USA i Dag: Europa i periferien

Tirsdagens USA I DAG klumme var skrevet af Helle Dale, der arbejder for The Heritage Foundation, og den er kommet online. Et udpluk:

Forholdet med Kina bliver en af de mere interessante udviklinger at følge. I Beijing erklærede Hillary, at diskussionen om menneskerettigheder ikke burde stå i vejen for diskussionen om andre vitale spørgsmål i forholdet mellem USA og Kina. Det er ikke den retorik, man er vant til at høre fra amerikanske ledere, men det blev naturligvis modtaget med åbne arme af den kinesiske regering.

Om få uger vil præsidenten selv få anledning til at prøve sine talenter som kommunikator, når han kommer til NATO-topmødet i Europa. Vil der være mere end Obamas stil og charme for europæerne at beundre? Efter hans administrations første måneds tid ved magten er det i det mindste klart, at Europa nok må forvente en plads længere ude i periferien af USAs udenrigspolitk, end Europa har været vant til.

Morning Links on Obama’s speech to Congress

WSJ editorial on Barack Obama’s Address to Congress (which I found both impressive and vague).

Mr. Obama clearly believes the recession has created a political moment when Americans are frightened enough to be open to a new era of expanded government. The question is whether his vast ambitions will allow the private economy to grow enough even to begin to pay for it all.

We watched the speech last night, almost by coincidence. 52 minues on the “state of the nation”, outlining the President’s economic policy. Probably his most important speech since his Inauguration. However, though the speech got wild applause in Congress (did you see the extatic Nancy Pelosi?), and New York Times and Washington Post appreciated the many proposals and five-year plans with some reservations, they didn’t go down well in all quarters.

Op-ed by Holman Jenkins here:

Put away the idea that more government control is the cure for health care. We already bribe, through supremely asinine tax policy, the most affluent, capable consumers on the planet not to use their smarts to make sure the system returns value for money.

Let’s fix this — by eliminating the tax subsidy for employer-provided health insurance. Then it might actually become economically feasible to subsidize health care for the needy.

The Economist asks: A brighter future, but who pays? – Good question indeed. It seems like a lot of people can get something for nothing from Obamas plan. Sounds nice, doesn’t make sense.

At a Monday budget summit with congressional leaders and again on Tuesday Mr Obama rightly noted that the cost of old people’s health care and pensions are the country’s biggest long-term fiscal threats, but on neither occasion did he propose how to deal with them. In fairness it is early and stabilising the economy should be Mr Obama’s priority, not long-term fiscal discipline. Premature fiscal tightening could abort a recovery. The summit on Monday and the speech on Tuesday were part of the process of softening up the public for future pain.

Both events also demonstrated that despite being jilted on his quest for some Republican support during the debate on the fiscal stimulus, he is not giving up on his pursuit of bipartisanship. On Tuesday night, at least, Republicans were co-operative, rising in applause almost as often as Democrats.

An earlier Economist article on Obama’s problematic economic plans. Too much done the wrong way, too little done the right way. Escpecially Geithner’s bank plans gets a lot of criticism – it is vague and inconsequential.

Despite talk of trillion-dollar sums, stockmarkets tumbled. Far from boosting confidence, Mr Obama seems at sea.

Update: Tyler Cowen is worried. Matt Welch on The Two Faces of Barack Obama. More from Politico and Reason:

He has consistently pledged to, you know, stop spending right after well, you know, he and Congress stop spending.

Totally unrelated: Christopher Hitchens blasts Avigdor Lieberman‘s authoritarian politics. Lieberman is a kingmaker in the recent Israeli elections and now he wants an “oath of loyalty” from all Israelis, both Arab and Jews.

Where to get a good burger in D.C.

Enough about politics. I’ve decided to write this post in English to expand my reader-base and allow my new-found American friends (if any) to read along. Additionally, I want to improve my written English.

