Browsing the archives for the bailout tag.

Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face

Economy, education, Politics, Uncategorized, US Economy, US Politics

It seems like a new Republican mantra has broken free from the dark corridors where is was previously consigned to furtive whispers: they want Obama to fail.  I understand that Obama is pushing for many policies that don’t fit with the Republican party line, but how can you want him to fail?  What does an Obama failure look like for the United States?  Unemployment over 10%?  Numerous failures in the US manufacturing sector?  Significant erosion in the soft power of the US, much of which stems from our economic position in the world?  Is that what Republicans are hoping for?  How can a Republican congressman go back to his or her constituents and defend this position?  The governor of South Carolina has gone so far as to say he wants to use S.C.’s share of the stimulus money to pay down South Carolina’s debts instead of trying to create new jobs.  Since South Carolina’s unemployment rate is 10.4%, the second highest in the nation, you might think that the governor would decide to create more jobs, but even as the state is furloughing teachers and moving to larger class sizes, Governor Stanford is turning away help for politics.

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Annals of the global financial crisis, Eurasian edition (or why the Kazakhs better grow their hair)

Economy, World Economy

“Last year,” Leopolis notes, “if one said that Kazakhstan was the “Iceland of Central Asia” it would have been a compliment.”

Now, not so much. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported, Kazakhstan’s central bank devalued the national currency, the tenge, by 18%.  Propping up the currency at the old rate proved unsustainable after the country spent $1.6 billion, or 6% of its foreign-currency and gold reserves, in January alone to do so. Economic growth is down from a healthy 10% to 1%. Profit for Kazakhstan’s 37 banks plunged 93%. The four biggest banks were seized by the government as part of an emergency program costing the equivalent to 20% of GDP. (In comparison, the $800 billion the US federal government reserved for TARP last year amounted to less than 6% of America’s GDP.) The government is now trying to hawk off the largest bank to the Russian Sberbank. 

Experts are expecting future currency devaluations, even if central bank chairman Grigory Marchenko emphatically rejects the prospect. As one said: “As long as oil prices remain subdued, there is nothing telling you to buy the tenge and there will be pressure there.” The one-sided character of the Kazakh economy makes it very vulnerable, Stratfor noted: the country depends on oil for 70% of its export revenue and 76% of all FDI. With the oil price down and the government spending $21 billion – or another 18% of its GDP – on a stimulus plan this year, the oil-funded National Fund which the country had built as buffer for bad times will all but run out this year.

As Nouriel Roubini commented to Bloomberg:

Kazakhstan looks like a small version of Iceland with its banks borrowing from abroad [..] A currency crisis becomes a banking crisis, it becomes a housing crisis, a sovereign-debt crisis, it becomes a corporate crisis because each one of these agents in these economies has a large amount of foreign liabilities. 

Kazakhstan has one of the highest rates of privately-held foreign debt, Stratfor explains; one which equaled 100% of the country’s GDP in 2007 (compared to 35% for Russia).

And still, how unique is this? The Russian currency is down 35% and the Ukrainian one down 47%, Bloomberg notes. The size of the Kazakh bailout-cum-stimulus seems exceptional, it’s true, with the sum total equalling 38% of the country’s GDP. In comparison, Russia is spending $240 billion, or close to 20% of its GDP, on bank bailouts and stimulus, while the combined bill for TARP I and the new stimulus bill Congress will vote on now will be about 10% of America’s GDP (though TARP II will come on top of that).

Still, at least Kazakhstan is still recording some economic growth, however anemic. The Czech economy entered in a recession in the last quarter of 2008 and will probably see a 2% contraction in 2009, while Hungary, which also entered a recession and is registering the worst data since 1996, may face a 4-5% drop in GDP this year. Which pales, in turn, in comparison with the numbers from the Baltic states, where Estonia’s economy contracted 9% in the fourth quarter from the same period a year earlier, and Latvia’s GDP plummeted 11%. Latvia, in particular, is looking economic collapse in the eye as its GDP may shrink by as much as 20%.

The Baltic states, like Kazakhstan but unlike Hungary, at least enjoyed a number of years of high economic growth until now, with annual growth reaching up into double digits. That doesn’t mean that people have been able to built a protective buffer for the crisis setting on now, though. The economic growth characteristically benefited the upper middle class, and especially the top layer, disproportionally. The collapse now, conversely, is likely to hurt the poor and elderly hardest.

