Category Archives: Economy

Warning: Republicans Are Hazardous to Your Bank Account, and this includes Rep. Heck

Dem Rep Job Creation These are some of the most dangerous words ever spoken – with regard to your bank account:

“After eight years of the Obama economy, Americans are struggling with stagnant wages, reduced hours, and decreased economic opportunity. The policies of this Administration, from the Affordable Care Act to the Dodd Frank financial reform legislation, have hurt economic growth and make it more costly and burdensome for businesses to expand and add workers.” [Heck]

Heck tries to waffle a bit in the last segment: “I will continue to support reasonable regulations that protect the consumer, employees, and the environment while working to reduce burdensome federal regulations so that businesses can thrive and create good-paying jobs.”

First, it’s fact check time. As the chart above indicates the ACA and the Dodd Frank Act have not “decreased economic opportunity,” (whatever that might mean) and in light of what’s been happening with Wells Fargo Bank we need to talk about the “burdens of regulation.”  We also need to talk about a piece of legislation that just passed the House Financial Services Committee.

The “Financial Choice Act” —

“The Financial Choice Act split the banking panel with a vote of 30 to 26, with just one Republican, Representative Bruce Poliquin of Maine, siding with the committee’s Democrats against it.

Mr. Hensarling has been a prominent critic of Dodd-Frank and other changes after the 2008 financial crisis, including the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to regulate the consumer finance industry.

“It has been six years since the passage of Dodd-Frank. We were told it would lift our economy, but instead we are stuck in the slowest, weakest, most tepid recovery in the history of the Republic,” said Mr. Hensarling at Tuesday’s session. “The economy does not work for working people.”

The legislation, which was unveiled in June, calls for numerous changes to Dodd-Frank. One provision would allow some of the largest banks to exempt themselves from some regulatory standards if they maintained an important ratio of capital to total assets at 10 percent or more.” [NYT]

There’s more. The Financial Choice Act (comprehensive summary pdf) reads like the American Bankers Association Christmas Wish List and Birthday Party requests combined with everything a banker would want from a Financialist Santa Claus.

However, let’s start with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about which the House Republicans have several complaints:

“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is not accountable to Congress or the  American people. The Bureau’s policies often harm consumers or exceed its legal authority because the Bureau is not subject to checks and balances that apply to other regulatory agencies.” [House pdf]

This is another iteration of the initial whine the GOP wheezed out when the idea of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was suggested which would not be subject to the corporate/financialist tastes of Republican Congressional representatives.  The ones who want government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub – and the CFPB along with it.   At this point it might be instructive to ask: What harm has been done to consumers of, say, Wells Fargo Bank, by the CFPB?

“When news first broke that Wells Fargo would pay the largest fine in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau history for routinely opening unauthorized accounts that clients didn’t want or need, CEO John Stumpf put blame squarely on his worst-paid workers.

He’s changed his tune since, as political pressure over the years-long scandal mounted and evidence depicting the high-pressure sales culture at the bank got more attention.

And now, the bank’s board is reaching into Stumpf’s own pocket to discipline him. The CEO will forfeit $41 million in past compensation — all of it in the form of investment holdings that hadn’t vested yet — and the woman who ran his firm’s retail banking unit will give back $19 million of her own.” [TP]

What harm was done by this agency in fining Wells Fargo for its “cross selling scam” that created phony accounts to boost sales figures?  And, what is wrong with this result?

“By clawing back a large chunk of Stumpf’s roughly $100 million in compensation over the past decade, though, the board is hoping to signal that it’s taking the scandal seriously. The day news of the $185 million fine broke, Stumpf portrayed it as an issue of some bad apples at junior positions and said responsibility started and stopped with the 5,300 people fired in response.

That holier-than-thou response first started to crack in front of the Senate Banking Committee last week, when senators including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) bounced the bank head off the walls of a hearing room for hours.

Wednesday’s announcement of clawbacks comes a day before Stumpf returns to Capitol Hill to face the House’s version of the same inquisition.

Clawbacks are a hot-button concept for finance watchdogs and Wall Street critics. Many of the industry’s sins stem from compensation policies that incentivize executives to break whatever rules they have to keep the company stock rising, knowing they’ll walk away rich even if the company gets caught. Clawbacks, observers and policymakers say, are an important tool in reversing that deviant cycle.” [TP]

So, how do the House Republicans mean to “improve” the CFPB? The CFPB that caught Wells Fargo? Made the Bank pay fines and restitution? Made the Board of Directors claw back the ill-gotten gains of the bank executives and not lay the whole scam on the lower level employees?

The House Republicans want to (1) replace the head of the CFPB with an awkward “bipartisan” board; that should facilitate logjams and obstructionism. (2) Make the CFPB budget subject to specific Congressional control – meaning the Congress can cut the budget until there is no way the agency can do its job. (3) Require a cost benefit analysis of every rule promulgated by the agency – which means if the regulation “costs too much” for the preservation of bank profits the rule dies. (4) Prohibit the CFPB from cutting off “access” to fraudulent or abusive bank practices and products.  In other words, the bankers have the CHOICE to offer any product they wish and if you buy in and get scammed that was your choice as a consumer.

