Friday, October 3, 2008

Interesting Times

Earlier today I spoke with my friend Greg Fossedal on the telephone and we agreed that the election is over but for the counting. Obama is opening a lead over McCain that has been expanding ever since the financial crises caught our attention. Neither of us can imagine a scenario that wins the election of McCain. Of course this is the year of the unexpected and our expectation of the electoral outcome smacks of conventional wisdom, which is usually wrong.

Then a gentleman with whom I correspond but who I have never personally met, Peter Poranski (obviously an Irishman), made a comment in an email, which I found fascinating. Peter said that if we elect McCain we'll be a Socialist country in two years, but if we elect Obama we'll be there in six months. So, that leads me to ask, if we are ending up in the same place either way, why vote for the cheap imitation? Clearly "We are the change we have been waiting for!" Obama is the "The Man!"

Nevertheless, all is not well. I write this tonight on my balcony, having watched the sunset over the Potomac, the monuments and, I fear, the Republic.

Today the White House is occupied by a man who pays lip service to Free Markets but then tells the Secretary of the Treasury to do what needs to be done, regardless of the politics and candidate McCain echos that after the Bailout's initial defeat in the House but adds, regardless of the law!

A similar point of view led his predecessor Lyndon Johnson to create the diabolical twins Freddie and Fanny in an effort to hide the financial implications of financing the war in Viet Nam. In 1965, LBJ also brought us the blessings of Medicare, which goes into the red on a cash flow basis in 2010 and depletes it's unfunded Congresional IOUs in 2018; falling 20% short of breakeven thereafter.

Another President, FDR, created another Ponzie Scheme known as Social Security to show "progress" and buy votes in the midst of the Great Depression. This piece of financial sleight of hand goes into cash flow negativity in 2017 and exhausts its unfunded Congressional IOUs in 2042; falling 30% short of returning the "contributions" made by employees thereafter.

Imagine paying into a health insurance plan or savings account and discovering that when you need the money back you should forget about any return on investment at all and will only receive back 80 or 70 cents, respectively on these two entitlement programs, on each dollar of principle you deposited into the system?

Imagine that the consensus solution to put these trains back on the track is to raise the payroll tax, the most regressive tax imposed on Americans, as much as 50% while cutting benefits to close the 20% Medicare and 30% Social Security shortfall.

In other words, all that money we paid into the Medicare and Scoial Seurity surpluses between the 80's and now simply evaporates. Meanwhile we have the satisfaction of knowing the money stolen from each or our pachecks every payday by that bandit FICA has helped fund a solvent and robust Federal Thrift Savings Plan for Federal Employees and Congress Critters, featuring those dreaded personal accounts the rest of us can't be trusted with. FICA has also paid for series of wars, weapons systems and boondogles like the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere." Doesn't all that make you proud to be an American?

Wow, if Wall Street did that we'd all be howling that those greedy capitalists should be sent off to jail. Yet your elected leaders over at least 40+ years have done exactly that. My friends (with apologies to John McCain) we have been taken for a ride. Neiher Senator Status nor Senator Quo, as my friend Greg Fossedal calls Obama and McCain, will change this scenario if elected President this November.

As the old Chinese curse says, "May you live in interesting times." We are well and truly cursed.

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