"The US seems to have gotten the worst of it," said a French friend this morning. We were taken aback. Everyone knows Europe is in a state of permanent crisis. The US seems solid by comparison, no?
"Now that the Supreme Court has approved Obamacare, you have the same problems we have in Europe, social welfare spending with no limits, plus you have your colossal military spending. You have both bread and circuses,' just like the ancient Romans. You are doomed."
Yes, dear reader, we came to the fork in the road after the 9/11 attack. And took it!
Subscribe to MoneyWeek
Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE
And now the feds can fork over whoever and whatever they want. No kidding. They just have to think of it as a tax. Here's the AP's report on yesterday's decision:
Health care law survives with Roberts' help
WASHINGTON (AP) - America's historic health care overhaul, certain now to touch virtually every citizen's life, narrowly survived an election-year battle at the Supreme Court Thursday with the improbable help of conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.
But the ruling, by a 5-4 vote, also gave Republicans unexpected ammunition to energize supporters for the fall campaign against President Barack Obama, the bill's champion- and for next year's vigorous efforts to repeal the law as a new federal tax.
Roberts' vote, along with those of the court's four liberal justices, preserved the largest expansion of the nation's social safety net in more than 45 years, including the hotly debated core requirement that nearly everyone have health insurance or pay a penalty. The aim is to extend coverage to more than 30 million people who now are uninsured.
The question on the table was whether or not the feds could force people to buy health insurance. The supremes decided that yes they could'. It was just like a tax, they said. And the constitution gives the legislators the right to impose taxes, as they see fit.
Let's see. How about forcing all blue-eyed people to go outside, take off all their clothes, and give them to homeless people? That would be a tax too. Guess it's okay.
While the social-welfare state is expanding, so is the police state. Another measure being discussed in Congress would declare the US itself a battlefield or a war zone. This would give the military the right to do what it does without going overseas... and it would give the president the power to direct his kill list towards his domestic enemies.
Then, drones can fly over Kansas or Ohio and whack whomever the feds want.
But who are they gonna take out? No one, or almost no one, opposes the military agenda in the US. There are no serious terrorists and no serious challenges to the spending machine. The two candidates for president agree on the essentials keep the money flowing to the zombie industries, military, education, health and finance. Oh yes, and occasionally toss a few bucks at an industrial business like GM if it has enough unionised employees.
Wait. The US has no serious enemies overseas either. And that doesn't make the racket any less effective. On the contrary, it helps. With no serious enemies to worry about the military industry can spend its money on any damned thing it wants. Lots of boondoggles. Wide profit margins. Low casualties. What's not to like?
But where were we?
We were talking about economists. Specifically, we left off yesterday describing how GDP figures are almost completely worthless. They tell you something; but do they tell you anything important? Apparently not.
You cut our lawn. We pay you. We cut your lawn. You pay us. We both have jobs. And we each pay a portion of our earnings to the government. The GDP goes up. Government revenues increase. And economists tell us we are growing'.
Earlier this week, Paul Krugman cited the experience of the US economy in the early 40s. A burst of federal spending between '40 and '42 produced a 20% lift in output, he says, approvingly. More jobs, more GDP, according to the economists' measures, things were getting better and better.
Were they really? Of course not. The government was spending money on the military. An economist can't tell the difference between a Tiger tank and a BMW. But a passenger can. It doesn't take him long to realise that a tank is no way to travel.
There are times you need to build tanks. But those are not times when you are building wealth and prosperity. Instead, you're spending wealth in order to protect yourself (theoretically, in practice most wars are rackets for both sides). That's what the US was doing in the early 40s spending wealth, not building it.
Which just illustrates our point. If even Nobel Prize winning economists cannot tell the difference between building wealth and spending it, what hope is there for the whole profession?
Don't miss Bill's next Daily Reckoning. To receive the next article straight into your inbox as soon as he's written it, sign up to the email list here .
Information in The Daily Reckoning is for general information only and is not intended to be relied upon by individual readers in making (or not making) specific investment decisions. Appropriate independent advice should be obtained before making any such decision. Your capital is at risk when you invest in shares - you can lose some or all of your money, so never risk more than you can afford to lose. Always seek personal advice if you are unsure about the suitability of any investment. The Daily Reckoning is an unregulated product published by Fleet Street Publications Ltd. Customer services: 020 7633 3600. Fleet Street Publications Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority. https://www.fsa.gov.uk/register/home.do FSA number: 1152 34
December 2023 NS&I Premium Bond winners - check now to see what you’ve won
If you hold money in NS&I Premium Bonds, you can check from today (2 December) to see if you have won in the December prize draw. Here’s how to check.
By Vaishali Varu Published
OpenAI – corporate drama unleashed
OpenAI, the firm behind ChatGPT, was in uproar as its boss was booted out, briefly snapped up by Microsoft and then brought back again.
By Dr Matthew Partridge Published