In an epic display of the more things change, the more they stay the same Paul Ryan is unhappy with the process of fiscal policy under his own leadership. I will wait to comment on the legislation more fully when the votes are in (what the end passing coalition looks like may be the most interesting part of this). With this policy we essentially put in place tax cuts and spending increases, so something for both parties to celebrate or at least sell as a victory. Of course it is fiscally irresponsible and leads me to the generic comment I want to make: fiscal policy is not working. As much as people (in and out of government) want to take aim at the Fed, their policy decisions can be justified as following a defined approach to policy and the world.
The legislative session is in high gear and on March 18th the OMB released what they are calling their March 2015 Revenue Forecast (found here). This is an updated revenue number for the legislators, and I think it comes as no surprise that some of the numbers were down, especially oil. Looking ahead to the 2015-17 biennium the forecast is for a decline in oil revenues by $869,745,374. That is on top of more than $100 million less in the remainder of the current biennium. Does this number seem plausible? Sure.
Thinking about fiscal policy dominates my time lately. Mostly my concern is with parsing the data in such a way to make sense of the various arguments out there about the proper course for fiscal policy. Recall that I doubt that anyone is willing to reduce spending by enough to balance the budget. So if we are to see balanced budgets at some point, the timing of that is a topic for another post, it seems likely to me that tax increases will be necessary. Anyway, those policy issues will be covered another day.
At least that is the case for the healthcare obligations of most states and local areas, though Robert Pozen points out that this is likely to change soon (available here). This is something I discussed when Detroit went through bankruptcy proceedings. Pension and healthcare obligations of the city made a contribution to the bankruptcy, but only because the broader electorate allow it. If we get accurate accounting and compel elected officials to use realistic discount rates there would be a better sense of the amount of these obligations. The proposed accounting changes are a step in the right direction, requiring more transparency and better assumptions.
A recent report out by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (available as a pdf here) looks at the connection between state tax rates and migration between states. Or maybe it does not. They find little connection between changes in state tax rates and the migration between states.
So J.T. and I discussed my post on tobacco bonds while I was on the radio today. One of the things that amazed him, and me too, was the notion the rate of smoking fell more than assumed. So, doing what I do, I went online and got some data, this time from the OECD.
The Washington Post had an excellent piece on states and how they handled their tobacco settlement dollars (available here). It is a longer article but well worth the read given that it is one of the first analyses of what states are doing with the money from this settlement. The answer for many: squandering it. I am not going to rehash all the details of the article but there are bigger issues to tackle.
I was startled by some of the information in this article. The most startling thing I learned today might be that Japan is only 39 percent self-sufficient as far as calories. I knew Japan relied on significant imports of fuels given their natural resource limitations. But food? This is a developed country, one that was supposed to rival the economic might of the United States in the 1980s. Relying on imports for such a significant part of food consumption can be a serious issue. Combine this with economic stagnation and an aging population and it hardly seems like a recipe for an economic turnaround.
Economic development and economic growth are key ideas in any state or area, but clearly are a hot topic in North Dakota. The economic success in North Dakota represents an incredible opportunity to catch up in areas perceived to behind and to move into areas that will define the future. It is essentially North Dakota’s opportunity to write its own ticket. What I see missing from the discussion right now is a meaningful discussion on the fiscal side.
Reminder: I am not giving trading advice, just my interpretation.
Some of my students wondered why equity markets are not down more and at times look to potentially increase. Equity markets are an imperfect reflection of future economic prospects because there are company specific issues that could dominate national negatives.