REPUBLICAN TAX POLICY: A cruel scheme to cut social security while gorging the military-industrial complex.

Trump Tax reform congress all males

The all-white, all male finance committees of both Houses of Congress got behind this bill.

With straight faces, the salesmen for the Trump tax cut have promised a miracle: increased corporate profits, a surge of investment in CAPX, more and better jobs with higher pay, all to be paid for by accelerated economic growth. In fact, the all-white, all male finance committees of both Houses of Congress, with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Chief Economic Advisor Hassett say that the US will grow at 3% p.a. or more for the next ten years – no recessions – and that the tax cuts will actually generate a profit for the government of $300 billion in that time. Sadly (and no irony intended) this combination of goodies is a pipe dream. In the next few paragraphs I will explain why, and why Trump and the Republicans are selling snake oil to the suckers. What is surprising is how many financial professionals are buying it.

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A hint about the trouble with GE

 

The continued decline in GE share prices (now below $20 per share) have been a major topic in the financial press (and TV) during the past few weeks. Jeffrey Immelt (Jack Welch’s protegé) is gone, no doubt with a sizeable “golden parachute” to comfort his golden years. Yet in GE’s peak year, under Welch, in August 2000 (just before the “dot.com” crash) GE was worth more than $600 billion. Recently it fell to $190 billion.

Hmm. Let’s have a look.

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Secular Stagnation (Or Corporate Suicide?)

Robert Ayres and Michael Olenick, INSEAD
INSEAD WORKING PAPER

 Abstract

We advanced the null hypothesis that stock buybacks will have a positive impact on the market value of a business over a five-year horizon. We find that there is a negligible chance for this to be true (with a two tail heteroscedastic p=.000023).

We find that the more capital a business invests in buying its own stock, expressed as a ratio of capital invested in buybacks to current market capitalization, the less likely that company is to experience long-term growth in overall market value.

Our findings, for US firms worth more than $100 million, suggest that long-term investors, such as pension funds, should be wary of investing businesses that have engaged in significant cumulative stock repurchases (i.e. 50% or more of current market cap.)

We find that excessive buybacks in the past decades are a significant cause of secular stagnation, inasmuch as they effectively reduce corporate R&D while contributing, instead, to an asset bubble that creates no value.

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The Bubble Economy: Is there a way out?

The United States may not be the most admired country in the world today, as once it was. Bubble Economy book cover - top halfBut the economic decline of the US is still capable of doing much harm outside its borders as well as internally. Part of the underlying  problem is an extremely unrepresentative  government system of the US.  Congress is currently  dominated by entrenched special interests – “big money” —  that want to preserve the status quo. This reality makes it very difficult for the executive branch  to function day-to-day, still less respond creatively  to new challenges.

There is a weak economic  recovery under way. It is weak because most OECD  governments have been persuaded by conservative economists that government debt is now much too high and that government deficits have to be cut by cutting welfare spending.  As a direct consequence of austerity policies, unemployment is still too high, especially when under-employment and “drop outs” are taken into account. Youth unemployment is bad in the US, worse in Europe (except Germany) and truly terrible in the Mediterranean countries (Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal).  Meanwhile, economic inequality has been growing , most workers (except the top 10 percent) have static or declining incomes,  but corporate profits have soared.  Corporations, especially the “tech” companies of Silicon Valley, are sitting on vast hoards of money, stashed mostly in off-shore banks to avoid taxes.

Neo-Keynesian economists, like Paul Krugman,  have been saying for years that austerity is a bad idea. They advocate more “stimulus” spending,  even at the expense of increasing the government  deficits. The problem with that approach, of course, is that there is no visible end to it.  Bigger deficits would (will) unquestionably increase the government debt burdens still more in the short run. The problem is that it is not clear why or how growth could cut those deficits in the future.

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Part II. The Future of Energy: Why the price of oil and gas should increase (but will it?)

– Robert U. Ayres. Paris, 29 October 2014

Photosynthesis was (and is) the biological process that removed carbon dioxide from the primitive atmosphere and left some of the oxygen in the atmosphere and sequestered CO2 in the earth’s crust. That happened as living organisms, such as diatoms, in the oceans attached carbon dioxide to calcium ions to make shells for themselves and left them as chalk or limestone. This went on for billions of years. When the oxygen level in the atmosphere rose enough, the new ozone layer cut the UV radiation level and made life on land feasible. Plants moved onto the land, and thrived spectacularly during the so-called Carboniferous era, several hundred million years ago when the CO2 level was still quite high by present standards. For over a hundred million years immense accumulations of dead plant biomass were covered by silt from erosion of the land surface. Meanwhile the bodies of dead marine organisms accumulated in some places under the sea. These accumulations were gradually compressed and “cooked” (pyrolized) releasing some of the hydrogen and converting the rest of the mass successively into peat, lignite and coal or (in the case of marine biomass) into bitumen and petroleum.

These accumulations constitute an energy (exergy) resource that currently drives industry and human civilization. We humans are now “un-sequestering” those stored hydrocarbons, combining them with oxygen and putting CO2 back into the atmosphere. Moreover, we are doing this at a rate thousands or even millions of times faster than the original accumulation. This ultra-rapid dissipation of stored exergy in the form of hydrocarbons clearly cannot continue indefinitely, not because we will run out of carbon fuels immediately, but because the atmospheric buildup of CO2 cannot continue much longer without catastrophic climatic consequences (IPCC 2007, 2014).

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Part I: The Future of Energy (and the Planet)

– For Exernomics. Robert Ayres, Paris. 25 October, 2014

The future of energy will be driven by a combination of price and availability, as it always has. But in an uncertain world one thing is very sure, and that is that this combination is already in rapid transformation, so we are looking at a very different future indeed.

In my recent book (“The Bubble Economy”) , I have argued that the rising price of oil, in particular (because of its unique role as a fuel for mobile applications) together with the declining price of “renewables”  creates an opportunity for long-term investors. It is estimated that $2 trillion/year must be invested in renewable energy to meet future energy demand without increasing carbon dioxide emissions. Surprisingly, perhaps, current trends suggest that – contrary to widespread assumptions – such investments can be very profitable.

cropped-enegy-penury-nyc-skyline-without-lights.jpg

New York City skyline during power outage

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