Time for another Texas vs. California update:
Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category
Greece managed to make its scheduled IMF loan repayment of around €750 million ($837 million) which “buys the country a few more weeks to reach a deal with creditors on fresh financing.”
Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said “Greece must escape the ‘strictness trap’ of budget measures that might hurt the economy and so prevent the country from reducing its debt mountain to manageable levels.” In other words: “We absolutely refuse to stop spending other people’s money to prop up our welfare state.”
So the farce will continue on a little longer, at least.
In other Greek debt news:
And the Greece shell game over implementing reform (or, since it’s Greece, “reform”) continues.
Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (who’s evidently still doing the negotiating, reports to the contrary notwithstanding) has handed the Eurocrats a proposal that doesn’t match what was discussed in negotiations. It’s like a cheap farce, or a con game to see how long they can keep string Europe along without actually agreeing to anything.
Greece Syriza government has said to their creditors: Economic reality? We don’t need your stinking economic reality! “Greece defied its international creditors on Thursday, refusing to cut pensions or ease layoffs to meet their demands, dimming prospects of progress next week towards securing desperately needed financial aid.”
Greece’s government also rehired public sector employees they previously laid off. What’s giving the engine a little more gas when you’re headed for the wall at full speed?
Other Greek debt crisis tidbits:
Time for another Texas vs. California roundup:
Unfunded pension liabilities are a concern for county and city governments throughout California. Reviewing this problem in Marin County, the Grand Jury examined four public employers that participate in the Marin County Employees’ Retirement Association (MCERA): County of Marin, City of San Rafael, Novato Fire Protection District, and the Southern Marin Fire Protection District, hereafter collectively referred to as “Employer(s)”
The Grand Jury interviewed representatives of the County of Marin, sponsors of MCERA administered retirement plans, representatives of MCERA, and members of the various Employer governing boards and staff. It also consulted with actuaries, various citizen groups, and the Grand Jury’s independent court-appointed lawyers.
In so doing, the Grand Jury found that those Employers granted no less than thirty-eight pension enhancements from 2001- 2006, each of which appears to have violated disclosure requirements and fiscal responsibility requirements of the California Government Code.
(Hat tip: Pension Tsunami.)
As with other areas of state and local budgets, a big factor is pension costs, which for UC have grown from $44 million in 2009-10 to $957 million in 2014-15. And the number of employees making more than $200,000 almost doubled from 2007-13, from 3,018 to 5,933.
While total UC employees rose 11 percent from October 2007 to October 2014, the group labeled “Senior Management Group and Management and Senior Personnel” jumped 32 percent.
(Hat tip: Pension Tsunami.)
It’s appropriate that Zeno (the paradox Zeno) was Greek, since Greece appears to have entered Zeno’s Endgame. The country edges ever closer to default, without actually defaulting. Or without the Greek government actually ceasing to spend radically more money than it takes in, because the ruling left-wing Syriza Party would rather destroy the Greek economy than give up their bloated welfare state. Their latest plan is to raid pension funds to keep that welfare state going just a little longer. “This is the last bit of cash that the Greek state has.” “Honey, let’s cash in our 401K so we can buy some heroin!”
Sorry if this sounds like every other update on the Greek debt crisis over the last six years. It’s a vitally important story, which is why I keep covering it, but it’s also the story of a host of people making the same stupid, easily avoidable mistake again and again rather than making the hard choices necessary to deal with the problem.
A few other links of interest on the Greek debt endgame:
Tune in next week! Same bankrupt time! Same bankrupt channel!
Hope you’ve finished your taxes already! Time for another Texas vs. California update:
Although Greece was slated to run out of cash on April 9, they seem to have “scraped together enough cash to meet the I.M.F. payment, in part by extracting liquidity from quasi state entities.”
One of the ways they did that was raising 1.1 billion Euros from bonds, all sold to domestic investors. And who would some of those “domestic investors” be? Would you believe Greek banks?
