Posted by WARREN MOSLER on February 4th, 2010
This is the text of the address I gave at Dallas.
Will be repeating it in a northern Va meeting next weekend.
Still waiting for the video.
Feel free to distribute.
How tea party democrats can run successfully in the primaries
Honesty in government is a core value of the Tea Party movement and the most basic value in any representative democracy. Accordingly, my first proposal is that all candidates for public office be sworn in: ‘I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.’ As a consequence, any subsequent lies are perjury, and punishable by law.
I am here to discuss how I believe Tea Party Democrats can win in upcoming Democratic primaries. The answer is to emulate and extend the success of the Tea Party movement by getting back to basics. The Democratic party is the party of Jefferson and Jackson. The founders believed that the public voice should be heard. They believed in limited government. And they never kowtowed to special interests or cowered before purveyors of the conventional wisdom. This means Tea Party Democrats should be running against the Obama administration’s policies which are counter to both traditional Democratic values and Tea Party values.
It is the Washington elite that have moved away from the ideals of Jefferson and Jackson with policies that are, at best, regressive, elitist, and destructive to our quality of life. For example, with unemployment rising, real wage growth falling, and GDP now growing at over 5%, who’s getting all that increase in real goods and services?
Not the millions who voted Democratic who are losing their jobs and their homes, and watching wages fall even as their cost of living goes up. All that real wealth being created is instead rising to the top, due to impossible trickle down policies that would have made even Reagan blush.
The large majority of Americans that elected this administration did not do so to enrich the bankers, insurance executives, drug companies, and union leaders at the expense of the rest of us, in a perversion of true core Democratic values. But it’s clearly happening as even a blind man can see. And all because they don’t understand the monetary system, how and why government spends and taxes, and why we don’t owe China anything more than a bank statement.
I will devote most of the rest of my time talking about the economy. In part, that is because it is my area of expertise, given that I have spent most of my adult life in financial markets. But the most important reason is it is in that arena that the Washington elite have failed us the most. The so-called economic experts have confused themselves and their political masters with contrived explanations for the way the economy works. Their limited vision has limited the range of policy choice. And the result has been a monumental economic disaster and human tragedy.
My first proposal for the economy encompasses both the Tea Party and traditional Democratic values of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and reliance on competitive markets. Working through the logic of this proposal will show both how this straightforward government policy can work, and how convoluted is the elite’s understanding of finance.
I believe that the surest engine for full economic recovery is a full payroll tax holiday. Payroll taxes take away over 15% of everyone’s paycheck, from the very first dollar earned. This is big money- about $1 trillion per year. Half comes from the employee and half from the employer. A payroll tax holiday does not give anyone anything. What it does is stop taking away $1 trillion a year from working people struggling to make their payments and stay in their homes, and businesses struggling to survive. A full payroll tax holiday means a husband and wife earning $50,000 a year each will see their combined take home pay go up by over $650 a month, so they can make their mortgage payments and their car payments and maybe even do a little shopping.
This fixes the banks and fixes the economy, from what I call the bottom up. It fixes the banks without giving them anything more than people who can afford to make their payments. That’s all they need to remain viable.
And what all businesses need most to expand output and employment is people with spending money who can buy their products. Without people to buy goods and services, nothing happens. The payroll tax holiday also means there is also a big reduction in expenses for business. With competitive markets this means lower prices, which also helps consumers, helps keep inflation down, helps businesses compete domestically and in world markets to help optimize our real terms of trade, and helps keep the currency stable as the dollar is ultimately worth what it can buy. So with the payroll tax holiday we get a dramatic increase in economic activity, rising employment in good jobs, and better prices. And we’ll see millions of new jobs, because, again, what business needs most is people with money to buy their products. Then they hire and expand.
What I don’t see is how any self respecting Democrat can allow this tax to stand for a single moment. It is the most regressive, punishing tax we’ve ever had. It starts from the first dollar earned with a cap at $106,800 per year. It’s an utter disgrace to the Democratic party. It should be immediately eliminated. Yet, instead, the Washington Democratic elite are actually discussing increasing it.
