Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Whats' In The new Stimulus Package?

Did this new team in the White House hit the ground running or what? In only eight days they have closed gittmo, reversed the stand on the international family planning gag order, asked the EPA to look into state fuel efficiency standards, strengthened the Clean Air Act and passed a new stimulus package through the House by a vote of 244 vs 188. This has been an exhilarating week. What a breathtaking performance it has been.
That plurality was along party lines but I expect that when the final bill is ready to be sent to the President for his signature in two weeks that more than a few Republican House members would be lending their support.
This massive stimulus package that has something for everyone was cheered today by the financial markets because it is the only hope that more focused government spending and a healthy household sector could start to pull this economy out of this severe recession.
The currently proposed new stimulus amounts to $819 billion divided into an additional $544 billion in Federal spending and another $275 in tax cuts. The new government spending covers the gamut of additional health care expenditures, more unemployment benefits, help to the individual state governments in addition to renewable energy projects and highway spending.The tax cuts are also broadly base. Almost a third; $90 billion; goes to Business expensing while payroll tax holiday amounts to $99 billion while renewable energy tax credits accounts for $20 billion while Tuition tax credit gets $10 billion.
Is this prescription sufficient to restore the patients health? Only if unemployment is not to go above 8-8.5 %. If that threshhold is crossed then an additional stimulus will be called for.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Who Should be Laid Off ?

It is easy to be in support of welcoming labor from other countries when the rate of unemployment is low and when the economy is creating new jobs at an acceptable rate. The real test of our attitude towards “foreign” labor, however, is to be judged by our acts during difficult economic times. And this is such a time. Would we maintain, in the face of double digit unemployment, our advocacy of “openness “ or would we change course by adopting policies that are geared to protect the national labor force . Do we have a moral responsibility to take care of the near and dear that can supersede our responsibility to non nationals?
Unfortunately such questions are no longer confined to the field of the hypothetical. As the economy slows down even such juggernauts as Microsoft have announced plans to lay off 5000 workers. But Microsoft is one of the primary beneficiaries and major supporter of the special H1 visas that allows companies to hire non-American workers. As expected, many, in and out of Government are calling on Microsoft to give priority to US citizens during these difficult times. Senator Grassley has already sent Microsoft a letter in which he stated unequivocally that “Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first “.during these difficult economic times."
What do you think?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Official unemployment in the US has surpassed the 10 million mark and according to some estimates it is on its way to 12 million. As any student of economics knows, or should know, the official publicized figures of unemployment understate the real number by a wide margin. If one is to add the number of the discouraged workers and those that are forced to work part time then what we get is an unemployment rate that is easily in the low double digits. And that is scary.

What makes the current situation even worse is the fact that no one can yet point to any encouraging signs of a potential turn around. Most prognosticators do not expect a meaningful pick up in economic activity until the third quarter of 2009 at the earliest. Unfortunately these tough economic circumstances of economic contraction, decreasing employment, plummeting prices in the housing sector, frozen credit markets and low consumer confidence have spread to most countries. This is an especially ominous development because there are no players that can pick up the slack ,if you will.

It goes without saying that the above mentioned harsh economic conditions are being felt by all members of society. This high level of anxiety and unease are reflected in practically all fields. New all-time lows are being recorded almost on a daily basis in the housing industry, financial transactions on Wall Street, the volume of steel production, the sales volume in electronics or that of new cars, to name just a few major areas.

The current administration has already taken a number of major initiatives to steady the financial hemorrhaging and the incoming Obama-led team has already prepared a massive stimulus package whose aim is to revive the economy and create new jobs. The question that I would like to raise at this juncture is simply this: Does each of us as an individual consumer bear a special responsibility towards other members of the community that are less fortunate than we are? I am not talking about donations of food , old clothing and battered furniture. In a market economy our values and mores are being constantly revealed through our allocation of income i.e. through our consumption decisions. Now let me ask you this: How sincere is your concern for your fellow automotive worker when you decide to purchase a vehicle; that is of comparable size and quality as that made in the US; but that was built by say French labor? Are your concerns for the rubber workers genuine when you proceed to buy tires made in Germany? Do you really have the right to complain about low wages when you persist in giving most of your business to those retailers and manufacturers that abuse their labor? Should you have the right to make an issue of government deficits when you willingly under report your income or fail to report a barter transaction? Does any one have the right to raise a raucous about global warming if one happens to live in a 4000SF home; drive 15,000 miles a year;go skiing across the Atlantic ; own large flat screen TV sets in addition to a large variety of electronic gear. Is it fair to rely on government and the sacrifice of others in order to resolve a problem that each of us has helped create?