These short-term bonds, which have been issued by the country’s largest banks and carry the guarantee of the Greek government, are not being sold to foreign investors. They are being issued to the only entity that would dare buy them: themselves.
In the last four months, some of Greece’s largest banks, including Piraeus, Alpha and Eurobank — have self-issued more than 13 billion euros’ worth, or $14.3 billion, of these government-guaranteed bonds.
Wounded by vanishing deposits and bad loans, Greek bank bonds are about as toxic an investment as can be found. The banks are on life support via an emergency lending program overseen by the European Central Bank, via which they have access to short-term loans from their own central bank.
But to secure this credit line, about €71 billion (more than half the deposits outstanding in Greece), these banks need to provide collateral to the Greek central bank.
In essence, what Syrizia has done is carried out a similar maneuver to that the EU insiders have been carrying out since the European Debt Crisis broke: Dumping their bad bonds onto taxpayer-funded entities. But the problem for Greece is that their maneuver is like a Ponzi scheme that depends on getting more funds from people already in the Ponzi scheme.
That doesn’t strike me as a sustainable model.
No wonder Greece is drawing up plans to nationalize banks (rather than, of course, stop spending money they don’t have). That’s rather like selling your seed corn to buy heroin. (That piece also notes that “Greece spends a larger portion of its GDP — 17.5 percent — on pensions than any other country in Europe.”)
Oh, and they’re flogging reparations from Germany yet again. Because it worked so well the last five times they floated the idea.
But Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras seems to have only the faintest grasp of reality as it is:
Consider the case of a household whose members chronically live beyond their means. They have no savings and their bank account is constantly in overdraft. Rather than cutting back, they obtain multiple credit cards by hiding their true financial situation, but those credit cards are soon maxed out. In desperation, they turn to financially responsible cousins to help them through, again hiding the true scale of their spendthrift ways. Finally, the family defaults on its loans, triggering loss of home, car and other possessions. But instead of recognizing that they were the architects of their own misfortune, they consider themselves victims of the mortgage, car loan and credit card companies. And they even vilify their generous relatives for refusing to lend more money.
Greece’s problems have not been caused by austerity, but by decades of irresponsible spending and corrupt behaviour. Expecting that a debt problem will be solved by more debt simply defies common sense and reality. Believing this myth will only make the debt hole that Greeks have dug themselves even deeper, and the challenges of climbing back out ever more unlikely.
National Journal has a piece up by moderate lefty John B. Judis on all the problems plaguing Chicago.
Perhaps more than any other major city in America, Chicago is facing a truly grave set of problems—problems that are essentially more extreme versions of the challenges confronting city governments across the country.
But there’s a vital piece of information omitted from that sentence: “problems that are essentially more extreme versions of the challenges confronting city governments across the country run by the Democratic Party.” Though Republican cities are not immune to such problems, make no mistake that the very worst examples are cities run by the Democratic Party, most for a very long time (Detroit hasn’t had a Republican Mayor since 1962, Chicago since 1931), and most are in states with solid (if not overwhelming) Democratic Party majorities.
The failure of America’s bankrupt cities is a microcosm of the failure of the Blue model of big government liberalism. And the reason I have spent so much time on covering California and Greece is that they are part of the same story: The failure of American liberalism is a microcosm of the bankruptcy of the welfare state, and the bankruptcy of the welfare state is a subset of the failure of socialism.
The quandaries begin with Chicago’s dramatic social divide. To an even greater extent than is the case in, say, New York or Philadelphia, Chicago has become two entirely separate cities. One is a bustling metropolis that includes the Loop, Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, and the Gold Coast, as well as the city’s well-to-do, working-class, and upwardly mobile immigrant neighborhoods. The other Chicago consists of impoverished neighborhoods on the far South and West Sides, primarily populated by African-Americans. These places have remained beyond the reach of the city’s recovery from the Great Recession.
As we have known since Charles Murray’s Losing Ground in 1984, welfare programs don’t lift the poor out of poverty, but keep them ensnared in it. Indeed, a cynic might observe that welfare programs are designed to create a voting clientele for the welfare state and the liberal party that runs it.
