Posts tagged ‘deficit’

Money Goes Where Treated Best

“The world is going to hell in a handbasket” seems to be a prevailing sentiment among many investors. Looking back, a lack of fiscal leadership in Washington, coupled with historically high unemployment, has only fanned the flames of restlessness. A day can hardly go by without hearing about some fiscal problem occurring somewhere around the globe. Geographies have ranged from Iceland to Dubai, and California to Greece. Regardless, eventually voters force politicians to take notice, as we recently experienced in the Massachusetts vote for Senator.

Time to Panic?

So is now the time to panic?  Entitlement obligations such as Social Security and Medicare, when matched with a rising interest payment burden from our ballooning debt, stands to consume the vast majority of our country’s revenues in the coming decades (if changes are not made).  It’s clear to most that the current debt trajectory is not sustainable – see also Debt: The New Four-Letter Word. With that said, historical debt levels have actually been at higher levels before. For example, during World War II, debt levels reached 122% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Since promises generally garner votes, politicians have traditionally found it easier to legislate new spending into law rather than cutting back existing spending and benefits.

Money Goes Where it’s Treated Best

If our government leaders choose to ignore the growing upswell in fiscal discontent, then the global financial markets will pay more attention and disapprove less diplomatically. As the globe’s reserve currency, the U.S. Dollar stands to collapse if a different direction is not forged, and interest costs could skyrocket to unpalatable levels.  Fortunately, the flat world we live on has created some of these naturally occurring governors to forcibly direct sovereign entities to make better decisions…or suffer the consequences. Right now Greece is paying for the financial sins of its past, which includes widening deficits and untenable debt levels.

As new, growing powers such as China, Brazil, India, and other emerging countries fight for precious capital to feed the aspirational goals of their rising middle classes, money will migrate to where it is treated best. Speculative money will flow in and out of various capital markets in the short-run, but ultimately capital flows where it is treated best. Meaning, those countries with policies fostering fiscal conservatism, financial transparency, prudent regulations, pro-growth initiatives, tax incentives, order of law, and other capital-friendly guidelines will enjoy their fair share of the spoils. The New York Times editorial journalist Tom Friedman coined the term “golden straitjacket” in describing this naturally occurring restraint system as a result of globalization.

Push Comes to Shove

Push will eventually come to shove, but the real question is whether we will self-impose fiscal restraint on ourselves, or will the global capital markets shove us in that direction, like the markets are doing to Greece (and other financially strapped nations) today? I am hopeful it will be the former. Why am I optimistic? Although more government spending has typically lead to more votes for politicians, cracks in the support wall have surfaced through the Massachusetts Senatorial vote, and rising populist sentiment, as manifested through the “Tea Party” movement (previously considered a fringe group). 

Political gridlock has traditionally been par for the course, but crisis usually leads to action, so I eventually expect change. I am banking on the poisonous and sour mood permeating through the country’s voter base, in conjunction with the collapse of foreign currencies, to act as a catalyst for financial reform. If not, resident capital and domestic jobs will exodus to other countries, where they will be treated best.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including emerging market-based ETFs), but at time of publishing had no direct positions in securities mentioned in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

February 16, 2010 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

Maher Cheerleads No Profit Healthcare

Maher Bill

Bill Maher, shock-comedian and host of Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, has made up a new rule in a recent article, “Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit.”

Hey Bill, that sounds intriguing.  I’ve got an idea – how about you decide to work for no profit? If free healthcare is a right for every American, then why should people pay for your stupid jokes? If I have a right to free healthcare, then why not a right to free laughs?

Don’t get me wrong, our system is broke and needs to be fixed. The real question, is insuring an additional  50 million uninsured, by the same bureaucratic healthcare system leading the Medicare train-wreck, our best approach in solving our healthcare crisis? Sure, doing nothing should not be a fallback, but I’m not sure a trillion dollar healthcare plan with Washington bureaucrats is the best idea either? I’m not against government involvement, but before we dive headfirst into the deep-end with additional deficit exploding plans, why not wade in the shallow end and slowly roll-out success-based models that prove their superiority first.

I’m no medical expert, but let’s take the best structures, whether it’s the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, or other leading structures and have the government manage a steady roll-out. If the government can prove a lower-cost, more efficient way of serving higher quality care, then by all means…let’s see it. Some argue we don’t have time to test new models, well unfortunately our disastrous system took decades to create and a pork-filled bill through Congress is not going to be an immediate silver-bullet for our dire healthcare problems.

Getting back to Mr. Maher’s profit objections on healthcare, I wonder if he’s ever complained or contemplated the innovations created by the profit-laden healthcare system. Whether it’s an MRI, hip replacement, cholesterol drug, cancer test, glaucoma treatment, ADHD medication or the hundreds of other beneficial advancements, maybe Mr. Maher should ask and understand where all these innovations came from? The answer: good old profits that were invested in critical research and development. Without those profits, there would be fewer and less impactful healthcare innovation for millions of Americans.

As for the firemen who do not “charge” or make a profit, I would like to remind Mr. Maher who is paying their fair share for those services consumed by hundreds of millions of Americans – it’s those same “soulless vampires making money off human pain” that you castigate. Profitable corporations are funding those essential government services with tax dollars derived from, you guessed it, profits. If we can find a lower-cost, more efficient way of serving the public services by the government, then as Phil Knight from Nike (NKE) says, “Just Do It!” Unfortunately, I prefer to see some tangible proof first, before spending hundreds of billions of tax dollars.

Healthy Incentives

From an early age, even as babies, we are incentivized for certain behavior. Whether it’s offering M&Ms to potty-train a two year old, or submitting six-figure bonuses to a fifty-two year old for hitting department profit targets, incentives always plays a central role in shaping behavior. Figure out the desired behavior and create incentives for your subjects (and penalties for non-compliance).

As the government comes up with a public solution, I have no problem with Washington pressuring insurance companies and the medical industry to become more efficient and provide a higher threshold of care. I’m confident that structures can be put in place that mitigate conflicts of interest (i.e., pure profit motive), while increasing the standard of care and efficiency. Rewarding the healthcare industry with incentives, rather than just simply beating them over the head with lower reimbursements under a single-payer system, may produce longer-lasting, sustainable benefits.

In certain areas of society, such as policemen/women, firefighters, national defense, and doctors there has always been a view that government is better suited for handling certain services. However, sometimes government does not implement the proper incentive plans, which then leads to bureaucracy, inefficiency, and excessive costs. Eventually, these negative trends overwhelm the system into failure, much like sand grinding engine gears to a halt.

Bill, I appreciate your viewpoint, and I like you would love if everything was free. For starters, I’ll look for your press release announcing the cancellation of your multi-million contract with HBO, closely followed by the revelation of your pro-bono comedy work. Here’s to profitless prosperity.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper.  

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in NKE, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

August 17, 2009 at 3:55 am 3 comments

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