So, where to get a good burger in D.C.? This is probably one of the most important questions – both for the visitor and for the settler in the American capital. I’ve found some good places, but feel free to add others to the list.

When I was growing up, as a child of the 70’es in Denmark, I had a lot of prejudices about the United States. Denmark was, after all, the country where radically socialist parties could get 15 percent of the votes, and where the notion of “American conditions” filled the public with horror. Among these mythic “American conditions” is “bad food” – cheap, fast and out of control.

I remember when a college friend of mine came back from a year in Boston, I asked him “So, wasn’t the food really awful? I guess you could only get sloppy, greasy Burger King, right?” Of course, he answered me: “Are you kidding? They have the best burgers in the world!” And of course they have. Color me prejudiced.

When I later visited the United States on several occasions, I of course found out that you could get any kind of food here, from the most disgusting fast food to the most delicious – and cheap – food of any variety: american, japanese, thai, mexican, italian, whatever. Since this is a (somewhat) free market economy with lots of immigration you can get any quality you want from any ethinic kitchen you want. But I’ve always been looking for that perfect burger place. And I am continuing my search here in Washington D.C.

Old Ebbit Grill – Classic power-broker spotting in central D.C., close to the White House and Treasury Department. Burgers were surprisingly good (good fries), cokes were on refill and the service was great. Classy decor, good value.

Luna Grill and Diner – Excellent and cosy diner close to Dupont Circle. Burgers (especially the meat) were really good.

Ollie’s Trolley – Family-owned fastfood look with patina – a trolley/diner? Classic “Ollie Burger” was surprisingly good, but a bit hard for the stomach. Apparently there are people looking for the Oliieburger recipe!
Will be updated, when I eat more burgers!

Coming up – pictures from D.C!

Kudos to Obama

I’ve many times criticized Barack Obama on this blog, and I still do think many aspects of his economic policies will be harmful. But his opening speech at the “Fiscal Health of the Nation Summit” was candid, and in a lot of ways very “conservative”. Although words like these are much easier to say than to implement, they just needed to be said:

“We cannot and will not sustain deficits like these without end… We cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences,” the president said Monday. He said the government must both confront the current economic crisis and address skyrocketing deficits or “we risk sinking into another crisis down the road.”

“I refuse to leave our children with a debt they cannot repay,” Mr. Obama declared.

More here. Updates: Information and transcripts from The White House here and here.

Right now at spokesman Robert Gibbs’ White House Briefing, both politicians and journalists (except Helen Thomas with her usual non sequiteurs) are actually acknowleding the future implosion of the Social Security funds and the costs of Medicare. I wish that Danish politicians would at some point have an honest debate on the rising costs of welfare as the ratio of workers vs. non-workers change. That is: seeing future liabilities as part of the budget.

Of course, Obama’s goal of halving the deficit at the end of his term is probably wildly unrealistic, considering the speed of spending right now. In the end, it’s probably all rhetoric, but it sounds good.

Obama skulle lytte til Henry Hazlitt

Præsident Obamas økonomiske politik bliver stadig mere ambitiøs og ekspansiv. I dag lanceredes to nye initiativer, der sætter endnu flere af skatteydernes penge på spil: 75 millarder dollars til dårlige huslån og 200 millarder mere til de halv-offentlige institutioner, der udlover huslånene, Fannie Mae og Freddie Mac. Som man måske vil huske, markedere sammenbruddet i Fannie Mae og Freddie Mac i september 2008 starten på den finansielle krise.

Obamas politik er at fortsætte den risikable politik, der forårsagede krisen. Alt for mange huskøbere fik alt for billige lån – blandt andet gennem Fannie Mae og Freddie Mac – som rigtig mange af dem ikke ville have en chance for at betale tilbage. Det førte til en boble i huspriserne, da mange flere købere kom på markedet takket være den lave rente, og uansvarlige banker solgte de dårlige lån videre i forskellige sammenhænge, så låneboblen pustede sig op og eksploderede. Ikke alle problemer i finanskrisen er statens skyld, men en stor del skyldes statens indblanding i lånemarkedet.