Now it’s time to return to Representative Heck’s own words: “…Dodd Frank financial reform legislation, have hurt economic growth and make it more costly and burdensome for businesses to expand and add workers.” 

Does Representative Heck believe that they current structure of the CFPB as an independent agency is a weakness?  Does he believe that it should be subject to Congressional pressure to weaken its enforcement activities?  Is CFPB protection from fraudulent practices and products really denying Americans “choices” in financial products?

If the “Financial Choice Act” (essentially a repeal of Dodd Frank) came up for a vote in the House today would Representative Heck vote in favor of it?

And how does he feel about the House GOP charges that the CFPB was late to the game and didn’t handle the Wells Fargo case adequately?

“Where was the CFPB? Why did they come in so late to the game?” he continued. “They have immense powers and this is their job to enforce these basic consumer laws and it appears they were asleep at the switch.”

Hensarling also has criticized regulators for the $185-million settlement with the bank, which allowed Wells Fargo to avoid admitting any wrongdoing. 

The controversy over the San Francisco-based financial institution has become the latest flash point in a bitter battle between Republicans and Democrats over the fate of the CFPB, which was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank overhaul of financial regulations.

The legislation passed with almost no GOP support. Ever since, House and Senate Republicans have been trying unsuccessfully to reduce the power of the bureau, arguing it was designed to avoid congressional oversight and has limited consumer’s access to credit through over-regulation.” [LATimes]

Interesting that the very Republicans who were trying to reduce the power and capacity of the CFPB to regulate lending practices are now trying to blame the agency for not doing enough, fast enough.

“Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said Republicans are pushing “a false narrative” about the CFPB’s role in the Wells Fargo case in order to discredit the agency.

“The fact is the CFPB and OCC were investigating before the L.A. Times story came out,” he said. “But that does not mean that the leading congressional opponent of the CFPB won’t try to pitch that narrative again at this hearing because it plays to his base. But it’s simply false.” [LATimes]

Nice try, Rep. Hensarling, but there’s an ample record of Republican opposition to the creation, organization, and implementation of the CFPB to make any contention that the 1,600 man/woman agency wasn’t trying to do its job in regard to the egregious practices of Wells Fargo. As the old saw goes: That dog won’t hunt.

So, the next question to Representative Heck (and Hardy and Amodei too) is: In light of the Wells Fargo scandalous behavior and the bilking of its own customers, what are you advocating to increase the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to actually protect PEOPLE and not the bankers who have been scamming them?  No one chooses to get bilked, and no one should have to tolerate banks who chose to bilk their customers.  Period.

** On the other hand Nevadans who want adequate protection from illegal, illicit, and otherwise unethical banking practices have an advocate running for the U.S. Senate – Catherine Cortez Masto, who has a track record of taking on the big banking interests on behalf of us “little people who pay taxes.”   A candidate with an endorsement from the woman who fought for the CRPB, Elizabeth Warren:

“I’m so grateful to have Senator Warren’s support,” said Cortez Masto. “Senator Warren and I are both committed to taking on the big banks, protecting consumers, homeowners and helping to grow the middle class – issues I championed as Attorney General and hope continue doing in the U.S. Senate with her. Unlike my opponent Joe Heck who has voted to keep tax breaks for big corporations and billionaires like the Koch brothers, I will fight for policies that help hard working Nevadans, not hurt them.”

“Catherine’s race is critical to restoring our Democratic majority,” said Senator Warren. “During her two terms as Nevada’s Attorney General, Catherine held big banks accountable and fought predatory lending, cracked down on sex trafficking and got tough on elderly, child, and domestic abusers. Catherine knows who she’s fighting for and I need her fighting alongside me in the Senate.” [Link]

And there’s the choice – let the banks make the choices? Or, protect people from the banks’ bad choices.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Heck, koch brothers, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans

That Changing Trump Tax Plan and the People Who Love It

 Trump Tax Plan It’s time to haul out the old Etch-A-Sketch template from the Romney campaign for another deployment in the Trump 2016 version – Trump has offered two tax policy proposals.  Neither one accomplishes much more than exacerbating the problems of the current tax code; in fact they’d both do more damage than good.  

Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) candidate for the Nevada Senate seat and Danny Tarkanian, perpetual candidate and now a contestant for the 3rd Congressional District seat, have both endorsed Donald Trump as their choice for president, and here’s what they’re getting in the bargain.