The problem, as Mark Steyn put it, is that “the 20th century Bismarckian welfare state has run out of people to stick it to. In America, the feckless insatiable boobs in Washington, Sacramento, Albany and elsewhere are screwing over our kids and grandkids. In Europe, they’ve reached the next stage in social democratic evolution: There are no kids or grandkids to screw over.”
As Steyn further noted:
A government big enough to give you everything you want isn’t big enough to get you to give any of it back. That’s the point Greece is at. Its socialist government has been forced into supporting a package of austerity measures. The Greek people’s response is: Nuts to that. Public sector workers have succeeded in redefining time itself: Every year, they receive 14 monthly payments. You do the math. And for about seven months’ work – for many of them the workday ends at 2:30 p.m. When they retire, they get 14 monthly pension payments. In other words: Economic reality is not my problem. I want my benefits. And, if it bankrupts the entire state a generation from now, who cares as long as they keep the checks coming until I croak?
The story of Detroit’s current bankruptcy is the story of Chicago’s coming bankruptcy, and the similar problems of California. All are dealing with bloated public sector pensions that are making their cities insolvent. All promised and spent money they didn’t have against their decedents, not realizing (or not caring) that the debt burden will ruin the worlds of those decedents before they could ever pay it off.
The theme with all is that deficit spending destroys, and the only cure is to force governments to pare back the welfare state and stop spending money they don’t have. As the example of Greece shows, there reaches a point in welfare state dependency at which actually curtailing welfare state spending, even at the point of financial ruin, is politically impossible. The looting of the public treasury cannot be stopped because that looting is the only thing that holds left-wing coalitions in power anymore.
One of the many reasons the Tea Party exists is to hold American politician’s collective feet to the fire to make sure the terminal phase of the welfare state Greece is now enjoying never gets that bad in America. (To this end, they’ve had the tiniest little glimmer of success.)
Chicago is Detroit is California is Greece is, eventually, America. It’s all part of the same story, and one any voting public ignores at its peril.
(Hat tip: Instapundit.)
Time for another Texas vs. California roundup:
The missed payments illustrate the trend among cities in bankruptcy to favor payments to pension funds over bondholder obligations, which has increased the hostility between creditors and municipalities.
San Bernardino declared last year that it intends under its bankruptcy exit plan to fully pay Calpers, its biggest creditor and America’s largest public pension fund with assets of $300 billion.
The city continues to pay its monthly dues to Calpers in full, but has paid nothing to its bondholders for nearly three years, according to the interest payment schedule on roughly $50 million of pension obligation bonds issued by San Bernardino in 2005.
If you’re a bank, a retirement fund, or a hedge fund, why on earth would you buy California municipal debt when there are safer alternatives? (Hat tip: Ace of Spades HQ Doom roundup.)
Sure, Jose Manuel Barroso, the former president of the European Commission, is a self-interested Eurocrat, but here he provides a nicely concise statement of the obvious concerning Greece’s problems
Greece’s problems can be laid at its own door and the country needs to provide a clear commitment to reform to reach an agreement with its creditors, Jose Manuel Barroso, the former president of the European Commission, told investors in Hong Kong.
“The Greek people went through extremely difficult moments, hardship. But these difficulties of Greece were not provoked by Europe,” Barroso said in an address at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference in Hong Kong.
“It was provoked by the irresponsible behavior of the Greek government.”
“The situation of Greece is the result of unsustainable debt that was created by the Greek government, mismanagement of their public finances, huge problems with tax evasion and tax fraud [and] problems of the administration,” he said, noting that the country had also misled the European Union by filing false figures on its economy.
A nice statement of the problem. To which I can only add: And Greece continues to compound the problem, because it refuses to reduce government spending to match receipts. And it refuses to do because it’s welfare state is unsustainable.
All this talk of bailouts, relief, reparations, agreements and grexits is just filigree on the essential problem: Greece’s government spends more money than it takes in and refuses to change its ways.