The Ticker Quick Views on Politics, Economics and Finance
Some of Margaret Thatcher’s record is rightly controversial or, in retrospect, embarrassing. But the most durable parts of her years as prime minister -- the instances in which she not only got her way but ultimately brought the Labour Party along with her -- are also the most important and laudable ones.
I am mainly talking about three aspects of the Thatcher legacy: the breaking of the National Union of Mineworkers strike; the privatization of industrial firms owned by the British government; and substantial reductions in the top rate of income tax, which stood at 83 percent when Thatcher took office.READ MORE
The long nightmare of MF Global Holdings Ltd. is finally coming to an end. Most of the missing customer money has been located in bank accounts and clearinghouses, and a bankruptcy court judge last week approved a plan to liquidate what's left of the company.
What have we learned from the debacle? And what should happen to the former chairman and chief executive officer, Jon S. Corzine? These two big questions are closely related: Whether regulators, boards, shareholders and the rest of the financial industry absorb the lessons of MF Global's downfall depends in large part on Corzine's fate.READ MORE
(This is a response to Margaret Carlson's column.)
Margaret Thatcher reminds me of a time when conservative politicians were willing to be controversial for the right reasons: because they were dividing their countries in the service of moving them forward, not because they had made some witless gaffe in the midst of a cautious campaign.READ MORE
He also has an interesting side gig: Chairman of the Los Angeles Sports Council. The nonprofit describes its mission as "the promotion of spectator sports programs in the Los Angeles and Orange County area, including support of our local teams and the attraction of events to the area."READ MORE
This week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced that he is backing off his signature plan to repeal his state’s income tax and replace it by raising the sales-tax rate and expanding the sales tax to more items. This is not surprising.
In the last 50 years, exactly one U.S. state has repealed a major (personal income, general sales or property) tax: Alaska, following the discovery of massive oil deposits. If you don’t find the equivalent of the North Slope in your state, you shouldn’t expect to get rid of a major tax.READ MORE
Who was the mystery partner at KPMG LLP who was responsible for Herbalife Ltd.'s audit reports?
That sort of information should be a matter of public record -- but isn't. The auditing profession's U.S. regulator has had a proposal on the table for several years to make accounting firms disclose which of their partners audit which corporate clients. For now, investors usually have no way of knowing. The firms have successfully lobbied the regulator to back off.READ MORE
There's more than a touch of Chicken Little in common arguments for more infrastructure spending. "The bridges are falling, the bridges are falling!"
Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers issues the U.S. an infrastructure "report card." And, just as predictably, it says that U.S. infrastructure is decrepit and needs expensive new investments. The latest one, released last month, gave the nation a D+ grade and recommended an extra $1.6 trillion in spending by 2020.READ MORE
Matthew C. Klein
Margaret Thatcher, who died today at the age of 87, transformed the U.K. by breaking the unions and privatizing large swaths of the economy. Less remembered is her role in the development of the inflation-indexed bond market in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This multitrillion-dollar market provides both retail savers and pension funds with an important tool for portfolio diversification. It also gives investors and policymakers important information about the state of the economy.
The oldest known indexed bonds were issued by the government of Massachusetts in 1780. However, these unusual instruments were quickly retired once the revolutionary war ended. Nothing like them was seen again for centuries. In 1975, the U.K. started offering non-marketable savings bonds that would maintain their real value even in the face of double-digit inflation, yet these "granny bonds" weren't helpful for pension plans trying to honor commitments to large numbers of retirees. Moreover, the prices of these instruments had little informational content because they couldn't be traded.READ MORE
In Margaret Thatcher's long career, violence in Northern Ireland provided an unrelenting soundtrack. And the conflict did not bring out the best in her.
It showed how the character traits for which she is best remembered had some very dark consequences, and how her celebrated "resolve" often came at a brutally high human and moral cost. In Northern Ireland, in fact, that resolve directly obstructed the cause of peace.READ MORE
Sean West & Brittan Specht
After months of speculation about their progress and intentions, Max Baucus and Dave Camp, the chairmen of the key congressional tax-writing committees, penned an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal committing to tax reform. We’d be more optimistic if they had kept quiet.
For starters, it's rarely a good sign to see a piece claiming something is "very much alive." As Margaret Thatcher put it, "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't." If tax reform has a chance, that should be obvious. Completion is very far away if the public still needs to be convinced the process has a pulse.READ MORE
The Securities and Exchange Commission made a big fuss last year when it changed the settlement language it uses for defendants convicted of crimes in parallel proceedings. The New York Times called this "a fundamental policy shift." Looking back, it turns out the changes were purely cosmetic.
