Sun Jul 11th, 2010 at 05:23:10 PM EST
I discovered Charles Hugh Smith and his blog, oftwominds.com last night at Zero Hedge. His 12 point account of how we got in the mess we are in and where it is going is the best succinct description I have found, so I e-mailed him for permission to cross-post, which he graciously gave and he suggested posting both parts. Herewith:
The Con of the Decade Part I (July 8, 2010)
The con of the decade (Part I) involves the transfer of private debt to the public (the marks), who then pays interest forever to the con artists.
I've laid out the Con of the Decade (Part I) in outline form:
Since the Federal government could potentially inflate away these trillions in Treasuries, buy enough elected officials to force austerity so inflation remains tame. In essence, these private banks and corporations now own the revenue stream of the Federal government and its taxpayers. Neat con, and the marks will never understand how "saving our financial system" led to their servitude to the very interests they bailed out.
- Enable trillions of dollars in mortgages guaranteed to default by packaging unlimited quantities of them into mortgage-backed securities (MBS), creating umlimited demand for fraudulently originated loans.
- Sell these MBS as "safe" to credulous investors, institutions, town councils in Norway, etc., i.e. "the bezzle" on a global scale.
- Make huge "side bets" against these doomed mortgages so when they default then the short-side bets generate billions in profits.
- Leverage each $1 of actual capital into $100 of high-risk bets.
- Hide the utterly fraudulent bets offshore and/or off-balance sheet (not that the regulators you had muzzled would have noticed anyway).
- When the longside bets go bad, transfer hundreds of billions of dollars in Federal guarantees, bailouts and backstops into the private hands which made the risky bets, either via direct payments or via proxies like AIG. Enable these private Power Elites to borrow hundreds of billions more from the Treasury/Fed at zero interest.
- Deposit these funds at the Federal Reserve, where they earn 3-4%. Reap billions in guaranteed income by borrowing Federal money for free and getting paid interest by the Fed.
- As profits pile up, start buying boatloads of short-term U.S. Treasuries. Now the taxpayers who absorbed the trillions in private losses and who transferred trillions in subsidies, backstops, guarantees, bailouts and loans to private banks and corporations, are now paying interest on the Treasuries their own money purchased for the banks/corporations.
- Slowly acquire trillions of dollars in Treasuries--not difficult to do as the Federal government is borrowing $1.5 trillion a year.
- Stop buying Treasuries and dump a boatload onto the market, forcing interest rates to rise as supply of new T-Bills exceeds demand (at least temporarily). Repeat as necessary to double and then triple interest rates paid on Treasuries.
- Buy hundreds of billions in long-term Treasuries at high rates of interest. As interest rates rise, interest payments dwarf all other Federal spending, forcing extreme cuts in all other government spending.
- Enjoy the hundreds of billions of dollars in interest payments being paid by taxpayers on Treasuries that were purchased with their money but which are safely in private hands.
The circle is now complete: in "saving our financial system," the public borrowed trillions and transferred the money to private Power Elites, who then buy the public debt with the money swindled out of the taxpayer. Then the taxpayers transfer more wealth every year to the Power Elites/Plutocracy in the form of interest on the Treasury debt. The Power Elites will own the debt that was taken on to bail them out of bad private bets: this is the culmination of privatized gains, socialized risk.
In effect, it's a Third World/colonial scam on a gigantic scale: plunder the public treasury, then buy the debt which was borrowed and transferred to your pockets. You are buying the country with money you borrowed from its taxpayers. No despot could do better.
Given US "EXCEPTIONALISM", if we are going to be a Banana Republic, we will be a Banana Republic on a memorable scale. USA! USA! USA! In effect this is a bloodless coup via finance. If there is any blood it will be from the authorities enforcing "LAW & ORDER". It seems more like The Con of the Century.
The Con of the Decade Part II (July 9, 2010)
The con of the decade (Part II) involves sheltering the Power Elites' income while raising taxes on the debt-serfs to pay the interest owed the Power Elites.
The Con of the Decade (Part II) meshes neatly with the first Con of the Decade. Yesterday I described how the financial Plutocracy can transfer ownership of the Federal government's income stream via using the taxpayer's money to buy the debt that the taxpayers borrowed to bail out the Plutocracy.