Let’s now back up and review how we got to where we are at this moment in time. Headline unemployment is unthinkably high at 10%, and if you count workers who have given up looking for a full time job, it’s over 17%. As you all know, it’s about the financial crisis. The banks got in trouble when their loans went bad. Well, what makes a loan go bad? Only one thing- people who can’t make their payments. If people make their payments, the loans are AAA. If people don’t make their payments the loans are junk and toxic waste. No matter what the security is- a loan, a cmo, cdo, clo, or whatever, it’s all the same. If people are making their loan payments there is no financial crisis. Unfortunately, instead of attacking the problem from the bottom up with a payroll tax holiday, we have an administration that thinks it first needs to fix the financial sector from the top down, before the real economy can improve. This is completely upside down. But the elites believe it, so that’s what they have done to us.
So starting with President Bush, and supported by both Senators McCain and Obama, they funded the financial sector with trillions, while they kept taking away trillions from people working for a living who couldn’t make their payments.
How does that help anyone make their payments, apart from a few bankers? It doesn’t.
What happened for the next year and a half? The banks muddled through, profits and bonuses returned, but unemployment skyrocketed and is still going up, loan delinquencies and defaults and foreclosures skyrocketed and are still going up, and millions of Americans still can’t make their payments and are losing their homes. And a lot of the money the banks are making on federal support is being drained by continuing loan losses. We are getting nowhere as tens of millions of lives are being destroyed by policy makers who simply don’t understand how the monetary system works.
This has been a trickle down policy where nothing has trickled down, because there is no connection between funding the banks, and the incomes of people trying to make their payments. The answer, of course, is instead of giving trillions to the banks, to simply stop taking away trillions from people still working for a living. The government doesn’t even have to give us anything, just stop taking away the trillion dollars a year of payroll taxes with a full payroll tax holiday.
But then there’s the nagging question of ‘how are we going to pay for it? Aren’t we just going to have to borrow more money from China and leave it for our children to pay back? And if it doesn’t work, then where are we, another trillion in debt with nothing to show for it?’
And, in fact the failure to understand that question of ‘how are you going to pay for it’ is exactly what has set the Democratic party, and the nation, on the current path of economic ruin. Therefore, to run successfully against the Democrats who support current policy it is critical you understand what I’m going to say next. This understanding is the basis for achieving our core values of limited government and lower taxes. And what I’m about to tell you is pure, undisputable fact, and not theory or philosophy.
So let me start by examining exactly how government spends at what’s called the operational level. In other words, exactly how does government spend? And this is for the federal government, not the State and local government, who are in much the same position as you and I are. Well, when the federal government spends, it simply changes numbers up in bank accounts. Last May Fed Chairman Bernanke answered Congressman Pelley’s question about where the money comes from that the banks are getting. Bernanke told him the banks have accounts at the Fed and the Fed simply ‘marks them up’- changes the numbers in their bank accounts.
• (PELLEY) Is that tax money that the Fed is spending?
• (BERNANKE) It’s not tax money. The banks have– accounts with the Fed, much the same way that you have an account in a commercial bank. So, to lend to a bank, we simply use the computer to mark up the size of the account that they have with the Fed.
The Chairman is exactly right. All government spending is simply a matter of changing numbers upward in our bank accounts. It doesn’t come from anywhere. Just like when you kick a field goal and get 3 points. Where does the stadium get those points? Right, they don’t come from anywhere. It’s just scorekeeping. And that’s exactly how government actually pays for anything.
All it ever does, and ever can do when it spends, is mark up numbers in bank accounts, as the Fed Chairman told us. And with online banking you can actually watch it happen. When a government payment hits your account you can actually watch as the numbers change upward on your computer screen. And notice I’ve never mentioned China or anyone else in this spending process. They are simply not involved. Spending is done by changing numbers higher in our bank accounts. What China does or doesn’t do has nothing to do with this process. Again, this is not some theory or philosophy. It’s simply how it actually works. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it. I grew up on the money desk at Banker’s Trust on Wall St. in the 70’s, and I visit the Fed regularly and discuss monetary operations. I know exactly how it all works.
