How to win elections from coast to coast

Jason Riley:

When is the Republican Party going to declare war on teachers unions?

Doing so would be smart politics as well as smart policy. There is no appreciable downside to the GOP taking on the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, which already give nearly all their money and political support to Democrats. And the nation’s pupils have everything to gain, especially if they happen to be low-income minorities.

The move is long overdue, and the pandemic offers Republicans the perfect opportunity to explain to voters how the unions’ ironclad control over public education does grave harm to children. We’ve known from the earliest days of the virus that youngsters are the least likely to catch it or spread it to others. We also know that many low-income parents struggle with home schooling and need to go back to work. Distance learning exacerbates racial and economic achievement gaps and takes a heavy psychological toll on kids. Union leaders couldn’t care less.

California, which is the most populous state and currently has the lowest per capita Covid rate in the country, also has the highest percentage of school districts that remain entirely virtual. Teachers unions have used the pandemic to demand more money and more-generous benefits. They know that millions of Americans can’t return to work if kids can’t return to schools. For parents it’s a dilemma, but unions see it as leverage. The United Teachers of Los Angeles requested free child care for its members as a condition for returning to the classroom. Union clout is the main reason that California’s percentage of all-virtual school districts is more than three times the national average.

An exposé published in Sunday’s New York Post shows how diligently teachers unions have been working to capitalize on our misery. “In the days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their much-anticipated school-reopening guidelines on Feb. 12, the American Federation of Teachers launched a full-court press to shape the final document and slow the full-reopening of schools,” the Post reported. “The lobbying paid off. In at least two instances, language ‘suggestions’ offered by the union were adopted nearly verbatim into the final text of the CDC document.”

The Biden administration isn’t “following the science.” It’s following orders. The nation’s largest teachers unions spent more than $40 million in the 2020 cycle to elect Democrats. And labor leaders are getting a fabulous return on that investment. The Covid-relief law President Biden signed in March allocates $123 billion for public schools, with no requirement that districts first reopen for in-person learning to receive the money.

Before the pandemic, the political landscape for teachers unions was improving. Recall that the Democrats had a strong 2018 midterm election. They not only regained control of the House but also picked up seven governorships and flipped more than 300 state legislative seats. In recent years, teacher walkouts in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Washington state and West Virginia were largely successful in garnering bigger school budgets, higher pay and smaller class sizes (which translates into more union jobs). The question now is whether Covid will reverse this momentum.

What Americans have learned from the lockdowns is the degree to which unions control not only the public school systems but by extension the everyday lives of tens of millions of parents with school-age children. If Republicans are smart, they won’t let voters forget this lesson anytime soon. Education always ranks high among the concerns of the electorate, and the virus exposed the catastrophic consequences of having so few school alternatives for families of modest means. Private schools, religious schools and charter schools have all outperformed traditional public schools during the pandemic, and teachers unions labor to limit access to better alternatives.

GOP candidates in the 2022 midterms could campaign hard on the unions’ myriad Covid cop-outs. Voters should know all about how the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, along with thousands of state and local affiliates, consistently gave priority to their adult members instead of the children and families they are supposed to serve. Moreover, Republicans could take this message directly to the communities hit hardest by the unwillingness of educators to do their jobs.

Republican outreach should include running ads on radio and television and social-media outlets with large black and Latino audiences. It should include visiting churches and barbershops in low-income neighborhoods to explain how voucher programs and charter schools change the power dynamic by giving parents the ability to switch school systems if the educational needs of their children aren’t met. Remind these voters that the union-controlled schools Democrats support have an abysmal record when it comes to educating minorities. With apologies to a former president, what the hell do Republicans have to lose?

Gov. Scott Walker’s failure with Act 10 was that it didn’t go far enough. Act 10 didn’t wipe out teacher unions, and it should have..

A heretical (or not) view of budget deficits

John Tamny:

“The deficit is not a meaningless figure; only a grossly overrated one.”

Robert L. Bartley, The Seven Fat Years

It was the largest non-bank debt deal in U.S. history… The company was Apple, and it was 2013. The Cupertino, California-based technology behemoth was riding a lucrative sales wave created by feverish global demand for its iPhones. Apple subsequently floated $17 billion worth of debt at rates of interest almost equal to what is charged to the U.S. Treasury, which borrows at the lowest rates in the world. Investors were more than eager to own a piece of the company’s future earnings.

