Monday, January 14, 2013

The Future Economy

What would a stable economy look like? What would the goals be, and how would we get there? There are a few ideas that I think will make a big difference. Most are based heavily off of Keynesian economics.
  1. The government will make a business-friendly environment. Businesses will be easy to start and small businesses will be common. Countries with low barriers to entry for businesses to start tend to be more developed and vice verse. EG This is why Indonesia is not seeing rapid economic growth yet Georgia is.
  2. There will be high wages to drive consumer demand. It doesn't matter how many things you make, if people can't make ends you won't be able to make any money by being an entrepreneur. People will have disposable income in the ideal economy. People had this in America in the 1950s when our economy grew the fastest, unemployment was low, public investment at an all-time high (my grandparents paid a low sticker price for college compared to me and my parents with inflation), and the growth was larger and shared by all.
  3. The government will insure that all of their citizens have access to high-quality health care and high-quality education. It doesn't matter how many jobs as programmers are available if no one knows how to do it. If another country is training people to be the best the jobs will go there. That's the current world. Its not going to change. Don't fight it, work with it.
  4. The government will run low debt year to year during the good times. Running a large debt means that tax dollars will go to paying interest to investors instead of growing the infrastructure countries require to be successful which is a waste of money. If times get bad the government will run a deficit to make the economy get better as quick as possible. It is the lesser evil to watching the economy go in freefall like from 1929 to 1933 when the debt was prioritized higher than jobs and growth.
  5. To fulfill these job-growing strategies there has to be a cost, and that means a progressive income tax. It will be very progressive, meaning people who make the most money will pay the most in taxes (and, as my previous post showed, they will keep the most as well). This will create an economy where people with enough drive can go from rags to riches.
  6. Most of the economy will be a free market, except for health care and education which are requirements and tend to form oligopolies, the military, and printing of money which the government must do. There will probably be subsistence housing for the homeless. Mass transit and maintaining roads and railways are required. Managing air traffic is a necessary duty. Reasonable regulations on health and safety are needed.  I am being deliberately thorough. Everything else will be on the free market.
Some people say keeping debt low and having a high quality of living is not possible. This however is misguided. Here are a few case examples of highly developed countries with world-class health care and world-class education with high median ages and low debt. There are a few rich oil nations that have low debts, but I will ignore them to show you don't need to have high exports to have a high quality of living, low debt, and economic growth. (data from the IMF which I have found to be closest to raw data sources
  1. Switzerland has one of the best standards of living in the world, and a GDP per capita over $40,000. Their debt is worth 19% of their GDP. Hardly unsustainable with what would be deemed a welfare state by many here in the United States.
  2. Luxembourg has a GDP per Capita, debt percent of GDP, and welfare system comparable to Switzerland, and a debt worth 21% of their economy. Also, despite the constant criticism of how the Euro is bad for Europe that is the currency Luxembourg uses. Most countries that use the Euro have Debts worth less than their GDPs. Hardly a cause for alarm. Other factors are at play in Greece as I have already blogged about. Get off the stupid currency high horse global media, it doesn't reflect reality.
  3. So, these two previous examples are small countries and are heavy with the banking, but what about Australia? Finance doesn't make nearly as much of the economy of Australia as Switzerland and Luxembourg, they also have world-class education and health care systems, the 2nd highest quality of living in the world by HDI (behind Norway, but not by much) and their debt is worth less than 23% of their GDP. It is not known as a tax haven. It is not a net exporter of oil. Most of the country's land is practically economically useless. It is not particularly small in population or area. Why does Australia have such a low debt and such a high amount of investment? Their lowest tax bracket is 0%, their highest is 45%. They make enough revenue every year to balance the budget, and there are also some extraordinarily rich Australians. That is how you have a sustainable high quality of life and a low public debt while not being a tax haven and not being a net oil exporter. This system I described at the beginning of this post is in place in Australia, the only major economy to avoid the late 2000s recession. Also, Capital gains are taxed as regular income, which is another proposal I have made in a previous post. It works for them, why not us?
  4. Another example, if Australia wasn't enough, the country most right-wing Americans will claim has one of the most out of control bureaucracies and welfare states is Sweden. Their education and health care are fully paid for by taxes, and from all the griping you would expect a huge debt. Well, the opposite of what laissez-faire advocates claim is reality once again. Sweden has a debt worth 37% of their GDP. Like Australia, Sweden is not a major oil exporter neither are they considered a tax haven, and they have a lower debt than their often referred to as wise counterpart Norway. Unlike Norway, Sweden is in the EU (although they don't use the Euro) and unlike Norway Sweden does not have massive reserves of oil, yet Sweden has a low debt compared to most other countries. You see the same type of tax system as Australia has, very progressive without treating Capital Gains like the holy grail of the economy. Government is entrusted to provide education and health care, they have a high quality of living, stable economy, low barriers of entry to business, and low debt.
  5. Other examples of debts below 50% and a GDP per Capita above $20,000 are Taiwan, Czech Republic (a Eurozone member), Denmark (with a government system very similar to Sweden and a member of the EU), Slovenia, Finland (yet another Eurozone member), Norway (which has a larger debt than Finland, and doesn't use the Euro and unlike Finland is a net exporter of oil and like all of these nations above has a strong welfare system and low debt).
Basically, to say that there is a choice between prosperity and low debt is a fallacious argument on several major counts. Only 12 nations on Earth owe over 100% of their GDP in public debt, and 3 of them have GDP per capitas under $10,000. Low standard of living, poor education, poor health care, and high debt. What are the real variables at play here? It clearly doesn't work to say that high quality of living and high government services = high debt, with 8 of the most developed nation, several of which are not net exporters of oil, are not tax havens, positive economic growth in most of them even today, all of which have aging populations, and some of which use the Euro, there are other factors at play than are usually blamed. I would try to find the root cause, what is so similar between Australia, Sweden, Taiwan, Finland, and Norway that is so different from Japan, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and the United States?