So basically, we’re fucked. Luckily far-right Russian demagogue and all-round buffoon Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who is also deputy chairman of the Russian parliament, had some advice on surviving the crisis. “I have been thrifty,” he boasted last year: “I am not having my hair cut. My hair has already grown longer than ever. I only shave every other day. [..] There is no need to buy new clothes. They can be swapped with others. I am prepared to give a couple of suits to someone, several pairs of shoes, a wristwatch.”

Personal hygiene products are just “all [..] chemical and hazardous” anyway, so you can leave those as well. (Though this, admittedly, wouldn’t present much in the way of savings for the Kazakhs, as anyone who’s seen Borat will know.) Finally, when it comes to the holidays, well: “no need to travel abroad or to go to a restaurant. Stay [..] at home or invite yourself over to someone else’s place”.

So there you are. When you fall on hard times this year, go to Vlad for clothes. Just make sure to stock up on vodka and cabbage rather than soap and shampoo in case he shows up in turn for Easter. He won’t mind the smell.

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What’s with the horsemen?

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

After I passed on John Judis’ take on the auto bailout here, we had a bit of a discussion in the comments section. So who could sketch my amazement to see, via TNR, that Bill Kristol – that Bill Kristol – gets it. Here he was, last Monday:

Last week, Senate Republicans picked a fight with the U.A.W. on union pay scales — despite the fact that it’s the legacy benefits for retirees, not pay for current workers, that’s really hurting Detroit, and despite the additional fact that, in any case, labor amounts to only about 10 percent of the cost of a car. But the Republicans were fighting Big Labor! They were standing firm against bailouts! Some of the same conservatives who (correctly, in my view) made the case for $700 billion for Wall Street pitched a fit over $14 billion in loans for the automakers.

There is, of course, plenty in his column to take issue with as well. But there don’t seem to be many nits to pick with this summary:

So Senate Republicans chose to threaten to filibuster the House-passed legislation embodying the George Bush-Nancy Pelosi deal. The bill would have allowed President Bush to name a car czar, who could have begun to force concessions from all sides. It also would have averted for now a collapse of the auto industry, and shifted difficult decisions to the Obama administration.

Instead, Bush will now probably have to use the financial rescue funds to save G.M. [..]. And Senate Republicans now run the risk of being portrayed as Marie Antoinettes with Southern accents.

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Damn right

US Economy, US Politics

Read John Judis on how the Republicans torpedoed the auto bailout.

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What We Can Learn from the 1979 Bailout

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

Almost thirty years ago, an automotive CEO appeared before Congress to ask for help.  His company was failing due to poor management decisions, run away gas prices and an overall economic slowdown.  If only he could get enough money to stay in business, his company’s next generation of small, fuel efficient cars would hit the market and lead to the company’s success.  His company employed 40,000 US workers and laying them off would be a disaster at a time when the economy was already struggling.  He’d even work for a dollar a year.  Sound familiar?

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The geography of the bailout bill vote

Politics, US Politics

Who voted for the “bailout” bill? (Talking of lousy branding.) More relevantly, who voted against it? Ever since it all fell apart, pundits are dissecting consequences and solutions, but also simply the lay-out of the vote itself. How did the expected majority collapse? Who defected? Are there any patterns?

A couple of basic ones have been presented, beyond the partisan breakdown of Democratic and Republican votes. Since two-thirds of Republicans and 40% of Democrats voted no, the landscape is more interesting than usual.

Breakdown one: those in more or less safe seats versus those in vulnerable seats. Representatives who are facing a tough fight this campaign, or who were elected last time by a narrow margin, were much more likely to vote against. Two: ideology. A rebellion of the rock-ribbed conservatives in the Republican Party, and a lesser one of liberals in the Democratic Party. Three, and mentioned less often: those who are in or close to the party top or House Committees versus the rank and file.

You’ve read all this, though there are more twists to it than you might think. What I was wondering was whether there was a fourth axis: geography. How do the votes from the different regions stack up? A question of combining roll call 674 with Wikipedia’s list of US Representatives by state. Green stands for “yes” votes, red for “noes”:

Republican vote by region

Republican vote by region

There are significant variations by region — and by state. Republican opposition was strongest in Texas, which delivered 15 “noes”, the Southwest and the Plains. Of the 13 remaining republicans in the Northeast, however, a majority voted in favour.

The Democratic vote varied at least as greatly by region. The Democrats in the Northeast voted in favour by almost 3:1. But more than two-thirds of the Democrats in the Southwest and Mountain states voted against.

Democratic vote by region

Democratic vote by region

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