Last month, President Joe Biden imposed sanctions on Russia that included limits on U.S. financial institutions making markets for debt issued by the country’s government. Presently, Russia has 14 trillion (rubles) of total debt, which amounts to $190 billion.

There’s a budget deficit lesson in these unrelated anecdotes, though probably not the one you’ve been conditioned to believe…

(Full disclosure… What you’re about to read is not a defense of government spending or deficits. Government spending is a cruel tax on growth. Period.)

In reality, Apple’s massive bond offering and Russia’s small (relative to the U.S.) liabilities were and are a resounding rejection of much of the conventional wisdom surrounding government debt. The Left and Right preach that it results from insufficient tax revenues relative to spending, only to promote opposing policies meant to increase revenues. Their analysis is precisely backward… To see why, it’s useful to start by addressing the popular view that deficits signal country decline.

That’s how all-too-many economists and policy theorists on the Right who fancy themselves deficit and debt “hawks” view government debt. Niall Ferguson, a Hoover Institution senior fellow, wrote in 2013 about U.S. liabilities in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, lamenting that “it is not if the United States will default, but when.”

Fast forward to 2018, and in a piece written for the Washington Post, Ferguson’s Hoover colleagues Michael Boskin, John Cochrane, John Cogan, John Taylor, and the late George Shultz professed that “high and sharply rising government debt” stands “squarely in the way of the U.S.’s extraordinary promise.” And just two months ago, in a piece for National Review, conservative champion Kevin Williamson contended that “unless we get our fiscal house in order now, we will soon be at the mercy of our creditors.”

Of course, the problem for the downcast economic eminences is that markets plainly mock their concern. We know this because as previously indicated, the U.S. Treasury borrows at the lowest rates of interest in the world. More on borrowing rates in a bit, but for now, it’s useful to clarify that budget deficits and debt don’t signal economic Armageddon as so many conservatives believe… quite the opposite, really.

If anything, the ability to take on sizable levels of debt is a sign of prosperity; that lenders believe their odds of being paid back are very high.  Seriously, who out there lends cheaply without caring if they’re paid back?

If anything, the ability to take on sizable levels of debt is a sign of prosperity; that lenders believe their odds of being paid back are very high. Seriously, who out there lends cheaply without caring if they’re paid back? Looked at without emotion, an ability to borrow in size is logically a bullish market projection about the borrower’s future prospects.

This is similar to how Apple’s capacity to access $17 billion at near-Treasury-like rates was a direct consequence of investor confidence in its ability to earn copious sums in the future. And Russia’s nominally microscopic obligations are a sign not of parsimony with the money of others on the part of Vladimir Putin, but rather a market data point indicating that lenders aren’t particularly bullish on Russia’s economic prospects. Conversely, that lenders line up to buy Treasury debt at very low rates of interest is a sign of investor confidence that dollars will be flowing into Treasury’s coffers in impressive amounts for decades to come. (See the low yields on 30-year U.S. Treasuries if you’re still skeptical.)

Now, I want to emphasize… This shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement of government borrowing, and it’s certainly not a call for more government spending.

Bullish Borrowing

On the other hand, much of the alarmism about debt and deficits is rooted in simplistic thinking… This should be properly viewed as a rejection of all the handwringing on the American Right about deficits and debt, and how they signal “doom” (Mark Steyn) for the United States. More realistically, they signal powerful investor optimism about the U.S.’s economic future.

Translated for those who need it, the United States can borrow in size because it’s backed by the most dynamic economy in the world. Russia’s capacity to borrow is highly limited precisely because its economic prowess in no way resembles that of America.

Translated for those who need it, the United States can borrow in size because it’s backed by the most dynamic economy in the world. Russia’s capacity to borrow is highly limited precisely because its economic prowess in no way resembles that of America. Put another way, an inability to borrow is the truly bearish market signal.

So while members of the Right well overdo it when they embrace hysterical rhetoric about federal borrowing that foretells “crisis,” their reliably confused opponents on the Left hardly elevate the discussion. Though the piling on of debt isn’t the perilous indicator that conservatives claim it to be, it’s most certainly not the driver of economic growth that Lefties naively claim.