Now let’s look at how government taxes. And keep in mind what any Congressman will tell you- we have to get money from taxing or borrowing to be able to spend it.
Well, with modern on line banking you can watch what happens when a tax is paid. Suppose you have $5,000 in your bank account and you write a check to the government for $1,000 to pay your taxes. What happens? You can see it on your computer screen. The number 5,000 changes into the number 4,000. The number 5 changes to the number 4. All the government did is change the number in your bank account. They didn’t ‘get’ anything. No gold coins dropped into a box at the Fed. Yes, they account for it, which means they keep track of what they do, but they don’t actually get anything that they give to anyone. The man at the IRS simply changes numbers down in our bank accounts when he collects taxes. And, if you pay your taxes with actual cash, they give you a receipt, and then shred it. How does taking your cash and shredding it pay for anything? It doesn’t. Taxes don’t give the government anything to use to make payments.
So the absolute fact of the matter is, the government never has nor doesn’t have dollars. It taxes by changing numbers down, but doesn’t get anything. It spends by changing numbers up and doesn’t use up anything. Government can’t ‘run out of money’ like our President has repeated many times. There isn’t anything to run out of. It’s just data entry, it’s score keeping. And it has nothing to do with China, which I’ll get to shortly.
So why then does the government tax at all? To control our spending power, which economists call aggregate demand. If the government didn’t tax us at all and let us spend all the money we earn, and government spent all the money it wanted to spend, the result would be a lot of inflation, caused by more spending then there are real goods and services for sale. Too much spending power chasing too few goods and services is a sure way to drive up prices. So the purpose of taxes is to regulate the economy. If the economy is too hot, taxes can be raised to cool it down. If the economy is too cold, as it obviously is today, taxes should be cut to warm it up back to operating temperature.
Taxes are like the thermostat. When it gets too hot or too cold you adjust it. It’s not about collecting revenues, there is no such thing, government never has nor doesn’t have any dollars, it just changes numbers up and down in our bank accounts. It’s all about looking at the economy and deciding whether it’s too hot or too cold, and then making an adjustment.
So, given all this, just what does ‘fiscal responsibility’ mean?
Fiscal responsibility means not overtaxing us to the point we are at today with record unemployment. And Fiscal Responsibility means not spending so much or taxing so little that the economy ‘overheats’ and inflation becomes a problem. That’s what fiscal responsibility means. That’s all it means. The government is responsible for getting the economy right, and the monetary system, including taxation, is a tool for that job.
Taxation is a tool to get the economy right.
So where does China and borrowing come into the picture? To be a successful Tea Party Democrat you will have to understand this and be able to explain it.
So first, how does China get its dollars? It sells things to us and gets paid for them.
And where does China keep its dollars? In a bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank which they call a reserve account. It’s nothing more than a checking account with a fancy name. And why does China buy Treasury securities? To earn a bit more interest.
And what is a Treasury security? It is nothing more than a savings account at the Federal Reserve Bank with a fancy name. And just like any other savings account at any other bank, with a Treasury security you give the Federal Reserve Bank money, and you get it back plus interest. So when China buys a Treasury security, what happens? The Fed moves their funds- the money they earned from selling things to us- from their checking account at the Fed to their savings account at the Fed.
And what happens when those Treasury securities- savings accounts- come due? How do we pay off China? The Fed just moves the funds from China’s savings account at the Fed back to their checking account at the Fed, and makes the number a little higher to include the interest. That’s it. Debt paid. And our children will continue to do this just like our fathers did before us. None of this involves what we call government spending. When government spends to buy something or pay someone else, it just ‘marks up’- as Chairman Bernanke put it- numbers in bank accounts. China’s bank accounts at the Fed are not involved. So why is this administration kowtowing to China on everything from Korea to human rights? And why do we go over there, thinking they are our government’s bankers, worried about getting their money to spend on everything from health care to Afghanistan, when there is no such thing as the US government getting money to spend? Why? There is only one reason. This administration does not understand the monetary system. They reason the Democrats are against a payroll tax holiday is because they think they need those actual revenues to support their spending.