The SEC's standard approach has long been to let defendants settle cases without admitting or denying civil liability. In its January 2012 policy tweak, the agency said it would delete the usual "neither admit nor deny" language from its settlement documents in cases where defendants had been criminally convicted of the same underlying conduct. However, the agency's "no-admit" approach hasn't changed in substance.READ MORE
It was the payroll-tax increase. It was the automatic spending cuts. It was Obamacare and the burden it's putting on small business.
Any other candidates to explain Friday's weak jobs report? CNBC's Jim Cramer attributed the measly 88,000 increase in non-farm payrolls in March to President Barack Obama. He said yesterday on "Meet the Press" that the White House put fear in the hearts of the U.S.'s chief executive officers with its scare-mongering over sequestration. Who knew CEOs were such a bunch of wusses?
Senator Marco Rubio's strong conservative credentials could make him a driving force in the immigration debate, if he chooses.
In his first two years in the Senate, the Florida Republican rolled up a perfect voting record, as measured by the American Conservative Union. He was one of only four senators to score that high on the ACU scorecard in 2011 and 2012.READ MORE
So far, Bitcoin is not a big deal. Its total value in circulation was $1.4 billion as of this week. That's equivalent to the currency stock of a small nation -- somewhere between Iceland and Uruguay -- and just one-thousandth of the total value of U.S. dollars in circulation. The volume of transactions in Bitcoin is growing only slowly, relative to the massive increase in demand for the currency: This discrepancy is strong evidence that Bitcoin’s rise is a speculative bubble.
Nonetheless, Bitcoin raises some interesting questions. One is whether it might undermine the modern state -- which, for many of its libertarian-anarchist advocates, is the whole idea.READ MORE
Matthew C. Klein
Today's U.S. jobs report is an unpleasant reminder that the recovery has yet to gain much traction. There are some bullish indicators buried in the details, such as the plunging unemployment rate for young men and the upward revisions to the reports from January and February. The general picture, however, remains broadly unchanged: Sluggish job creation has been insufficient to undo the effects of the crisis.
Some argue that the raw number of people working is misleading. Aging and retirement, they say, can explain some of the most depressing numbers, such as the share of the total population that has a job. We shouldn't automatically dismiss this view -- demographics affect the economy in all sorts of ways that most people fail to appreciate until much later. As Conor Sen points out, the aging of the Baby Boom generation can be clearly seen in the employment data.READ MORE
It's important to keep one thing in mind as we scrutinize today's relatively discouraging jobs report: All the jobs numbers we've seen over the past four years have been far from what a recovery from a deep recession should look like.
The Labor Department reported that U.S. nonfarm employers added 88,000 jobs in March, bringing the three-month average to 168,000. The unemployment rate decreased to 7.6 percent from 7.7 percent in February, in large part because fewer people were looking for work actively enough to be counted as unemployed. The share of the population with jobs stood at 58.5 percent, still below where it was at the trough of the recession in June 2009.READ MORE
Many of the arguments used to justify the size of the largest U.S. financial institutions simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. It's important that folks in Washington keep this in mind as the political debate over what to do about too-big-to-fail banks heats up.
A number of the bankers' talking points are encapsulated in a report, issued as part of a Wall Street public-relations campaign, that appears to be getting some attention inside the Beltway. Politico's Morning Money mentioned it in February, and this week Bloomberg View columnist Ezra Klein cited it an article on the state of efforts to rein in too-big-to-fail banks.READ MORE
Yesterday morning, I saw a presentation from Tom Tait, the mayor of Anaheim, California, on fostering economic development in a time of fiscal stress. He presented two charts that reinforce the fact that California's cities have both a revenue problem and a spending problem.
The first chart shows Anaheim's total compensation costs per employee, which rose about 70 percent from 2001 to 2012 (more than 30 percent after adjusting for inflation). Real wages per employee were flat over this period; the entire inflation-adjusted increase is attributable to benefits, which grew by 130 percent per-employee. This is Anaheim's spending problem: It's spending too much on employee benefits.READ MORE
Joe Concha of Mediaite says MSNBC host Chris Hayes focuses too much on racial and gender diversity in booking his guests, at the expense of ideological diversity. For real diversity, Concha argues, Hayes should mimic Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor":
"On Monday night, The Factor’s opening segment focused on out-of-control government spending, citing specific examples of waste. Two guests debated the topic: A liberal radio talk show host and a Republican strategist, with the former calling for closing tax loopholes on the rich and corporations, and the latter calling for entitlement reform."READ MORE