Along those lines, rare is the op-ed by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman that doesn’t include some call to increase U.S. deficits as a way of boosting the economy. As he observed in a column from 2020, “The only thing we have to fear from deficits is deficit fear itself.” The Princeton economist’s point was that “we can and should spend whatever it takes” whenever the U.S. economy is limping. He’s not alone in his thinking…

To William Galston, Jason Furman, Christina Romer, Stephanie Kelton, and countless other Left-wing economic eminences, the easy solution to slow growth is deficit spending. Looking back to Barack Obama’s presidency, his economic advisers were said to have had “Rooseveltian fantasies” dancing in their heads as they rhapsodized about job creation care of the federal government. Romer in particular squealed with delight at how $100 billion of borrowed money could create 1 million jobs at $100,000 per. In Romer’s words, “A million people is a lot of people.” You can’t make this up!

To members of the Left, the answer to slow economic growth is always and everywhere borrowing and spending. This was true in 2009 after Obama was inaugurated, and it’s the expressed view in 2021 with Biden in the White House. But the thinking isn’t credible… To see why, consider yet again why conservative alarm about deficits is so wrongheaded.

It is simply because countries, like individuals and businesses, are once again able to run up debt based on investor optimism about their present and future economic prospects. Confidence about present and future economic growth is what enables the borrowing… meaning the growth already occurred. Government borrowing is a consequence of economic growth, or growth that will take place in the future, which means that borrowing amounts to politicians taking a piece of the fruits of the growth and redistributing it.

The U.S. can borrow in gargantuan amounts because investors strongly believe that Treasury tax collections now, and in the future, will be much greater than gargantuan. Russia can’t borrow at all like the U.S. can because investors have precisely the opposite view of present and future Russian tax collections.

To believe then, as Krugman and others do, that the borrowing and spending boosts economic activity is to believe that Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Chuck Schumer, and Mitch McConnell are better allocators of precious resources than Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Apple CEO Tim Cook. But such a view can’t be serious… Central planning that doesn’t work in total most certainly doesn’t work in limited fashion.

Growth is yet again what enables government borrowing, so to pretend that the borrowing adds to economic growth is a monument to double counting that would cause even the crooked among us to blush.

Furthermore, it brings new meaning to fuzzy math. Growth is yet again what enables government borrowing, so to pretend that the borrowing adds to economic growth is a monument to double counting that would cause even the crooked among us to blush.

Goodness, if government borrowing and spending actually boosted growth, West Virginia would presently be one of the richest U.S. states. Showered with endless largesse over the past few decades thanks to the late Robert Byrd’s immense power within the U.S. Senate, West Virginia remained poor despite it all.

Though politicians can redistribute wealth, they can’t control where it ultimately migrates to once it’s consumed. Applied to West Virginia, Byrd directed tens of billions of taxpayer wealth to his constituents, they spent it, only for the funds to flow to more productive commercial concepts well outside of the state. Paraphrasing legendary former Citibank CEO Walter Wriston, money goes where it’s treated well.

To believe that deficit spending stimulates economic growth is the hysterical equivalent of believing that during periods of economic weakness, theft should be legalized. Back to reality, governments can only spend what they’ve extracted from the private economy first… thus dampening economic dynamism thanks to the politicized allocation of precious wealth.

The True Meaning of Money

The problem yet again is that whether Left or Right, conservative or liberal, free-market or interventionist… neither side understands the why behind deficits – or the meaning of money for that matter. To see why, it’s useful to tack back to the free-market Right, and prominent Austrian School thinker Guido Hülsmann. While Lefties naively assert that deficit spending is the source of prosperity, their free-market counterparts believe – if possible – in something that is perhaps even more absurd: that deficits have an unlimited quality to them… like central banks armed with printing presses.

According to Hülsmann, “… fiat money allows the government to take out loans to an unlimited extent because fiat money by definition can be produced without limitation, without commercial limitation or technological limitation, and can be produced in whatever amount is desired.” If Hülsmann is to be believed, central banks enable unlimited borrowing and spending. Government forever, or something like that. Not really…

Implicit there is that the total Russian country debt that amounts to a U.S. Treasury rounding error is small due to parsimony on the part of Putin et al. Try not to laugh. In truth, Russia has very little debt because even before U.S. sanctions, there wasn’t much of a market for it, nor is there now. Investors aren’t exactly frothing at the mouth to own the future tax revenue streams of a country that’s not terribly innovative. Quick, name one Russian-made product that is well-regarded by the most acquisitive consumers (that would be American consumers) in the world. Tick tock, tick tock.

