused, Mao is not excused, and Clark cannot be excused.

And the ones who want Clark to complete the just sentence that was imposed on her. They are not evil in any way. They have done nothing wrong. They have been exemplary citizens.

Not only am I disgusted by Berman's moral inversion, but I am also disappointed by Tablet. It claims to be "a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture." The insistence on justice is one every Jew should know and espouse. The Torah, in Parshat Shof'tim (Dt 16:18-21:9) is quite clear about this:
    You shall appoint judges and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord, your God, is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. ... Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you. (Dt 16:18–20)
You may respond that Jews are also supposed to show mercy and compassion. To which I think the correct response is to say, yes, we should be merciful and compassionate just as is our Creator (Lv 19:2, Ex 34:6), but we must discern to whom we will be merciful and compassionate. We must also understand that mercy and compassion are ideals, but justice is a commandment. We, limited creatures that we are, must do as we are commanded first before we try to imitate God, by our own very limited lights.

Even here the the equation Berman sets up fails. The first object of our compassion should be the widows and the orphans. (Dt 14:29 Ps 146:9). Yes, the ones that Clark made into widows and orphans, not Clark, who is neither. Yes, she is human, made in God's image, and deserves compassion and mercy. But, she has received more mercy than she has earned by committing murder because she was allowed to live.

I have a couple of side notes. First. I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago at the time when Clark sojourned there. I did not know her, all though I am pretty sure that I saw her on some occasions. It is a small school. She was expelled for taking part in a "sit-in" demonstration over the firing of some sad sack instructor. The administration was tough about that. Berman tells how Clark's father inveigled his literary friends to appeal the expulsion to the President of the University. He was tougher and more insightful than Berman and Andrew Cuomo. He said "No. She’s a bad one." If some of our spineless current college administrators were equally tough, there would be fewer terroristic acts on campuses like the assault on Charles Murray a few weeks ago.

Second: And much more importantly, this story is a small window into the class warfare that has infected America's politics over the past couple of decades. Berman gives a great glimpse into the world of the leftist intellectuals that spawned Clark, and him. In that world, Stalinism was an understandable quirk of youthful idealism. Even more radical ideologies are understandable, and the murderous actions they impel are excusable.

Against this world is set the world of ordinary working class people. They are the cops and firemen, the first responders who will lay their lives on the line to protect the good order of society and the lives and property of ordinary people. They honor those who have fallen in the line of duty. They cannot understand why anyone would think a cop killer like Clark deserves to walk free.

Berman's attack on the people who opposed freeing Clark is just like Hillary Clinton's declaration that Trump's supporters were a "basket of deplorables". It is an open declaration that the left may love the working class in theory, but that they loathe the working class that really exists in our time and space. This is all too clear to the actual working class, and is the meaning of Hillary's failure.

Be warned. Trump is just a buffoon who got lucky, the Washington Establishment is already grinding him down. He will make no real difference. As the spiritual said: "God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time."

Finally. Humor. Berman makes a great deal about how Clark's father was involved with the magazine "Dissent". In the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen says that:  "I had heard that 'Commentary' and 'Dissent' had merged and formed 'Dysentery'." Actually, both Dissent and Commentary are still being published.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What Am I? Chopped Liver?

 Chopped Chicken Liver, which I guess you could call pâté de foie de volaille if you were so minded.

It is tasty, and as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4:

1 lbs. chicken livers, drained, and sauteed.

2 Tbs. schmaltz*

3 onions chopped and sauteed

4 hard-boiled eggs

Rough chop the cooked ingredients, mix them, and put the mixture in a food processor.

Run the food processor until you like the texture.

Add salt and freshly ground black pepper

* Rendered chicken fat, but you may vary the type and amount of fat to your liking.