The People’s Money, Again

Aging, many honest people will tell you, is no fun. Aside from the usual stuff that accompanies physical decline, there is often an element of deja vu. Or something akin to it. You been around long enough, you think you’ve seen or heard pretty much everything. And sometimes, you have.

Now we’re about to be treated to a particularly egregious example of recycling, courtesy of the Party of the Unpalatables. The way it normally works is they screw things up, lose an election, point to the incoming Democrats, and say, “He (soon She) did it. He is the reason why all these bad things are happening.” And, bingo, at least a third of your fellow Americans believe it. They’re clueless, of course, but they vote, so now you have the political equivalent of a Quarterback Controversy. These are no fun. They usually distract from other deeper problems, like a lousy offensive line or dyslexic receivers. But then you’d have to be from Philadelphia to know that. And you probably aren’t. Your loss.

Now that we’re ridin’ with Biden, you’re about to get treated to another edition of a Golden Oldie, which I call “The People’s Money.” Actually, I didn’t make that up. W, or Bush Minor, came up with it in 2001. Since you may not have been paying attention, or not even been born then, I’m gonna remind you what this involves. And why it matters.

A little history. When Hillary Clinton’s husband was elected President in 1992, overnight interest rates were around 3 percent. By the time he was reelected in 1996, they had risen to over 5 percent. At the same time, the federal budget deficit, which hadn’t been in surplus since 1969, came steadily down (a negative negative) and after he was reelected, the budget went into surplus (a negative-negative equals a positive) in 1998. Without making this too complicated, the economy (total demand) was actually growing, so while while supply of federal debt (think credit which is basically borrowing ) was falling, you got rising short term rates This may seem odd, but believe me, we would get back to normal soon. Because the Unpalatables were gonna give the People back their Money.

Some of you may recall Jim (“It’s the Economy, Stupid”) Carville saying he wanted to be reincarnated as the bond market–cause it could intimidate everyone. Political guys don’t like rising interest rates, even if they are consequence of fiscal virtue. Cause they tend to slow commerce down and maybe get the other party elected. Which is almost what happened in the “Selection of 2000.” Maybe Gore really won, but who knows? The Unpalatables were just warming their fraud chops up, so it was messy. Anyhow, W got selected over Gore. And W, being the scion of Read My Lips (“No New Taxes”), Bush Major, promptly started cutting taxes again. Because we had a surplus under Mr. Clinton, and that meant Uncle Sam was taking in more than he was paying out, imagine. Uncle Sam was reducing the national debt by saving! Other catastrophes followed, including 9/11, and an unfinanced war in the Middle East. But no matter. Because with a tax cut (more borrowing) and lots of red ink, the People had their money back again. Confused? You must be a Democrat or something.

Ok. What on Earth does this have to do with Biden, the Unpalatables and other things fiscal? Well, I read the other day that the paragon of rectitude and virtue, Lindsey Graham, thinks we need to have a serious conversation about the national debt. Now according to Investopedia, where I did deep research, the ratio of debt to GDP in the US is over 100 percent. That is held to be a Bad Thing, especially since the ratio had fallen to 30 percent in the 1970s after maxing out over–100 percent–at the end of World War II. Now, you see, 100 percent is some kind of Magic Number (it used to be 70 percent, but magic has to keep up with the times). And the reason it’s back up to levels last seen by FDR is because of THE DEFICIT. See, this year’s deficit becomes next year’s debt–what you borrow now you owe next month. Unless, for example, you run a SURPLUS (you save instead of borrow), but then, but government saving is…stealing the people’s money.. Because a government has to borrow and tax to raise money, having essentially no other means to sustain itself (what you think, it raises corn and tomatoes on national parkland and sells it?) If it’s taxing, it’s stealing. If it’s paying off debt, it’s stealing. So unless you blow up the government, it’s stealing. Ah……Now it’s starting to make sense. This is why the Unpalatables hate government. Because Government, to paraphrase Rousseau, is theft. No, that’s the Trump Administration, but I digress.