Something else that is crucial for the purposes of this essay is that Russia has the Russia Central Bank (“RCB”), a fiat-money-producing central bank, but that doesn’t enable government “without commercial limitation or technological limitation” as imagined by Hülsmann. What’s a creation of government if you can’t prop up government? Translated for those who need it, government can’t enable more government via the printing press. Only markets can enable more government borrowing, and presently there’s little market appetite for future Russian government income streams.

At which point it’s useful to further explain to readers why Hülsmann’s allegedly free-market views don’t stand up to the most basic of scrutiny. They don’t, simply because no one earns money, pays out money, borrows money, or lends it. If the previous assertion is hard to countenance at first glance, please stop and think about it. Though “money” factors into all of our economic activity, it’s important to stress that we earn, pay, lend, and borrow what money can be exchanged for. Money is merely an agreement about value among producers that facilitates the exchange of actual market goods.

Fairly explicit in Hülsmann’s theorizing is that money creation is the same as resource creation… that wealth can be printed. Except that it can’t be, which means central banks armed with printing presses can in no way enable government without limitation. Never forget that when investors buy debt, they’re buying future income streams paying out currencies that can be exchanged for market goods.

Hülsmann’s reasoning implies that those goods can be printed or summoned by the creation of “money.” In other words, Hülsmann asserts that markets are shockingly stupid whereby the producers of goods and services would actively exchange what’s real for paper rapidly produced by central banks. No, markets are rather wise… Money is a logical corollary of production, not an instigator of it.

Applying this simple logic to the U.S., it’s not the Fed enabling the growth of the federal government… but rather the U.S. political class has arrogated to itself a piece of the world’s largest economy. Borrowing by the U.S. Treasury is yet again a consequence of U.S. prosperity, much as Russia’s very limited borrowing capacity is a consequence of the country’s poverty relative to the U.S.

Moving back to Left-wing mythology, that Russia’s borrowing is limited in concert with seemingly unlimited borrowing for the U.S. is a pretty resounding rejection of all the whining every time members of the Right call for tax cuts. The routine reply from the Left is that tax cuts “for the rich” will “blow out” the deficit… the implicit argument being that tax cuts reduce revenues only to necessitate more borrowing. The view is backward.

Once again, government borrowing, like corporate borrowing, is enabled by expectations of rising tax revenues in the future. With tax cuts, reduced barriers to production logically redound to economic growth that renders the growing nation more attractive to lenders who want to be paid back. Deficits paradoxically signal a revenue problem, albeit one of too much revenue now, and in the future.

Market signals support the above contention. Consider the borrowing costs for the U.S. Treasury over the last 41 years. In 1980, total federal debt was roughly $900 billion, but the yield on the 10-year Treasury note was 11.5%. In 2021, and with the U.S. nearly $30 trillion in arrears, the yield is 1.64%. And no, the Fed didn’t do this. Government once again can’t support government, after which it’s always worth bringing Russia back into the mix. If central banks could make borrowing simple, then logic dictates Putin would have the RCB working the printing presses non-stop. It would be a waste of paper and electricity. “Money” quite simply has no use without production first.

It’s the Spending, Stupid

The funny thing about deficits is that both sides have trotted out the trite line over the decades about how we’re “burdening our grandchildren” with our borrowing. Both sides once again miss the point… Their misery about borrowing presumes that we’re having a raucous, joyous party now that will be paid for by future generations. That’s just silly…

The burden for our grandchildren isn’t debt as much as they’re inheriting from us a much less evolved society – technologically, culturally, and surely in terms of health care advances capable of turning today’s killers into tomorrow’s afterthoughts.

The burden of spending is felt right here and right now. Think about it. Politicized allocation of precious resources limits innovation and limits opportunity born of innovation. Government spending is always, always, always a tax that is paid right away. The burden for our grandchildren isn’t debt as much as they’re inheriting from us a much less evolved society – technologically, culturally, and surely in terms of health care advances capable of turning today’s killers into tomorrow’s afterthoughts.

It cannot be stressed enough that total dollars spent by government is the only number that matters, not whether the spending is a consequence of a budget “in balance” or from borrowing. To see why, consider Medicare…

Rolled out after a surge of tax revenues that resulted from the economy-boosting Kennedy/Johnson tax cuts, Medicare began as a $3 billion program. The projection in 1965 from House Committee on Ways and Means was that the entitlement would cost taxpayers $12 billion by 1990. The actual cost was $110 billion. It rose to $511 billion in 2014. By 2019 the number had risen to $799 billion, with no end in sight.

