Sunday, December 28, 2014

(Former IMF Chief Economist:  Break Up Citigroup!)  Obamacare Spending All Dumped into the Third Quarter in Order to Maintain the Illusion of Economic Recovery . . . The Financial Media by Refusing to Ask Obvious Questions Have Left the American People Unprepared for Another Drop in Living Standards and Ability to Cope

Sardonicky has the last word on our last words of the year.

Don't miss them. They are more than worth your time.

The Game's Afoot!

Dr. Pangloss Amuck.

Former IMF Chief Economist: Break Up Citigroup

By Simon Johnson, Project Syndicate

27 December 14

merica’s presidential campaign is already well underway. The election is not until November 2016, and very few candidates have formally thrown their hats into the ring, but the competition to promote and develop ideas – both behind closed doors and publicly – is in fully swing.

Earlier this month, Citigroup took advantage of this formative political moment by seizing an opportunity to score a tactical victory – but one that amounts to a strategic blunder. Using legislative language apparently drafted by Citi’s own lobbyists, the firm successfully pressed for the repeal of some of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms. The provision was then passed after it was attached to a last-minute spending bill – a tactic that ensured very little debate in the House of Representatives and none at all in the Senate.

At a stroke, Citi executives demonstrated both their continued political clout in Washington and their continued desire to take on excessive amounts of financial risk (which is what this particular legal change permits).

Lobbying to be allowed to load up on risk is exactly what Citi did during the 1990s and 2000s under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – with catastrophic consequences for the broader economy in 2007-09.

As a result, breaking up Citigroup is under serious consideration as a potential campaign theme. For example, in a powerful speech – watched online more than a half-million times – Senator Elizabeth Warren responded uncompromisingly to the megabanks’ latest display of muscle: “Let’s pass something – anything – that would help break up these giant banks.”

Defenders of the megabanks – Citi, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley – dismiss Warren as an avatar of left-wing populism. But this is a serious misconception; in fact, Warren is attracting a great deal of support from the center and the right.

Senator David Vitter of Louisiana is the most prominent Republican member of Congress in favor of limiting the size and power of the biggest banks, but there are others who lean in a similar direction. Similarly, the vice chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Thomas Hoenig, a political independent, consistently warns about the dangers associated with megabanks. And former FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, a Republican from Kansas, argues strongly for additional measures to rein in the biggest banks.

From the perspective of anyone seeking the nomination of either of America’s political parties, here is an issue that cuts across partisan lines. “Break up Citigroup” is a concrete and powerful idea that would move the financial system in the right direction. It is not a panacea, but the coalition that can break up Citi can also put in place other measures to make the financial system safer – including more effective consumer protection, greater transparency in markets, and higher capital requirements for major banks.

From the left, the emphasis has been on the megabanks’ abuse of power and the great rip-off of the middle class. From the right, the stress is on the hazards of crony capitalism, owing to the massive implicit government subsidies that these banks receive. But both left and right agree on the fundamental asymmetry that the recent “Citigroup Amendment” implies: Bankers get rich whether they win or lose, because the US taxpayer foots the bill when their risky bets fail.

Potential Republican presidential candidates have hesitated to take up this issue in public – perhaps feeling that it will inhibit their ability to raise money from Wall Street. Among the Democrats, however, the opportunity seems to be much more compelling; indeed, avoiding a confrontation with Wall Street might actually create problems for a candidate (as Hillary Clinton may well find out).

The Progressive Change Institute is currently running “The Big Ideas Project,” whereby people can vote on what they regard as the most important policy proposals. Three of the top ten ideas under “Economy & Jobs” are about imposing greater constraints on the big banks – and there is a sharp upward trend in support for Break Up Citigroup (full disclosure: I suggested this item for the website).

This idea would play well in the Democratic primary elections (which start in early 2016). And, because it forms the basis for responsible policies, it would attract support from centrists. And voters on the right like proposals that offer a credible way to end the favoritism – if not outright corruption – that has come to define the relationship between the top levels of government and Wall Street.

“Break up Citigroup, end dangerous government subsidies, and bring back the market.” The US presidential candidate who says this in 2016 – and says it most convincingly – has a good chance of winning it all.

When the Reagan Revolutionaries changed all the metrics on inflation, growth, unemployment and just about everything to do with money being doled out through recently-cut programs to regular taxpayers, the rich patted themselves on the back and began to figure out even wilder schemes to steal everything that wasn't nailed down in the USA USA USA!

You can't even argue about it now.

(That's why they invented Foxed News.)

With 30% of 30-year old Americans and almost 50% of 25-year olds living with parents, with debt-based derivative instruments impacted by falling oil and industrial commodity prices, with the likelihood that the US and EU economic attack on Russia will fail and perhaps produce retaliatory measures that could bring down the European banking system, look for 2015 to be the year that Washington will cease to get away with its economic lies.

PCR has the absolute last word.

Magic Growth Numbers From The Government

December 26, 2014

Paul Craig Roberts

Everyone wants good news, so the government makes it up. The latest fiction is that US real GDP grew 4.6% in the second quarter and 5% in the third.

Where did this growth come from?

Not from rising real consumer incomes.

Not from rising consumer credit.

Not from rising real retail sales.

Not from the housing sector.

Not from a trade surplus.

The growth came from a Bureau of Economic Analysis survey of consumer spending on services. The BEA found that spending on Obamacare drove the US real GDP growth to 5% in the third quarter.

In America, unlike in other countries, a huge chunk of medical spending goes to insurance company profits, not to health care. Another big chunk goes to paperwork, which has a variety of purposes such as collecting personal information on patients and combating fraud (probably the paperwork costs more than fraud). Another chunk goes for tests and procedures in order to justify further procedures.

For example, if a doctor thinks a patient’s diagnosis requires a MRI, he must often first order an x-ray to establish that a cheaper procedure does not suffice. If a cancerous skin growth needs to come off, first a biopsy must be done to establish that it is a cancer so that a needless removal is not performed. And, of course, medical practicians must order unnecessary tests in order to protect themselves from the liability of relying on their medical judgment.

To regard any of these expenses as economic growth is farfetched.

There are sampling and other problems with the survey of personal consumption, and apparently Obamacare spending was all dumped into the third quarter. Why the third quarter?

The answer is that the illusion of economic recovery must be kept alive.

Real GDP growth of 5% in the third quarter is inconsistent with the sharp fall in key industrial commodity prices. It is not only oil (down 47%) but iron ore prices (down 49%), natural gas (down 30%), copper (down 15%). Pam and Russ Martens show that the fall in the producer price index for industrial commodities in 2014 is sharper than in 2008, the year of the crash.

With 30% of 30-year old Americans and almost 50% of 25-year olds living with parents, with debt-based derivative instruments impacted by falling oil and industrial commodity prices, with the likelihood that the US and EU economic attack on Russia will fail and perhaps produce retaliatory measures that could bring down the European banking system, look for 2015 to be the year that Washington will cease to get away with its economic lies.

The financial media and Wall Street economists by refusing to ask obvious questions have left the American people unprepared for another drop in their living standards and ability to cope.

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts' latest books are The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West and How America Was Lost.

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