A Tax Plan for the Top 0.1%

Bracketology: The Tax Policy Center analyzed the initial Trump Tax Proposal (December edition) and this release was followed by significant changes in the original proposal as of August 16, 2016.   And here comes the confusion:

“Trump’s original tax plan included defined brackets, which have since been removed from his campaign website. Trump’s standard deduction increase would make the first $25,000 in income tax-exempt. According to his original plan, the lowest bracket would then apply to all taxable income between $25,000 and $50,000 for single taxpayers, the middle tax rate would be assessed on income of $50,001 to $150,000 and the highest rate would apply to income above $150,000. For married couples, the income ranges would be double these amounts.”  [Motley Fool]

And now:

“As a practical matter, Trump’s plan features a sizable tax-free bracket. He wants to quadruple the standard deduction (currently $6,300) to $25,000 for single filers and $50,000 for joint filers. As a result, about half the population wouldn’t pay income tax.” [TaxAnalyst]

As everyone who has ever filed with the IRS knows full well, what a person actually pays is tax on the adjusted income – income after deductions. If we don’t know what the allowable deductions are then it’s almost impossible to discern what the tax proposal actually means for the average tax payer.  It also isn’t helpful that the ‘defined brackets’ have been removed from the policy section of the Trump info-site.  We can guess that the 12% rate goes for those with taxable incomes between $25,000 and $50,000; 25% for those with taxable income between $50,000 and $150,000; and, 33% for those with taxable income over $150,000.

Who plays in the Brackets?  Here comes the fun, and the way the Trump Tax Plan benefits the upper income earners.   We need to look at Trump’s “pass through entities.”   This is a loophole not only large enough to drive a tractor trailer through, but most of the freight cars on the Union Pacific as well.

“Trump would go one step further, creating an enormous tax loophole for the rich by applying his 15 percent corporate rate to “pass-through” entities as well. Pass-through entities are businesses whose income are not taxed at the corporate level, but rather passed through entirely to the businesses’ owners and then taxed at the owners’ individual income-tax levels. High-income households can easily avoid paying their full income tax bill by reclassifying their income as pass-through income. This loophole allows Trump to claim that he is closing the carried interest loophole, while actually lowering the rate that hedge fund managers would pay from 23.8 percent to 15 percent.”  [EPI]

In 2012 the state of Kansas under the direction of Governor Sam Brownback and a GOP controlled legislature enacted this loophole with disastrous budget results, because of  reduced taxation rates for LLC’s, S Corps, partnerships, farms, and sole proprietorships.

The normally extremely conservative Tax Foundation is not amused:

When the exemption was passed in 2012, it was projected that 191,000 entities would take advantage of the provision. As more and more people have realized the very sizeable tax advantage of being a pass-through entity in Kansas, that number ended up being 330,000 claimants, over 70 percent more than was anticipated.  It’s important to note here that while decreasing taxes is generally associated with greater economic growth, the pass-through carve out is primarily incentivizing tax avoidance, not job creation. [TaxFnd]  (emphasis added)

Thud.  That’s the sound of budget and revenue problems hitting the floor as a result of a ‘carve out’ for the top income earners disguised as a tax cut for small businesses.  Here’s a simple example. If I were earning $165,000 per year working for the Acme Explosives Company, I would ask my employer Wile E. Coyote to immediately re-hire me as an “independent contractor.”  I would re-create myself as an “S” corporation. Handy, since I live in Nevada which doesn’t have a personal income tax, and thus doesn’t recognize the federal S corporation election.  I file the paperwork, get my EIN number, pay some fees, and bingo! – I am taxed at the 15% rate rather than 33%.  There is obviously no job creation here – just a wonderful and perfectly legal way for me to reduce my “bracket” at the expense of those who don’t have the wherewithal to follow my shady example.

The Wichita Eagle editorial board summarizes:

“As part of the 2012 tax cuts, about 300,000 business owners in Kansas don’t have to pay state taxes on pass-through business income. Not only do many Kansas wage earners think this is unfair, so do some of the business owners receiving the tax break – especially when the state is facing serious budget problems.  The exemption is costing Kansas about $260 million a year in revenue. And contrary to what Gov. Sam Brownback promised, it hasn’t acted “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.”

Trump, Tarkanian, and Heck would seemingly like to have Nevada and 48 other states go the way of Kansas?  Only if we’d like to raise tax avoidance and cheating to an art form.

Playing with Children:  Another element of the Trump Tax proposal is the child care tax deduction, and here too the top 1% fare very well thank you.   It’s important to remember at this point that the economic value of a tax deduction increases with the marginal rate of the payer. Or, the higher your tax bracket the more valuable the deduction – for child care.  The deduction is of no use whatsoever to someone already in the Zero bracket but is ever so helpful for those in the upper income levels.

Playing for the Children:  Mr. Trump is pleased to tell us that the Federal Estate Tax is a “horrible weapon which has destroyed many families…”  Not. So. Fast.  “Today’s estate tax is only imposed on less than 0.2 percent of households. Fewer than two estates in a thousand pay it. More than 2.5 million Americans die each year, but less than 5,000 estates were taxed in 2014. Only estates of $5.4 million or more must pay any estate tax at all.” [C&L]   Perhaps it is not too much to return to the appellation “The Paris Hilton Legacy Protection Act,” for this long sought GOP gift to the rich.