It’s a reminder that a focus on a balanced budget with the “grandchildren” in mind doesn’t even pass the “grandchildren” test when it’s remembered how the cost of government programs just grows and grows. A revenue surge “paid” for Medicare 56 years ago, but the burden is very much ours now.

Do deficits matter? No. On their own, they’re an obvious signal of investor optimism about a country’s future prospects. Deficits only matter to the extent that all government spending is deficit spending since governments only have money to spend insofar as they legislate to themselves a percentage of actual economic growth.

It’s the spending, stupid. Let’s please stop focusing on the logical market consequences of ferocious growth (once again, a growing capacity to borrow), and instead direct all of our energy toward shrinking the economy-sapping tax that is government itself, and that has Pelosi, Schumer, and Biden in control of trillions worth of wealth that they had no role in the creation of.

Presty the DJ for May 10

You may remember a couple weeks ago I noted the first known meeting of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Today in 1963, upon the advice of George Harrison, Decca Records signed the Rolling Stones to a contract.

Four years to the day later, Stones Keith Richard, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones celebrated by … getting arrested for drug possession.

I noted the 61st anniversary May 2 of WLS in Chicago going to Top 40. Today in 1982, WABC in New York (also owned by ABC, as one could conclude from their call letters) played its last record, which was …

Four years later, the number one song in America was, well, inspired by, though not based on, a popular movie of the day:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for May 10”

Torture rock

To some people, listening to music they don’t like may seem like torture.

For instance, my parents’ listening to two “beautiful music” FM stations in Madison while I was stuck in the back seat. Or the stereotypical my dog died/my girl left/my truck blew up/Mama’s in prison/let’s all get drunk of classic country music. This is why I like the design of the 1969–70 full-size Ford instrument panel.

 

 

In some cases music is literally torture, if you believe Weird History:

The United States has a long and ear-splitting history of using audio torture on detainees and interrogation suspects. Although the use of loud music for interrogative purposes has been banned by the United Nations, the United States reportedly continued to use the technique for a number of years after 2001, claiming it didn’t qualify and only caused discomfort. That is until President Barack Obama banned the practice via executive order in 2009.

That being said, the American intelligence community has supposedly also found ways to use music that goes beyond simply pumping up the volume. These so-called CIA interrogation songs manage to cause suffering just based on their content alone.

Countless US black sites and secret prisons are rumored to be scattered across the globe, and in many of them, detainees reported experiencing aural torture without ever being charged with anything. Whether the music is played at an extreme volume, contains offensive material, or is simply annoying and played on a continuous loop, the method causes genuine psychological distress – just look at these popular torture songs for perspective.

While some may scoff at the idea of music being used for genuine torture, noting that parents often reference the phrase based on repeated plays of Barney’s theme song, the tactics reportedly used by the US government are a far cry from the annoyance caused by an earworm on loop.

Van Halen “Panama”

Use of music as a means of getting information from an unwilling individual is effective for a number of reasons, but irony isn’t usually one of them. However, it came into play in the case of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who found himself barricaded in an embassy in Panama City on December 25, 1989, after the Americans entered the country and sought his detainment for various offenses.

Rather than taking Noriega by force, the troops surrounded the embassy and blasted rock music – including, of course, Van Halen’s “Panama.” Failing to see the humor in the situation, Noriega gave himself up on January 3, 1990. Other songs part of the US’s “Operation Just Cause” reportedly included “All I Want Is You” by U2 and “I Fought the Law” by The Clash.

Britney Spears “Oops I Did It Again”

The music of Britney Spears has a way of worming itself into the brain of anyone who listens to it, and the US apparently used this incessant catchiness as a way to get to its enemies between 2001 and 2004. Songs by the singer were reportedly blasted at Guantánamo Bay detainees as part of an “advanced interrogation” campaign.

Repeatedly playing Spears proved so effective that other countries borrowed the technique. In 2013, the British Navy used “Oops!… I Did It Again” and “…Baby One More Time” to scare away Somalian pirates on the east coast of Africa.

Eminem “The Real Slim Shady”

Eminem’s occasionally shrill and frequently taunting voice has annoyed plenty of people in North America, so one can only imagine the effect his music would have on those completely unfamiliar with Western culture. According to detainee Benyam Mohammad, the CIA took this to the extreme in a secret detainment center in Kabul, Afghanistan.