The reason why Lindsey thinks it’s time to have a birds ‘n bees talk about the national debt is because he’s afraid that Joe Biden may want to steal from you by rebuilding infrastructure (think municipal water systems like Flint), or even preparing the interstate network for the inevitable future of electric vehicles, or funding health care so that parts of the South don’t look like the Third World (no, this is not socialism), or any one of any other socially useful goals that could make us more productive. And if we become more productive, we can reduce the debt as if by magic (kind of, relatively speaking). By growing out of it. But what fun would that be? Sort of like Eisenhower and the 1950s, but woke. Imagine a Woke Republican. Who spends your money. We don’t want spending, do we? Give us back Flint, rural hookworm, and Covid-19. Keep us great.

We have to have rational, educated conversations about taxes, government spending, efficiency, social cohesion (yes, Mrs Thatcher, there is a Society), rent seeking, consumption versus investment, incentives, property rights, all them boring things that they made you do in Econ 1. But you all know that stuff, right? You had it in high school. Your football coach covered it. And, bless your heart, you got a 4 on the AP test.

And you wonder why a pandemic is killing us?

Everyone Has a Christmas Album

A few days ago, I was chatting with bassist Jimmy Haslip. While our conversation was, alas, mostly serious, there were a few lighter moments. Turns out that the Yellowjackets, a jazz-rock fusion band Jimmy spent decades with, had recorded a Christmas album. As it happens, the album, “Peace Round”, was the first Christmas recording I played this season. It’s a very good one, although in a genre dominated by Andy Williams, Mariah Carey, The Chipmunks, or even The Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, the Jackets might not be an obvious first choice. When I mentioned this, we both burst out laughing and said simultaneously, “Everyone has a Christmas album!” Ain’t it the truth? I really had no idea. And I’ll bet you didn’t either. Not only have I not heard most of this stuff, I hadn’t heard of many of the recording artists. Can ANYONE make a Christmas album? Looks that way. I thought I had listened to a lot of music and I have. But this is, well, amazing.

Let’s start with a little quiz. Which of the following artists, in no particular order, has not made a Christmas album? Don’t be a prig. It can be called Holiday Hip-Hop or something like that, but it’s the thought that counts. So don’t be splitting hairs. This isn’t a Princeton seminar. Ok. No cheating. The names are in no order, and all of them are, or were, real people or groups. There’s some bias here because I readily admit to listening to very little recent vocal (i.e., recorded after 2010). Sorry, Boomer Bias, but I can only take so much Drake. Or is it Drek?

Ferlin Husky. Englebert Humperdink. Theresa Brewer. Ed Ames. Jim Nabors. Oscar Peterson. The Beach Boys. Rosemary Clooney. The Temptations. Roseanne Barr. Regis Philbin. David Hasselhoff. Al Hirt. Wynton Marsalis. Dave Brubeck. Dr John. The Swingle Singers. Bobby Rydell. Marian McPartland. June Christy. Enough? You want more? Ok. Trick quiz. Everyone there released a Christmas album, albeit Marian MacPartland did hers through National Public Radio. Understand, I’m not putting Oscar Peterson on the same level as David Hasselhoff. I’m just sayin’. Everyone has a Christmas Album. Except for maybe Miles and Monk. I’d have paid a lot to see Miles decked out as Santa and glaring over a horn. If you know of any such photo, contact me.

The simple discovery that everyone has a Christmas album was comforting in its way. For years now, or so it seems, the Season needs a Reason, and a war on something or other (why not Christmas) seems appropriate. I know this is another one of those Trump things, a bs grenade to convince his followers that their White Christmas world (literally) is under attack. But I think it’s pre-Trump. And it’s not the only seasonal controversy. I haven’t heard much about “Baby it’s cold outside” as an ode to sexual harassment lately. Maybe because it isn’t cold outside, or because, for once, we have bigger things to worry about, like the “fake” Covid 19 that’s carried off 300,000 plus souls. But really, if you’re worried about Festivus, Eid, Kwanzaa or some other heathen ritual, cool it. There are a lot of Christmas recordings because there is a lot of money in Christmas. Duh? So as long as there is commerce, or capitalism, there will be a Christmas. And there will be Christmas records. Many recorded by people you had no idea existed. And for good reason. Anyone trying to make a living as a musician will explain it to you. Incentives matter.