There are some serious questions which should be posed to Mr. Trump and his supporters like Mr. Tarkanian and Representative Heck:

#1.  What exactly are the specified brackets in the modified Trump tax policy proposal?  We can assume that the new rates apply to the old brackets but without clarification from the campaign there are significant questions about the revenue projections (or revenue deficit projections) which remain unanswered.  Do those brackets leave us with a revenue deficit of $3 trillion over ten years?  [Tax Analyst] If so, thus much for budget balancing and other forms of fiscal contortion.

#2. Does Trump mean to allow individuals to avail themselves of the Great Pass Through Tax Dodge?  If so, how does he intend to avoid what’s happened in Kansas?

#3. Does Trump intend to provide child care deductions for the rich while working families see none of the economic benefits of it?

#4. Do Mr. Trump, Mr. Tarkanian, and Representative Heck really mean to advocate for estate tax avoidance for those estates of $4.5 million or more? For less that 0.2% of the United States population?

We may have to wait for Trump Tax Policy 3.0 before these questions can be fully answered?

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Filed under Economy, Heck, income tax, Nevada politics, tax revenue, Taxation

Trump The Business Man?

Business bankruptcy

One of the more simplistic ways to consider Donald Trump’s appeal to some Republican voters is to say that he is a business man and therefore will be able to “take care” of members of the business community.  Not. So. Fast.

There is a difference between being in business and being successful at business.  A person could argue that Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay were good (successful) businessmen, but what they did with the Enron Corporation was definitively criminal.  [BI]  Lehman Brothers was a profitable investment firm, but with $639 billion in assets and $619 billion in debts it ultimately failed, becoming one of the biggest bankruptcies in the U.S. [Invest]  We could add Washington Mutual, World Com, Conseco, and others to this list [Fortune] but the point’s been made. 

There is a difference between managing a business and growing a business.  Let’s assume for the moment that a person can manage a business (allocate resources, find revenue, and manage debt) without necessarily growing that business.  If a person is in the business of buying and selling businesses, then the focus tunes into how profitably the business can be sold – not necessarily a focus on how to grow the business into profitability.  And, at this point Mr. Trump’s business experience in Atlantic City is instructive:

“On the presidential campaign trail, Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, often boasts of his success in Atlantic City, of how he outwitted the Wall Street firms that financed his casinos and rode the value of his name to riches. A central argument of his candidacy is that he would bring the same business prowess to the Oval Office, doing for America what he did for his companies.” [NYT]

There’s a persistent argument that the demise of Mr. Trump’s casino operations in Atlantic City was a function of a general downturn in casino profitability during his ownership period, however that was not the entire explanation – Trump’s operations were in trouble before the slow down began.

“…a close examination of regulatory reviews, court records and security filings by The New York Times leaves little doubt that Mr. Trump’s casino business was a protracted failure. Though he now says his casinos were overtaken by the same tidal wave that eventually slammed this seaside city’s gambling industry, in reality he was failing in Atlantic City long before Atlantic City itself was failing.” [NYT]

The formula was flawed from the beginning. First, Trump took on debt that was far too expensive.  Second, he delayed payments on the indebtedness.  Third, go into bankruptcy and convince bondholders to take less money (known unkindly as a haircut) rather than come out of the ordeal with nothing at all.  Finally, he took the companies public and placed the onerous debt burden on the shareholders.  Ultimately he lost control of the companies.   If this sounds more like Ken Lay, Andrew Fastow, and Bernard Ebbers than Warren Buffett, Dennis Gartman, and Howard Marks you’d be correct.

And in his wake:

“At the nearly deserted eastern end of the boardwalk, the Trump Taj Mahal, now under new ownership, is all that remains of the casino empire Donald J. Trump assembled here more than a quarter-century ago. Years of neglect show: The carpets are frayed and dust-coated chandeliers dangle above the few customers there to play the penny slot machines.”  [NYT]

There are good and bad ways of doing business.  Perhaps a good way to describe the difference is that the following should not be said of a person on his way out:

“He put a number of local contractors and suppliers out of business when he didn’t pay them,” said Steven P. Perskie, who was New Jersey’s top casino regulator in the early 1990s. “So when he left Atlantic City, it wasn’t, ‘Sorry to see you go.’ It was, ‘How fast can you get the hell out of here?’” [NYT]

The negative feelings were not without substance.   Edward Friel’s cabinetry business went under after Trump left the company unpaid for services rendered.  He wasn’t alone.

“At least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings reviewed by the USA TODAY NETWORK, document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work. Among them: a dishwasher in Florida. A glass company in New Jersey. A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others.” [USAT]

There was more:

“In addition to the lawsuits, the review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens — filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies or his properties claiming they were owed money for their work — since the 1980s. The liens range from a $75,000 claim by a Plainview, N.Y., air conditioning and heating company to a $1 million claim from the president of a New York City real estate banking firm. On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing.” [USAT]

Carpeting firms, cabinet makers, plumbers, painters… all discovered what Trump’s bondholders knew.   Mr. Trump would incur debts, refuse to pay up citing convenient  circumstances, and then (to the bondholders) threaten bankruptcy or to the small business owners threaten protracted litigation, and “get out” of paying his debts.  Little wonder Atlantic City was happy to see the back of him. Whatever core values Trump’s businesses might have aspired to they weren’t enough to keep him in business.

