One of the clearest comments I have heard recently about the financial reform actions of Congress and the regulators is that those passing the new laws and establishing the new regulations completely ignored the fact that something like Google and Twitter had been created.
In other words, times have changed and those in Congress and in the regulatory bodies have kept their focus just on the past.
Financial regulation, however, is not the only thing that is falling victim to a backward looking focus.
We are seeing a concentration on the past in dealing with state and local government problems, problems with pensions, bargaining power, and employment. The law just passed in Michigan giving the state government broader powers to intervene in the finances and governance of struggling municipalities and school districts…” has been fought by those that argue that the law “undermines collective bargaining and threatens to subvert elected local governments.” (http://professional.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704360404576206603444375580.html?mod=ITP_pageone_1&mg=reno-wsj.)
Times have changed.
The years of inflation which began in the early 1960s has reached a tipping point in many areas. The days of inflated state and local government budgets, of passing on the fiscal impacts of lucrative union bargaining agreements in the form of higher property taxes, and of using the accounting gimmicks that postponed dealing with pension obligations is over. Adjustments must be made
But, that is not how people deal with the unpleasantness of current dislocations.
The inflation benefit for labor unions in manufacturing industries gave out years ago.
Manufacturers of cars and steel and so forth could neither pass on lush labor agreements to the public nor hide the increasing labor costs is limited technological advancements in their products or the production of their products.
And, the labor unions that still exist in these areas of manufacturing have shrunk, both in numbers and in terms of bargaining power.
State and local governments are now having to deal with this phenomenon.
And, what about debt?
The taking on of debt thrives in periods of credit inflation and Americans have had at least fifty years to get on this bandwagon.
And, now people have not really been borrowing. The real question is, should they start borrowing again? I have addressed this in my post “Does Getting Out of Debt Mean that People Should Start Spending More?” (See http://seekingalpha.com/article/257772-does-getting-out-of-debt-mean-people-should-start-spending-more.)
What has this debt done for people? If the number of foreclosures and bankruptcies over the last few years and the number of foreclosures and bankruptcies pending or near the edge are any indication, many people may not want to jump right into the “debt circus” again any time soon.
What accounts for the popularity of the finance guru Dave Ramsey? Take a peek at his new book, “The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness.” And, what is his recipe for financial fitness and greater happiness?
GET OUT OF DEBT! ALL OF IT!
This advice doesn’t apply to just families. It applies to small businesses, and medium-sized businesses, and others.
GET OUT OF DEBT!
Pass that message on to Chairman Bernanke.
And, what is the solution of Chairman Bernanke and other leaders in Washington, D. C.?
Let the presses role! Start the credit inflation once again!
The question is, will this new round of credit inflation succeed. It seems as if over the past fifty years that every time we entered a new round of credit inflation, some things got worse.
For example, capacity utilization in manufacturing continued to drop since the 1960s. That is, every subsequent peak in capacity utilization during this time period was lower than the previous peak. Furthermore, after almost two years of economic recovery, capacity utilization still remains just a little over 75%.
Underemployment has continually risen over the last fifty years and now about one out of every five individuals of working age in the United States is underemployed.
In addition, the inflationary environment of the last fifty years has benefitted the wealthy who can either take advantage of the inflation or protect themselves against it and has been exceedingly costly for the less wealthy, who cannot protect themselves. As a consequence, we have the worst skewing of the income distribution toward the wealthy in United States history.
And, there is more!
But, this is not the point.
The point is: the times have changed!
If we do not accept this fact in financial regulation, in the management of state and local governments, in our own finances, and in the federal governments budgetary policy, we will all be the sorrier for it.
Who has the credit inflation of the last fifty years really helped? The financial industry. And, I have asked the question, who is the “Bernanke Credit Inflation” going to help? This time, will the financial industry just dance alone? (See http://seekingalpha.com/article/255748-will-the-financial-industry-dance-alone.)