Løsningen ville være at lade markedet gøre arbejdet, acceptere de tvangsauktioner, der nu må komme, og dermed få huspriserne ned. Men Obama vælger i stedet at investere skatteydernes penge i at holde huspriserne høje.

Da jeg her til morgen læste disse linjer af Henry Hazlitt – der er skrevet i 1946 – kunne jeg ikke lade være med at smile. Der er intet nyt under solen og politikerne bliver ved med at gentage de samme fejl. Fra Economics In One Lesson:

Government-guaranteed home mortgages, especially when a negligible down payment or no down payment whatever is required, inevitably mean more bad loans than otherwise. They force the general taxpayer to subsidize the bad risks and to defray the losses. They encourage people to “buy” houses that they cannot really afford. They tend eventually to bring about an oversupply of houses as compared with other things. They temporarily overstimulate building, raise the cost of building for everybody (including the buyers of the homes with the guaranteed mortgages), and may mislead the building industry into an eventually costly overexpansion. In brief in the long run they do not increase overall national production but encourage malinvestment.

Stimulus Online

Barack Obama har lovet gennemsigtighed i sin administration. Det lover alle præsidenter, men Obama følger op med – ligesom i sin valgkampagne – at bruge nettet til at dele information. Nu er stimulus-pakken online på www.recovery.gov.

Man kan sige meget negativt om Obamas politik, men han er i det mindste parat til at stille sig selv til ansvar – og stille op til tæsk, hvis hans politik går galt. Nu skal vi lige se, hvor meget information, der rent faktisk kommer på recovery-sitet, og hvor mange feedback-muligheder, man rent faktisk har, men indtil videre er det et prisværdigt initiativ. Obamas økonomiske politik kommer muligvis til at føre til ruin for USA, men i det mindste kæmper han kampen med åben pande.

USA I DAG: “Stimulanser”

Min “USA I DAG” klumme er vist ikke kommet online, så i stedet tillader jeg mig at optrykke den her i sin fulde længde. Citatet fra pressemødet, der omtales i klummen, kan læses på originalsprog i forrige postering. Tyler Cowen citatet kan høres i “This American Life” afsnittet The New Boss.

Stimulanser

Af Lars Hvidberg

Det store emne i USA er og bliver økonomien. Hvor dårligt den har det, og hvad der skal til for at redde den? Er det højere forbrug eller sparsommelighed? Præsident Obama kalder på stimulanser, men taler han i virkeligheden til offentlighedens indre sukker-narkoman?

Obama har netop turneret landet i et forsøg på at sælge sin hjælpepakke (kendt som ’the stimulus’) til befolkningen. Den er nemlig skeptisk. Præsident Bush fumlede en hjælpepakke til bankerne igennem i efteråret, og den er vildt upopulær. Bankerne fik en masse penge, men det fik dem ikke til at låne ud til forbrugerne. I stedet købte de flere privatfly og gav sig selv store bonuser. Men det var jo Bush-regeringens hjælpepakke, forsikrer Obama. Den her er meget bedre.

Muligvis. I hvert fald er Obama en god sælger. Hans pressemøde i sidste uge viste igen, at præsidentens talegaver er helt usædvanlige. Hjemme i sofaen var vi hundrede procent med på Team Obama. Alt hvad præsidenten sagde, lød bare rigtigt. En brugt Trabant årgang 1973, siger du? Hvor skriver jeg under?

Obama er rolig, dialogvillig og gavmild – og alligevel skarp og sammenhængende. Hans styrke er, at han aldrig bliver skinger, men altid er befriende åben – han hører, hvad du siger, selvom han ikke er enig. Det behøver han nu heller ikke at være. Demokraterne har flertal i begge huse, og de stemmer derefter.