Core Values are important.  This is as good a summation as there might be:

“Company values are not a statement of mission or commercial vision. They are priceless words, becoming the soul and force field of your business, preserving and protecting it from external and internal agents capable of compromising its survival and reputation.

When willfully and forcibly implemented into a company culture, values have extraordinary democratic benefits including increased employee alignment, motivation, loyalty, efficiency, cohesiveness and consistency of interpretation. Zero or weak implementation of values result in shifting integrity benchmarks, exposing organizations to higher political chess-playing and integrity management challenges, raising bureaucratic, operational, human resource, ombudsperson, legal and arbitration costs.” [Endeavor]

What does it say about Trump companies’ core values when there is endless litigation, mechanics liens, payroll disputes, bankruptcies, and bondholders and shareholders left holding the baggage?

Without a solid set of core business values the enterprise is reduced to gamesmanship – how much indebtedness can I shift to others? – how much less can I get a bondholder to accept? – how much can I get taken off a bill for services and supplies rendered?  — how little can I pay employees and still retain a workforce?   Thus we find Mr. Trump, not at the top of the business world with the Buffetts, Marks, and Gartmans but along side those who played “the game” and were ultimately found wanting; the Skillings, the Fastows, the Fulds, and the Ebbers.

Caveat Emptor indeed.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Republicans

Trump’s Economic Siren Song

Siren Song The words “Trump” and “plan” should really never be used in the same sentence. Witness the speech to the Detroit Economic Club.  Here’s what the Reuters News Service gleaned from Trump’s speech:

“Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday proposed tax breaks for working families and for corporations as he outlined economic plans in an effort to regain momentum lost during a damaging spate of controversies.

Trump said his plan would include imposing a temporary moratorium on new federal regulations and a reduction to the tax burden on working parents with childcare costs.

He proposed cutting the number of federal income tax brackets from seven to three and reducing the top rate to 33 percent from 39.6 percent. He had previously said he would drop that rate to 25 percent, an idea many tax experts said would dramatically reduce government income and balloon deficits.”

First, notice in the second line of the article quoted above that Mr. Trump “outlined economic plans,” NOT offered any specifics —  those will come later, just as every other suggestion made by the Republican nominee will come later, if at all.  If ever.

The Rich Get Richer and 88.7% Get Nothing

Secondly, those “tax breaks for working families” aren’t for all working families just some of them – even the Wall Street Journal noticed:

“It wasn’t clear how such a tax break might be structured and whether it would be available to tens of millions of families that don’t pay income taxes because they have lower incomes. Making child-care expenses fully deductible would provide much larger benefits to the wealthiest families that have larger tax bills.”

Nice.  However, we can clarify this to some extent.  The Tax Policy Center offers this information about working families, tax bills, and who needs the help the most:

“Only 11.3 percent of households in the bottom income quintile will pay federal income tax in 2015. In contrast, 59.3 percent of households in the lowest income quintile will owe payroll taxes. Combined, 60.3 percent of households in the lowest income quintile will owe federal income or payroll taxes.

In many cases, low-income households owe no income tax. That’s because, in 2015, a married couple with two children can exempt $28,600 from income using the standard deduction and personal and dependent exemptions. Generally, smaller amounts can be exempted from smaller households and larger amounts from larger households.”

The arithmetic is simple. Only a bit over 11% of households in the bottom income quintile owe federal income taxes – and these are the ones which would benefit from Trump’s “deduction.”  What the other 88.7% of the families in that quintile get from Mr. Trump’s “plan” is nothing.

Deregulation

We’ve heard this song before.  More specifically, a campaign aide told the Wall Street Journal, this means Trump wants to slash EPA regulation on carbon pollution, and halt the preservation of wetlands and waterways.  Nothing new here.  It’s the same GOP rhetoric of old, conflating all regulation with EPA and conservation rules.  This, while 1/3rd of the residents of California still lived in areas as of 2014 which did not meet Clean Air standards. [LA Times]

Reporters slid by deregulation of the financial sector (read: Wall Street Casino) However, this past May the Republican candidate called for dismantling the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, and reversing the regulations in the Dodd Frank Act.  [Fortune]  There’s nothing new here either, just more generalized GOP talking points.

Jolly Little Trade Wars?

“At the same time, Mr. Trump has promised to aggressively use executive power to renegotiate trade agreements, to label foreign countries as currency manipulators and to apply tariffs and other penalties to trading partners.”  [WSJ]

Lovely.  First, China is our Number One import partner.  Mexico is second, and Canada third.  [Census FT]  We’ve imported $212.2 billion worth of stuff from China thus far this year; $145.2 from Mexico; and, $137 billion from Canada.  Not surprisingly these three are also our top three export partners, in order: Canada, Mexico, and China. [Census FT] Is Mr. Trump truly suggesting that we get into economic battles with our top three economic partners?  Are we really going to benefit from practicing Hoover-ian Protectionism in relation to our top three partners?

