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Warren Mosler

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Mercy! Can't They Get Anything Right?

Posted: 07/19/11 06:37 PM ET

Business doesn't create jobs -- consumers do!

It is an article of faith by all parties involved that businesses are the job creators, particularly small businesses, and hence their every move is predicated on helping businesses create jobs.

Mercy! Can't they get anything right?

Businesses hire to service consumers. A restaurant that's full doesn't layoff anyone, no matter how much he hates the government, and the same goes for department stores, engineering firms, etc.

When stores are empty, there's no way they will or should hire. It's a waste of human endeavor. In fact, business serves public purpose best by producing and selling its output with as few employees as possible. That's called productivity, which is what makes us rich in real terms.

Labor is inherently a scarce resource. There are only so many of us to get all the work done. We lost eight million jobs in 2008. Why? Because eight million people all of a sudden decided they'd rather go on the dole than work?

No. It's because sales collapsed. In a heartbeat, car sales went from near 17 million/yr to just over 9 million/yr. And why did sales collapse? Because we all 'lost our credit cards.'

The New York Times Sunday Review published a dramatic graph showing the collapse in sales -- home sales down 24% since 2007, light car sales down 24%, washers and dryers down 26%, and stoves and ovens down 19%, as consumer borrowings to spend likewise declined. Overall consumer spending has slumped 6.9%, far exceeding the last big slump in consumer spending in the late seventies (when interest rates where around 18%) and consumer spending declined by 2.9%.

How do we get back sales and all the lost jobs, and then some? How about we stop taking FICA (Social Security and Medicare taxes) out of the paychecks of people who work for a living, so sales can resume from income rather than from consumer debt? What's wrong with that?

How about suspending FICA for businesses as well, to lower their costs and help keep consumer prices from rising? That would also be a good thing.

So why don't our fearless leaders just do it? Because they think they need those taxed dollars for Social Security and Medicare.

Can't they get anything right?

Federal taxes regulate demand (our spending); they don't 'bring in' anything. The federal government 'collects taxes' simply by lowering the balance in our bank account. No gold coin drops into some government bucket. It's just data entry, just the Federal Reserve changing numbers on their spreadsheets.

Chairman Bernanke has told us repeatedly how the federal government actually spends, including Social Security and Medicare spending: they just use their computer to mark up the numbers in our bank accounts. They don't call China for a loan and they don't check with the IRS to see how collections are going.

Federal government spending doesn't 'come from' anywhere. Everyone inside the Federal Reserve knows it, and has always known it. They know that suspending FICA taxes does not alter their ability to make Social Security and Medicare payments. They all laugh off the idea that FICA actually funds anything -- a 'useful fiction' as it's been called since the program began in the 1930's.

That 'useful fiction' is no longer seems very useful, unless you're trying to destroy the US economy.

Even with sky-high unemployment, we can easily afford to both suspend FICA and truly strengthen Social Security and Medicare by increasing the minimum benefits and closing the donut holes.

This is not 'adding stimulus'. It's removing drag by removing massively regressive and punishing taxes. It allows consumers to drive sales until they've created all the private sector jobs we need.

I see no harm, along the way, in sustaining the public infrastructure that serves public purpose, and tossing the states a per capita payment to make up for what the federal government did to them in 2008. Furthermore, as should go without saying, there should be an $8/hour federally funded transition job for anyone willing and able to work, to facilitate the transition from unemployment to private sector employment.

However, that's not what's going to happen.

It looks to me like there are too many members of Congress who can't vote for any package, due to prior pledges: Democrats who can't vote for cuts in Social Security benefits or eligibility, Republicans pledged not to ever vote to raise taxes, and some pledged to never vote to raise the debt ceiling for any reason. The compromise packages lose votes from both sides from those who are pledged to never compromise.

This means a partial federal shutdown is a high probability, with a sudden cut in spending cutting into sales and therefore jobs, as just described.

Treasury rates will stay low and probably fall further, with the Fed rates presumed to stay low for a lot longer. Energy and commodities will deflate, the dollar will get stronger, stocks will fall as top line growth forecasts fall, Europe and Asian stocks will fall as their largest export market becomes at-risk.

As sales fall and unemployment rises, the U.S. deficit will rise via the automatic stabilizers of falling tax revenues and increased transfer payments -- if the government pays them.

Alternatively, if a compromise package is reached, the deficit reduction plan will cause the same things to happen, only not as severely, and it's back to death by a thousand cuts.

 
 
 

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