In 2004, Mohammad said Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” was played loudly for 20 consecutive days, alongside songs by Dr. Dre. This led to people reacting very adversely and the incident was condemned by Human Rights Watch.

Nancy Sinatra “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”

Music-based techniques aren’t exclusively used on foreign targets. On February 28, 1993, David Koresh and his Branch Davidians holed themselves up in a Texas compound after the ATF tried to raid their ranch, warrants for Koresh and some of his top leaders in hand. What followed was a 51-day standoff between the ATF and the Branch Davidians. The ATF used an array of techniques in an attempt to get Koresh and his followers to surrender, including musical psychological operations.

One of the most prominent tunes played during this time was Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”

“The Meow Mix Jingle”

Most commercial jingles are designed to get stuck in the heads of listeners, and that’s certainly true for the Meow Mix jingle, which is as catchy as it is grating. While some may laugh at the use of such an innocent-sounding song in interrogations, investigative reporter Justine Sharrock noted, “You almost have to stop yourself from laughing because you realize this is actually torture.”

The jingle remains a favorite of the CIA. It is known as “futility music,” a tool used to “convince the source that resistance to questioning is futile. This engenders a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness on the part of the source,” according to the US Human Intelligence Collector Operations.

Christina Aguilera “Dirty”

Some of the United States military’s auditory techniques went beyond trying to annoy or brainwash detainees and fell firmly under the category of “cultural” techniques. This was the case with the CIA’s musical theme, reportedly used in Guantánamo Bay in the early years in their campaign against terror.

This technique attempted to make detainees feel as if they were offending their faith, and included the use of Christina Aguilera’s provocative “Dirrty.” For the most devout prisoners, such a racy song amounted to an outright imposition on their personal beliefs and culture.

“Barney and Friends Theme”

There are few people above the age of 5 who can handle hearing the theme song from Barney and Friends more than a handful of times. Perhaps it’s not surprising that “I Love You” was reportedly a standard auditory technique used during the US-led invasion in the Middle East after 9/11.

Not only is the song annoying, but it contains a message of family and togetherness – a reminder for detainees that they may never see their own families again. In fact, “I Love You” is so effective that the United States regularly uses it for the training of its own operatives, making them listen to it on a 45-minute loop to toughen up their resistance to such techniques.

It’s also amusing to hear during hockey fights.

Drowning Pool “Bodies”

Many non-Western audiences are relatively unfamiliar with heavy metal music, and US military and intelligence agencies have used this fact to shock and appall detainees with the loud, harsh, and aggressive genre.

One of the most popular examples is “Bodies” by Drowning Pool, one of the more popular choices for audio interrogation used at Guantánamo Bay in 2003. This didn’t stop Guantánamo officials from inviting the band to play a live show at the base on the Fourth of July in 2017.

Bruce Springsteen “Born in the USA”

Some consider “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen to be an ode to the Land of the Free, but those who are more familiar with the lyrics know the song is actually a harsh condemnation of the country’s culture and treatment of its own people.

Of course, this subtle message was probably lost on the employees of Guantánamo Bay, where the song was reportedly used as an unofficial wakeup call each day and was often blasted through the loudspeakers during traditional prayer times.

You’d think Springsteen’s singing any words with the kidney-stone-passing style here would be torture enough.

Presty the DJ for May 7

The number one single today in 1966 was presumably played on the radio on days other than Mondays:

Today is the anniversary of the last Beatles U.S. single release, “Long and Winding Road” (the theme music of the Schenk Middle School eighth-grade Dessert Dance about this time in 1979):

The number one album today in 1977 was the Eagles’ “Hotel California”:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for May 7”

Picture the never-ending deficit

J.D. Tuccille:

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many detailed economic warnings does it equal? Or maybe there’s just one word that matters, and that word is “unsustainable,” which is how the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has long described the federal government’s spending habits. Through years of failing to draw the attention of presidents and lawmakers with its publications, the CBO has now clearly illustrated the looming fiscal catastrophe with pretty pictures that even elected officials poised to double down on their extended spending spree might understand.

Published April 30, The Federal Budget in Fiscal Year 2020: An Infographic shows, in colored charts and graphs, the massive gap between what the United States government can afford to spend, and what it actually spends. “Revenues, $3.4 trillion,” reads the caption for a bar representing 2020’s take, “Outlays, $6.6 trillion,” reads the caption for its partner.