Trump said:

“At the center of my plan is trade enforcement with China. This alone could return millions of jobs into our economy.

China is responsible for nearly half of our entire trade deficit. They break the rules in every way imaginable. China engages in illegal export subsidies, prohibited currency manipulation, and rampant theft of intellectual property. (65 66) They also have no real environmental or labor protections, further undercutting American workers.”

[…] Trade has big benefits, and I am in favor of trade. But I want great trade deals for our country that create more jobs and higher wages for American workers. Isolation is not an option, only great and well- crafted trade deals are.” [Time]

Yes, Chinese manufacturing policies are heinous.  However, what Mr. Trump has on offer IS protectionism and isolation; no matter how politely it’s phrased.   Or how vaguely it’s expressed, as on Trump’s website explanation.  Missing from the Detroit address and the website mentions are the 35% tariffs Mr. Trump proposed last May. [National Review]

Further, Mr. Trump appears to be operating on the happy delusion that simply declaring China to be a currency manipulator will force them to re-negotiate our trade deals.  Not. So. Fast.  Manipulation is in the eye of the beholder.

“Reasonable people can and do disagree about how countries conduct their monetary policies: what price should the central bank fix, or at what pace should that fix evolve. But to label as manipulation the conduct of monetary policy itself betrays a fundamental confusion about the operation and goals of central banks. If Zhou Xiaochuan,governor of the People’s Bank of China, is a currency manipulator, then Janet Yellen is an interest-rate manipulator.” [WSJ]

As is becoming all too noticeable, Mr. Trump’s understanding of the monetary policies involved is essentially shallow. The Wall Street Journal continues:

“Movements in the nominal yuan exchange rate have almost no long-term impact on global flows of exports and imports or on broader considerations such as average wages. The exchange rate that matters for trade flows is the real exchange rate, i.e., the nominal exchange rate adjusted for local-currency prices in both countries.

The real exchange rate, in turn, reflects the deep forces of comparative advantage such as technology and endowments of labor and capital. These forces drive trade regardless of monetary policy.”

Sorry, Mr. Trump, it seems as though a bit more sophisticated understanding of exchange rates is necessary – and, no, merely declaring China a “currency manipulator” isn’t likely to do much, and certainly not much in terms of wages for American workers.  It really would do Mr. Trump some good if he’d check out the article by the Dean of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in the WSJ. [ Also WPO Blog, CFR, and then of course there are the Federalists]  Little wonder Republican economists are jumping ship.

Bottom Line Towards the Bottom of the Barrel

It isn’t hard to summarize Trump’s “Economic Plan,” – first, it’s not a plan.  It is an aspirational outline of economic ideas, none of which are anything new. Romney suggested declaring China a “currency manipulator” during his campaign, and the anti-regulation rhetoric goes back to the 1971 Powell Memo. It’s rather more a laundry list of Republican wishes – deregulate, repeal the Affordable Care Act, bash China, and ‘act strong.’   In this, Mr. Trump seems to be unable to differentiate between acting and posturing.  The speech was all pose in bad prose.

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Filed under Economy, Politics, Republicans

Wage Discrimination is an Economic, not just family, Issue

Rosie Riveter

Consider the following report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research:

“Women are almost half of the workforce. They are the equal, if not main, breadwinner in four out of ten families. They receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men. In 2015, female full-time workers made only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 21 percent. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio.”

DB’s ranted on about this before: (2013)

“Women are having a tough time in the present economy, and the situation isn’t made any better by the wage gap.  NPWF reports: ” In Nevada, on average, a woman who holds a full-time job is paid $35,484 per year while a man who holds a full-time job is paid $41,803 per year. ” (pdf)  This has some very real economic consequences for the state since 125,402 households in Nevada are headed by women. In 32,479 of those households the income is below the poverty line.  Thus 25.89% of those households are barely getting by.”

And on the GOP filibuster of the Paycheck Fairness Act (2014).  However, it really is necessary to broaden the discussion – equal pay for equal work is not just a “woman’s issue,” nor is it a “family issue.” It’s an economic issue.

Once more, let’s look at the reality of what happens when men and women aren’t paid equally for equal work.

In the state of Nevada right now, the average annual wage for a food service manager is $62,160. Pay ranges from $18.51 per hour to $46.97 per hour with a mean wage of $29.89/hr. [NDETR calc]  Let’s keep all the variables such as experience, tenure, and specialization, the same, and concentrate solely on what would happen if two people of the same level of experience, expertise, and skills were to be paid based on gender.  Let’s have our hypothetical male food service manager paid the annual average of $62,160 per year.  This means that our hypothetical female food service manager would receive 79% of that, or $49,106.