Den gode stemning på pressemødet blev kun brudt, da NBC-journalisten Chuck Todd spurgte: ”Hr. Præsident. Du siger, at hjælpepakken vil give borgerne penge på lommen igen. Men var det ikke overforbrug og manglende opsparing, der førte til krisen i første omgang?”

Obama lod sig ikke vælte omkuld af en enkelt lyseslukker. Og han gav ham delvist ret. Vi kan ikke blive ved med at leve over evne, sagde Obama, og på et tidspunkt skal der spares op, og de galopperende velfærdsudgifter skal ses efter i sømmene. Men ikke lige nu. Nu skal vi bruge endnu flere penge! Hjemme i sofaen var den logik lidt svær at forstå. Men præsidenten tror selv på pakken, og han er villig til at sætte sin værdighed på spil. Det er plain talking, og det skal han have tak for.

Som økonomen Tyler Cowen udtalte: Det her er det nærmeste vi kommer på et kontrolleret eksperiment i økonomisk forstand. Hvis hjælpepakken virker, så har Obama ret – og det har også gamle John Meynard Keynes, der hævdede, at staten kan stimulere økonomien ved at bruge penge og lade seddelpressen køre. Hvis pakken ikke virker, så har Keynes’ kritikere (som liberale Milton Friedman) ret – og USA er blevet 800 milliarder dollars fattigere.

Vi får se. Pakken er vedtaget, og selvom der stadig skal files nogle knaster, så kører toget. Det er en dejlig fornemmelse. Det kildrer lidt i maven, som når man tager en tur på en rusten kælk ned af Dødemandsbakken. Opsparing virker så trist og kedeligt. Forbrug er meget sjovere – og halvdelen af hjælpepakken går til skattelettelser. Så er der igen til en frappuccino på Starbucks og sukkersøde Oreos i stedet for billige erstatningskiks. Afholdenhed er for mormoner og nej-sigere. Om 100 år er vi alligevel alle sammen døde, sagde Keynes. Men han havde nu heller ikke nogen børn.

Obamas hjælpepakke

På Barack Obamas første pressemøde siden sin indsættelse forklarede han den økonomiske logik bag den store hjælpepakke (‘the stimulus’):

Now, you are making a legitimate point, Chuck, about the fact that our savings rate has declined and this economy has been driven by consumer spending for a very long time — and that’s not going to be sustainable. You know, if all we’re doing is spending and we’re not making things, then over time other countries are going to get tired of lending us money and eventually the party is going to be over. Well, in fact, the party now is over.

And so the sequence of how we’re approaching this is as follows: Our immediate job is to stop the downward spiral, and that means putting money into consumers’ pockets, it means loosening up credit, it means putting forward investments that not only employ people immediately but also lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth. And that, by the way, is important even if you’re a fiscal conservative, because the biggest problem we’re going to have with our federal budget is if we continue a situation in which there are no tax revenues because economic growth is plummeting at the same time as we’ve got more demands for unemployment insurance, we’ve got more demands for people who’ve lost their health care, more demand for food stamps. That will put enormous strains on the federal budget as well as the state budget.

So the most important thing we can do for our budget crisis right now is to make sure that the economy doesn’t continue to tank. And that’s why passing the economic recovery plan is the right thing to do, even though I recognize that it’s expensive. Look, I would love not to have to spend money right now. This notion that somehow I came in here just ginned up to spend $800 billion, that wasn’t — that wasn’t how I envisioned my presidency beginning. But we have to adapt to existing circumstances.

Now, what we are going to also have to do is to make sure that as soon as the economy stabilizes, investment begins again; we’re no longer contracting but we’re growing; that our mid-term and long-term budget is dealt with. And I think the same is true for individual consumers. Right now they’re just trying to figure out, how do I make sure that if I lose my job, I’m still going to be able to make my mortgage payments. Or they’re worried about how am I going to pay next month’s bills. So they’re not engaging in a lot of long-term financial planning.

