Saturday, July 3, 2010

Paying for society

The question of who will pay for the operations of government is getting very interesting these days.  
The Tobin Tax or the VAT?
Who Will Pay: Wall Street or Main Street?
The financial reform bill agreed to on June 25 may have carved out some protections for consumers, but for Goldman Sachs and the derivatives lobby, the bill was a clear win, leaving the Wall Street gambling business intact. In a June 25 Newsweek article titled “Financial Reform Makes Biggest Banks Stronger,” Michael Hirsh wrote that the bill “effectively anoints the existing banking elite. The bill makes it likely that they will be the future giants of banking as well.”
The federal government and Federal Reserve have advanced literally trillions of dollars to save the big Wall Street players, to the point where the government’s own credit rating is in jeopardy; but Wall Street has not had to pay for the cleanup. Instead, the states and the citizens have been left to pick up the tab. On June 17, Time featured an article by David von Drehle titled “Inside the Dire Financial State of the States,” reporting that most states are now facing persistent budget shortfalls of a sort not seen since the 1930s. Unlike the Wall Street banks, which can borrow at the phenomenally low fed funds rate of .2% and plow that money back into speculation, states don’t have ready access to credit lines. They have to borrow through bond issues, and many states are so close to bankruptcy that their municipal bond ratings are collapsing. Worse, states are not legally allowed to default. Unlike the federal government, which can go into debt indefinitely, states must balance their budgets; and they cannot issue their own currencies. That puts them in the same position as Greece and other debt-strapped European Union countries, which are forbidden under EU rules either to issue their own currencies or to borrow from their own central banks. 
States, of course, don’t even have their own state-owned banks, with one exception -- North Dakota. North Dakota is also the only state now sporting a budget surplus, and it has the lowest unemployment and mortgage delinquency rates in the country. As von Drehle observes, “It’s a swell time to be North Dakota.” more

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