So yes, we are grossly overtaxed and that’s what’s causing the sky high unemployment and the failed economy, as well as the ongoing banking crisis. And fiscal responsibility means setting taxes at the right level to sustain our spending power- not to hot and not too cold, but just right for optimal output and employment and price stability, and a return to prosperity.
And this brings up the next question, which is how to determine the right size of government. First, tax revenues don’t tell us anything about that. Taxing is just changing numbers down. It doesn’t give us anything to spend. Spending is changing numbers up; there is no numerical limit to spending.
So how do we decide how much government we want if the money doesn’t tell us anything? We do it on a very practical level. For example, when it comes to the military we need to ask ourselves, how many soldiers do we need to defend ourselves? How many planes, boats, tanks, and missiles do we need? The more we need, the more people we take who could be in the private sector producing real private sector goods and services, including doctors and nurses, teachers and teaching assistants, scientists and engineers, etc. etc. The military also uses up real resources like oil and steel. That’s the real cost of the military- how many people and resources it takes away from productive private sector activity.
What is the right size for the legal system? That depends on how long you want to wait for a court date, or for a decision. If the process is too slow, we may need more people working there, or we may need better technology. And again, the more people in government, the fewer there are to work in the private sector.
Once we have decided on the ‘right size’ of government, and pay for it by changing numbers up in people’s bank accounts when government spends, we have to decide the right amount to tax to keep the economy not too hot and not too cold, but just right. My educated guess would be, in a normal economy, to start with taxes that are less then spending by about 5% of GDP, if history is any guide. If I’m wrong taxes can either be lowered or raised to get it right. And when government spends more than it taxes- when it changes numbers up more than it changes down- we call that difference the budget deficit.
And when government changes more numbers changed up than down, the economy has exactly that many more dollars in it, which adds exactly that much to the savings of the economy. In fact, in US National Income Accounting, as taught in economics 101, the government deficit equals the total savings of financial assets in the rest of the economy, to the penny. Yes, deficits add to our monetary savings, to the penny. And everyone I’ve talked to in the Congressional Budget Office knows it. And it’s just common sense as well that if government changes numbers up in our bank accounts more than it changes them down, we have exactly that many more dollars.
Let me add one more thing about the size of government. It makes no sense to me to grow the size of the government just because the economy is too cold, if we already have the right sized government. And if we don’t have the right sized government we should immediately get it right, and then adjust taxes if the economy is too hot or too cold.
With this grasp of the fundamentals of taxing, spending, and the size of government, a Tea Party Democrat is well armed to take on the Democratic establishment that’s overtaxing us, driving up unemployment to today’s record levels, destroying our economy and standard of living, and arbitrarily growing government as well.
Tea Party Democrats have a unique opportunity to be a part of history and overturn the ideas the current administration is employing that are, at best, regressive, elitist, and destructive to our quality of life.
With unemployment rising, real wage growth falling, and GDP now growing at about 4%, who’s getting that increased GDP? Not the millions who voted Democratic who are losing their jobs and their homes, and watching their wages fall. That real wealth being created is instead rising to the top, due to the Obama administration’s impossible trickle down policies. This administration was not elected to enrich the bankers, insurance executives, drug companies, and union leaders at the expense of the rest of us, in a perversion of true core Democratic values. But it’s clearly happening, and all because they don’t understand the monetary system, the don’t understand how and why government spends and taxes, and the don’t understand why we don’t owe China anything more than a bank statement.
The door is wide open for an enlightened, populist Democrat to lead the way to a new era of unsurpassed national prosperity.