Once the economy stabilizes and people are less fearful, then I do think that we’re going to have to start thinking about how do we operate more prudently, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So if you want to get — if you want to buy a house, then putting zero down and buying a house that is probably not affordable for you in case something goes wrong, that’s something that has to be reconsidered.

En konservativ udgave af John Maynard Keynes? Vi bruger penge nu, og sparer senere? Vi skal bare lige over den her hurdle? Lyder tankerne forførende? Tjeck Tyler Cowens indvendinger, og husk på det Milton Friedmans ord: “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

Opdatering: Her er Reason Onlines kommentarer: The Final Instult.

USA I DAG: Hotdogs og tomme skoler

“USA I DAG”-klummen i tirsdags blev skrevet af Henrik Fogh Rasmussen. Den er desværre ikke online, men jeg har fået tilsendt en kopi, og her er et lille uddrag.

Politikerne håber på, at hjælpepakken vil skubbe gang i økonomien. I de kommende måneder vil vi da ganske givet også se en masse nye jobs som et resultat af hjælpepakken. For eksempel vil murerne og tømrerne i Milwaukee i Wisconsin nyde godt af de knap 90 millioner dollar til at bygge nye skoler, som Repræsentanternes Hus vil tildele byen på trods af, at elevtallet er faldende, og at 15 af byens eksisterende skoler står tomme. Og diverse øl- og hotdog­producenter vil sikkert ansætte flere medarbejdere nu, hvor de amerikanske nationalparker står til at få tildelt 100 millioner dollar ekstra til at fejre deres 100-års jubilæum i 2016.

Men hvad vi ikke vil se, er alle de tilsvarende jobs, som vil blive nedlagt eller aldrig blive skabt – netop på grund af hjælpepakken. 800 milliarder dollar er jo ikke noget, man plukker fra træerne eller tryller op af en sort hat. Nogen kommer til at betale.

Det er en god og relevant variant af Frédéric Bastiats klassiske essay om Det man ser og det man ikke ser. Man burde rundsende en kopi til alle amerikanske og danske politikere.

Hvem forudså Finanskrisen?

Vi hører tit, at “ingen” havde forudset Finanskrisen og vi derfor er på bar bund med, hvordan vi skal løse den (bortset fra at forbruge endnu mere). Det er imidlertid ikke rigtigt. Hele den gren af økonomer, der tilhører den østrigske skole – og også en lang række andre økonomer af liberal observans (fx bladet The Economist) – både forudså krisen og advarede imod den igen og igen. En af de stærkeste kritikere af den lån- og forbrugsdrevene økonomiske boble var investeringsmanden Peter Schiff, hvis lille video nu er blevet set 1 million gange på youtube. Læg mærke til, hvordan andre økonomer i videoen nærmest griner af Schiffs forudsigelser. Men han havde ret, og østrigerne havde ret (her i en artikel fra 2004).

Problemet er nu, at selvom flere og flere indser, at ‘østrigerne’ havde ret (historikeren Niall Ferguson udtalte for eksempel for nylig, at forsvarerne for guldstandarden havde ret – den ville kunne forhindre de vanvittige rente-drevne bobler), så har vi stadig kun forstået halvdelen: Vi har brug for en rescession for at økonomien kan komme sig igen. Vi har brug for, at nogle går fallit for at få den massive gæld ud af verden.

Problemet er bare, at rent politisk vil ingen betale prisen, og vi forsøger i stedet at fordele omkostningerne ved den massive gæld ved at fordele den ud over hele samfundet i form af inflation. Det bliver dyrt, og det kommer til at gøre ondt på alle (og ikke bare på dem, der har taget for mange chancer). De fattige og ressourcesvage bliver naturligvis dem, der kommer til at betale den højeste pris, deres indkomst og opsparing kommer til at blive meget mindre værd, mens vores politikere smider penge efter store banker og rige mennesker med dyre huslån. Trist og tåbeligt, men det er den politiiske virkelighed.

Opdatering: Schiffs video giver nu også diskussion på 180grader.