Saturday, December 31, 2011


Corruption by money (read easy credit) is the way of the world at this point in history. The question is, from whence came the money to be borrowed and from whom were the bribes offered. It is easy to see the sources in the US. Credit comes from banks (e.g., credit cards and home loans and second home loans and so on until there is no equity left). Credit terms started easy, and Americans learned to charge the purchases with no thought for tomorrow when even credit card debt was tax deductible. This ended about 25 years ago when the tax law was changed. By then it was too late.

People were used to credit card purchases, and even young people who had never experienced the previous generous government subsidy of borrowing saw their elders doing it and figured it must be OK because nobody seemed upset by the terms of use of credit cards. They mistook habit for wisdom. More recently additional changes to the laws and terms of lending by banks resulted in consumer credit becoming a life long encumbrance because the credit card debt would remain even after bankruptcy, and penalties and fees were added for almost anything the banks could think of.

Of course, banks are run by people. These people and their stockholders were given additional freedom to gamble with the guaranteed profits they derived from the debts of the people. Laws were changed that would permit banks to play the market with paper profits and very little cash on hand. The people running the banks, of course, were granted rich bonuses for the clever ways they manipulated money and sold worthless bonds to nation states (like Greece). These bank and investment house mamagers, whom we can call capitalists or the 1%, knew where to put their personal funds in the markets they created; boy did they ever. Among the most egregious investment strategies was the default swap option, in which one could bet that the securities sold to others would defalt and reap even larger gains (again guaranteed gains because the banks knew the securities they were selling were actually worthless because they made them that way). This is the recent sad story of debt. The story is even worse than this, of course, because with people and nation states forced to pay down debt, there is no money to invest in the infrastructure that would generate recovery, provide paychecks for workers to buy things, and last but not least, increase tax collections so that the nations could pay down the sovereign debt.

So, as Polonius said, "neither a lender nor a borrower be," right? Alas no, there is only one way to decrease debt AND produce economic recovery at the same time, and that is for public debt to be allowed to increase even further to create infrastructure jobs that will float the increased economic activity that can fund paying down debts. Then, a little planned inflation could lift some of the burden of the debt by paying it off with cheaper money. The alternative is to squeeze it out of the few who continue to work, and that takes a very very long time to result in a sufficiently large decrease in public debt that renewed infrastructure investment becomes attractive to both government and the private sector. The collateral effect of national austerity is pain for the working segment and much much worse for the unemployed.

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