The following are similar: They are all rich nations. They all have high qualities of living, and all are democracies. They all have social safety nets of varying degrees, and one could successfully argue that the nations with the lower debt have the larger social safety nets which is like so many facts is contrary to popular belief. They all have aging populations as measured by median age relative to the rest of the world. What is so different between these nations to make such a striking difference in their debts?

The following are different:
  1. The governments of the United States and Japan in particular are under conservative governments frequently, while the most conservative governments of Australia, Sweden, Finland, and Norway are in power far less frequently. One must wonder whether these "conservatives" are truly "fiscally conservative" given their massive deficit spending that doesn't exist in these "welfare state" governments which have far lower debts and higher standards of living when ranked fairly. Which matters more, a government that is out of people's pockets with high deficits or a high quality of living with low deficits? I choose a high quality of living and frankly couldn't care less about the size of government, that is the wrong question to ask. We need to ask whether the government works for the people, not whether it is "too big" or "too small" both of which are relative and impossible to fairly gauge.
  2. Their tax structures couldn't be more different. The tax structure of the United States for all intensive purposes has the shape of a bell curve. While people who make next to nothing will pay no taxes thanks to standard deductions, the people who pay the most are people who make most of their money from wages and don't invest in the stock market. People who make the most money pay a middle-class rate, which has been raised to 20% as opposed to 15% recently, but still is far lower than the 39.6% if that same massive amount money (think hundreds of millions of dollars) had been made through wages. That means the government loses out on billions of dollars of revenue every single year. Australia on the other hand doesn't see a difference between capital gains and wages in terms of taxes and taxes both equally for the same amount. They also outrank the United States on a variety of quality of life measurements year after year, have more government services for the things that matter, and have a lower deficit relative to GDP year after year. They also outrank Japan on most factors. That is the only clear difference I can find to explain the difference in debts. Taxes.
There is not a choice to be made between good economics and a high quality of life, in fact, after reading the statistics one might argue the opposite that good economics will tie in with a high quality of life.

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