In order for the con to work, however, the Power Elites and their politico toadies in Congress, the Treasury and the Fed must convince the peasantry that low tax rates on unearned income are not just "free market capitalism at its best" but that they are also "what the country needs to get moving again."
The first step of the con was successfully fobbed off on the peasantry in 2001: lower the taxes paid by the most productive peasants marginally while massively lowering the effective taxes paid by the financial Plutocracy.
One Year Later, No Sign of Improvement in America's Income Inequality Problem:
Income inequality has grown massively since 2000. According to Harvard Magazine, 66% of 2001-2007's income growth went to the top 1% of Americans, while the other 99% of the population got a measly 6% increase. How is this possible? One thing to consider is that in 2001, George W. Bush cut $1.3 trillion in taxes, and 32.6% of the cut went to the top 1%. Another factor is Bush's decision to increase the national debt from $5 trillion to $11 trillion. The combination of increased government spending and lower taxes helped the top 1% considerably.
The second part of the con is to mask much of the Power Elites' income streams behind tax shelters and other gaming-of-the-system so the advertised rate appears high to the peasantry but the effective rate paid on total income is much much lower.
The tax shelters are so numerous and so effective that it takes thousands of pages of tax codes and armies of toadies to pursue them all: family trusts, oil depletion allowances, tax-free bonds and of course special one-off tax breaks arranged by "captured" elected officials.
Step three is to convince the peasantry that $600 in unearned income (capital gains) should be taxed in the same way as $600 million. The entire key to the U.S. tax code is to tax earned income heavily but tax unearned income (the majority of the Plutocracy's income is of course unearned) not at all or very lightly.
In a system which rewarded productive work and provided disincentives to rampant speculation and fraud, the opposite would hold: unearned income would be taxed at much higher rates than earned income, which would be taxed lightly, especially at household incomes below $100,000.
If the goal were to encourage "investing" while reining in the sort of speculations which "earn" hedge fund managers $600 million each (no typo, that was the average of the top 10 hedgies' personal take of their funds gains), then all unearned income (interest, dividends, capital gains, rents from property, oil wells, etc.) up to $6,000 a year would be free--no tax. Unearned income between $6,000 and $60,000 would be taxed at 20%, roughly half the top rate for earned income. This would leave 95% of U.S. households properly encouraged to invest via low tax rates.
Above $60,000, then unearned income would be taxed the same as earned income, and above $1 million (the top 1/10 of 1% of households) then it would be taxed at 50%. Above $10 million, it would be taxed at 60%. Such a system would offer disincentives to the speculative hauls made by the top 1/10 of 1% while encouraging investing in the lower 99%.
Could such a system actually be passed into law and enforced by a captured, toady bureaucracy and Congress? Of course not. But it is still a worthy exercise to take apart the rationalizations being offered to justify rampant speculative looting, collusion, corruption and fraud.
The last step of the con is to raise taxes on the productive peasantry to provide the revenues needed to pay the Plutocracy its interest on Treasuries. If the "Bush tax cuts" are repealed, the actual effective rates paid on unearned income will remain half (20%) of the rates on earned income (wages, salaries, profits earned from small business, etc.) which are roughly 40% at higher income levels.
The financial Plutocracy will champion the need to rein in Federal debt, now that they have raised the debt via plundering the public coffers and extended ownership over that debt.
Now the con boils down to insuring the peasantry pay enough taxes to pay the interest on the Federal debt--interest which is sure to rise considerably. The 1% T-Bill rates were just part of the con to convince the peasantry that trillions of dollars could be borrowed "with no consequences." Those rates will steadily rise once the financial Power Elites own enough of the Treasury debt. Then the game plan will be to lock in handsome returns on long-term Treasuries, and command the toady politicos to support "austerity."
The austerity will not extend to the financial Elites, of course. That's the whole purpose of the con. "Some are more equal than others," indeed.
Something like this, in a loosely confederated, cartel-like form, seems likely to be the structure and plan of at least some of our existing financial luminaries. If so, the question becomes: "How well and how long can this work?" I suspect that it will be so unstable that collapse is inevitable -- eventually. But what comes next could well be worse. And there will be no way out of it but by taking on and effectively dealing with the con artists.