Daringly venturing to further test the comprehension of denizens of the Capitol and the White House, another pair of charts points out that $3.4 trillion in revenues represents 16.3 percent of GDP, while $6.6 trillion in outlays is 31.2 percent of GDP. What was spent by the federal government, in other words, adds up to almost a third of the entire economy and almost double what was collected in taxes.

But 2020 was a very special year, just as elected officials themselves often seem quite special. Perhaps the demands of the year justified a deviation from a tradition of fiscal restraint? Well, not so much, more illustrations attest. As one graph points out, the federal government has consistently spent more than it takes in for at least 50 years, with the exception of a brief period ending in 2001. “To fund government spending in years of deficits, the Treasury borrows from individuals, businesses, the Federal Reserve, and other Countries,” the infographic helpfully notes. The result has been a growing accumulation of debt until it equals the size of the entire United States economy.

Spending more than you make, year after year, and running up debt would seem to be … unsustainable. And that, of course, is just how the CBO describes such spending habits.

“[F]inancing a large and permanent increase in government spending through perpetual borrowing without any corresponding adjustment in spending or revenues at some point in the future is unsustainable,” CBO warned in March in response to ongoing moves to expand the size of government.

“[O]ver the long term, changes in fiscal policy must be made to address the budget situation, because our debt is growing on an unsustainable path,” CBO Director Phillip L. Swagel told the House Budget Committee in January 2020, before “emergency” pandemic spending.

“Debt is on an unsustainable course in CBO’s projections,” then-CBO Director Keith Hall advised a gathering of business economists in February 2019. “To put it on a sustainable one, lawmakers will have to make significant changes to tax and spending policies—making revenues larger than they would be under current law, making spending for large benefit programs smaller than it would be under current law, or adopting some combination of those approaches.”

“[E]ven with federal spending for all programs other than Social Security and the major health care programs on track to reach its smallest share of GDP since at least 1940, federal debt remains on an unsustainable path,” then-CBO Director Doug Elmendorf cautioned a macroeconomic policy conference in 2014.

But the federal government hasn’t deviated from its spending habits through all of these years, holding to an unsustainable path of spending far outstripping revenues. So, what are the likely consequences?

“A large and continuously growing federal debt would increase the chance of a fiscal crisis in the United States,” Hall told the Senate Budget Committee in 2017.

“If federal debt as a percentage of GDP continued to rise at the pace that CBO projects it would under current law, the economy would be affected in two significant ways,” the CBO noted in January 2020, before the massive expenditures of the past year. “That growing debt would dampen economic output over time” and “Rising interest costs associated with that debt would increase interest payments to foreign debt holders and thus reduce the income of U.S. households by increasing amounts.”

That is, running up debt acts as a dead weight on the economy, becoming ever-more expensive to sustain while making people poorer. But not all approaches to balancing expenditures and revenues are created equal: raising taxes to the sky-high level required to pay for politicians’ increasingly grandiose spending schemes would have nasty consequences, too. That’s because siphoning money from Americans’ pockets to pay for elected officials’ pipe dreams would leave people with less to save, spend, invest, and use to build prosperity.

“The general finding is that increasing taxes leads to lower GDP and personal consumption,” the Congressional Budget Office warned in March of the consequences of higher taxes to finance increased government expenditures. “After 10 years, the level of GDP by 2030 is between 3 percent and 10 percent lower than it would be without the increase in expenditures and revenues.”

There really are limits to how much governments can spend without inflicting pain on the people suffering under their mismanagement. Not that the people elected to Congress and the White House have shown any signs of comprehension or concern.

Given that these are people capable of running for public office without feeling any apparent sense of shame, is it possible that they’re just too stupid to understand our reports? you can imagine CBO economists asking one another as they tossed around the idea for the recent infographic. Does anybody have any crayons?

And so we end up with pretty pictures illustrating a very unattractive fiscal situation. Maybe drawings can finally deter elected officials from their outrageous spending habits where detailed reports have failed to attract their attention.

 

Presty the DJ for May 5

Today is Cinco de Mayo, so some Mexican rock would be appropriate:

The number one single today in 1962:

I’m unaware of whether the soundtrack of “West Side Story” got any radio airplay, but since I played it in both the La Follette and UW marching bands, I note that today in 1962 the soundtrack hit number one and stayed there for 54 weeks:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for May 5”