If both our male and female food service managers were being paid $62,160 per year, and if both were in the same household then the household income would be $124,320.  Now, here’s why this is an economic issue and not merely a “gender” one.

If our male and female food service managers are paid along the lines of the 79 cents for every dollar that holds nationally, then the total household income is reduced.  That $124,320 in total household income drops to $112,266, a reduction in income of $12,054.

That $12,054 is money NOT spent at the grocery store, or at the furniture store, or the clothing store, or at the restaurant, or the automobile dealership, or the carpet center, or the movie theater. It is NOT spent on educational expenses, books, and Internet service. It is NOT spent on sporting goods, family entertainment, or automobile parts and service.  It is NOT spent at the florists’ shop, or the cabinet-maker’s store, or the barber shop, or the beauty salon.  It can’t be spent because they don’t have it.

The only way to avoid talking about this simple arithmetic is to prattle on about “Job Creators” and the Trickle Down Economics Hoax. “Supply side economics” is a theory in search of statistics – it doesn’t work in the real world, and it never has.   If there is no demand for goods or for a service, there will be no jobs created.  And, there will be no demand IF people don’t have the money to spend for those goods and services.

Once more, here’s the First Law of Personnel Management:

First Law Personnel ManagementHow are businesses in this country supposed to SUSTAIN demand for goods and services if the female employees in the country, who are doing the same jobs as their male counterparts, aren’t able to contribute the same amount to the family’s disposable income?

So, tell me, how do we grow the economy of the United States of America, an economy based in no small part of consumer spending, if we artificially limit the amount of income contributed to family coffers by women?

There are 123 million women ages 16 and above in the United States, and 72 million (58.6%) are working or looking for work. Women are now 47% of the total U.S. labor force, and they are projected to account for 51% of the increase in the total labor force between 2008 and 2018.  73% of employed women are working full time, while 27% are employed on a part time basis. [DoL]

We are no longer talking about the “little woman” working outside the home for some ‘pocket money.”  We are talking about two-income families, both incomes being necessary to move toward the middle class life style or to maintain it.   If a family of four, with an annual income of $112,266 lives in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, their income is comparable to 56% of those adults in that area. That’s the middle. [Pew Calculator] Diminish the second income and we diminish the whole.

Diminish the whole and we diminish the potential for economic growth.  Equal pay for equal work is simply dollars toward a stronger economy and old fashioned common sense.

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Filed under Economy, labor, Nevada economy, Politics, sexism, women, Women's Issues

And They Voted To What? House GOP wants to drop the new fiduciary rule

Money Pile 2

The Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives did try to do some business in the midst of the Democratic representatives’ sit in, and a miserable bit of business it was.

“House Republicans on Wednesday failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to block the Obama administration’s controversial standards for financial advisers.  The House voted 239-180 to block the fiduciary rule, well more than 40 votes short of the total needed.

Wednesday night’s vote came as Democrats staged a sit-in on the House floor, starting around nearly 12 hours earlier, to push for a vote on legislation to prevent terror suspects from buying guns.”  [TheHill]

There’s a little story about priorities herein.  While the Democrats were trying to get the leadership to schedule votes on gun safety legislation, the Republicans were trying to make it easier for financial advisers to rip people off. [TP]

Let’s try to make this as simple as humanly possible.  “Fiduciary” /fəˈdooSHēˌerē,-SHərē/, “ involving trust, especially with regard to the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary.”   Think of that pile of money in the graphic above as your savings. You have trusted a financial adviser to tell you the best investments you can make to get a good return on your savings, especially for your retirement account.   You are trusting that what your investment and/or financial adviser is telling you is in your best interest.

The Department of Labor has drafted a rule to require your financial adviser to act in your best interest regarding your investments – and not to give you advice on financial products that will do more for the investment advisers than they will do for you.  In short, it’s a matter of trust —  you should be able to trust what your financial adviser is telling you. You should be able to trust that the advice isn’t intended to feather the nests of the investment advisers instead of yours.

So, what have the Republicans been doing?  Return with us now to the Senate side of the Capitol building.  On May 24, 2016 the Republican controlled Senate voted to kill the Labor Department rule. [vote 84]  The vote was 56-41, obviously not sufficient to over-ride the promised veto.  And, who voted along with other Republicans to kill the rule? None other than our own Bankers’ Boy, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV).

HJ Res 88 Senate Vote

Now, let’s return to the House side of the Capitol Building.  HJ Res 88, “ On disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to the definition of the term “Fiduciary,” on passage, the objections of the President to the contrary notwithstanding… [vote 338] And who from the great state of Nevada voted to kill the rule?  Representatives Mark Amodei (R-NV2), Cresent Hardy (R-NV4), and Joe Heck (R-NV3).  Who as a member of Nevada’s congressional delegation did NOT vote to allow financial advisers to act in their own best interests rather than yours – Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1). The attempt to overturn the Labor Department rule failed 239-180.  The Republicans needed a 2/3rds majority to get rid of the rule, and thanks to Representative Titus and 179 other members of the House they didn’t get it.

In spite of the Republicans’ best efforts – your financial adviser will now have to offer investment advice based on what is in YOUR best interests – and not peddle financial products that will garner fees, kickbacks, and other “revenue enhancement” for the advisers.

And, THIS is what the Republicans thought was more important than scheduling votes on gun safety in America.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Heck, Heller, Nevada politics, Republicans

Senator Heller’s Choke Point

Heller Amendment Operation Choke Point

One thing in life is almost more certain than death and taxes – if there is legislation that the banking industry wants then Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) will be quite happy to sponsor it, carry water for it, vote for it, and then remind anyone who is still listening how he’s a Man for the Consumers because he once voted against the “bail-out.”   To see Senator Heller’s latest foray into playing the Banker’s Boy one needs to dig a bit, unearthing S.Amdt 4715 to S.Amdt 4685 amending HR 2578, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2016.

Senator Heller has teamed up with Senators Vitter, Crapo, Paul, Lee, and Cruz to insert the following: 

Sec. __.  None of the funds made available in this Act may
    be used to carry out the program known as “Operation Choke
    Point”. [Cong.gov]

What is Operation Choke Point and what was it intended to do?  The Department of Justice was disturbed by reports that fraudulent merchants had found a way around federal banking regulations and once they inserted themselves into the banking system they could team with payment processors to initiate debit transactions against consumer’s accounts and have the amounts transmitted to their own accounts.

Even more disturbing, the Department’s investigations revealed that some third party processors knew that the merchants with whom they were working were frauds but they continued to process their transactions in direct violation of federal law.  [Harris pdf]

So, for example, Quickie Check Instant Lending could get a customer to sign a loan agreement for some outrageous amount of interest, and then hand the item over to a payment processor.  With some cooperation from the bank (usually garnered by providing a handsome fee thereto) the payment processor would have the bank make automatic debits to the person’s account.  Or, say, the Fast Weight Loss Pill Factory got an order from John Q. Public, and the payment processor + bank would insure that John’s bank account was regularly debited for the fraudulent product, or for products not delivered, or whatever scam was being run.

The idea behind Choke Point was to gather information from banks which appeared to be engaged in fraud, or might have evidence of fraudulent conduct by others. Subpoenas were issued, and indeed there were some banks doing some rather obnoxious business.  [See Fair Oaks Bank]  The Fair Oaks Bank had received hundreds of notices from consumers’ banks that the people whose bank accounts were being charged had NOT authorized the payments; had evidence that more than a dozen merchants served by the payment processor had “return rates” over 30% and one had a “return rate” over 70%; and, Fair Oaks had evidence of efforts by merchants to conceal their real identities.

One of the obvious targets are payday lenders who were operating in violation of state regulations regarding the amount of interest that could be charged to a customer.  As the New York Times explained back in January 2014:

“The new, more rigorous oversight could have a chilling effect on Internet payday lenders, which have migrated from storefronts to websites where they offer short-term loans at interest rates that often exceed 500 percent annually. As a growing number of states enact interest rate caps that effectively ban the loans, the lenders increasingly depend on the banks for their survival. With the banks’ help, the lenders that typically work with a third-party payment processor that has an account at the banks are able, authorities say, to automatically deduct payments from customers’ checking accounts even in states where the loans are illegal.”

The object of Choke Point was to cut the insidious relationship between the banks, the processors, and the fraudsters – or choke it off.  If one wanted to promote the interests of the payday lenders, third party processors, and banks willing to turn a blind eye toward the nature of these transactions – there are fewer ways much better than to hamstring the Department of Justice’s investigations into these kinds of transactions.  However, that is precisely what Senator Heller is proposing.

The DoJ’s investigations were also reviled because some of the ammosexuals among us got the idea that if pawn shops couldn’t use the untraditional routes for payment, therefore the whole operation was one giant gun grab. Senators Cruz and Lee bought this horse and have been riding it for some time now.  One quick visit to Politifact will demolish the SunTrust Bank/Brooksville Pawn shop story that made the rounds in 2015.

“SunTrust announced in a Aug. 8, 2014, press release that the bank had “decided to discontinue banking relationships with three types of businesses – specifically payday lenders, pawn shops and dedicated check-cashers – due to compliance requirements.” The bank still works with firearms dealers, according to the release.” [Politifact]

Hence, the policy decision made by SunTrust was no more “anti-gun” than it was anti-jewelry, anti-guitar, anti-CD, anti-work out equipment, or anything else  in a pawn shop.

There are some salient features of this story – once again Senator Heller who delights in his description as a “moderate,” has teamed up with some of the most radical members of the GOP in the U.S. Senate (witness his previous alliances with Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC).  Once again Senator Heller has sided with the payday lenders against any action taken to regulate their relationships with their customers. And, once more Senator Heller has demonstrated his willingness to carry any water in any bucket the American Bankers’ Association wants him to transport to the Senate floor.

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Filed under banking, Economy, financial regulation, fraud, Heller, Nevada politics