Now, so as this is not a total waste of your time, I am gonna give a list of a few of my Christmas favorites. They are all drawn from some variant of jazz because that’s what I mostly listen to. And maybe I can help a starving artist (or their estate) since my list doesn’t really look like the better known ones.

  • Joe Pass, Six String Santa. Joe was another gift from Pittsburgh to the world. There are other wonderful guitar players from the Burgh, Joe Negri, for one, but Pass landed on me first.
  • God Rest Ye Merry, Jazzmen. An Anthology. My favorite all-time Christmas recording is Dexter Gordon doing Merry Little Christmas. LTD could have played Tantum Ergo in whole notes and it would have been sensational.
  • Joe Williams, That Holiday Feeling. This is for grown ups with Scotch and a fireplace. His ironic version of What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? sounds just weary enough to let you know Joe knew a lot disappointment in his day. The version of A Child is Born is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in any genre of music
  • Rosemary Clooney, White Christmas (Concord). When she was really a kid, she starred in the movie with Bing Crosby. She did not have an easy life and probably had more Christmas recordings than Louis Armstrong. She made some wonderful recordings toward the end of her career on Concord that really rose to the level of her talent. This was one of them
  • Manhattan Transfer, The Christmas Album. From moody snowfalls to screech lead big band on Happy Holidays. And how can you miss with Sweets Edison making an appearance?
  • Yellowjackets, Peace Round. If you don’t like Bob Mintzer or Jimmy Haslip, you should be watching Welk reruns (did he have a Christmas recording? Of course he did!!! Champagne Ladies Just Want to Have Fun……)

I’m gonna stop there. My antiquated CD carousel only holds five, so I’m already out of room.

Feliz Navidad!!! From Dr. John and NOLA

I am not a Crook

No. This is not entitled Georgia on My Mind. Or A Rainy Night in Georgia. Or even Sweet Georgia Brown. They’ve been done. To death, I’m sure. I’m thinking more along the lines of I’ve Heard That Song Before. Or maybe, Do Nothing ’til You Hear From Me. Cause It’s Been A Long Long Time. Since the days of Richard M. Nixon, my previous candidate for “President I’d most like teleport to another galaxy.” If you weren’t around for Tricky Dick, he said exactly that on November 17, 1973. When He Was President. During the Watergate scandal. Which seems like child’s play now. Somehow, I even miss Nixon. He might have inhabited his own Tricky Dick World, but at least he knew–or admitted under prodding–that a lot of his fellow citizens thought he was indeed a crook. And since he was a lawyer, we’ll leave it at that. It would sort of be like Trump saying “I’m not nuts.” Or Rudy Giuliani saying “I’ll follow my conscience.” Right. Amusing, but plainly incorrect. And absurd on the face of it.

You watch this stuff going on in Georgia, if you watch anything connected with politics, with mounting disbelief, disgust and despair. Gee, Georgia has not one but two Senatorial Crooks. Come January, both are going to be involved in a runoff election. And not just any runoff. Why should anyone care what goes on in Georgia with David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler? Ordinarily, washing your trash can would be more edifying. Or worthwhile. But this isn’t just any runoff. Or any crook or crook aspirant. These guys are really unpalatable, even for a Party of Unpalatables. And on their reelection or rejection, a lot, a whole lot, is a stake.

If you’re reading this rant, you know that if Perdue and Loeffler both lose in their runoffs, the Senate will be 50-50. At that point, the VP casts the tie-breaker, and presumably, she’s not going to forget who brought her to the dance. This means, horror of horrors, it gets a lot easier for Joe Biden to get legislation through. While we all know the Moscow Mitch has made a habit of blocking everything that comes his way as Majority Leader, he won’t have that burden any longer. Oh, my. Socialism is on the way, right? Sure.

Under ordinary circumstances, I might agree that voting for a “divided government” is not necessarily a bad thing. But then, that sort of assumes that the division is about keeping the President honest. That worked real well with Agent Orange and his Gangster Regime, didn’t it? Maybe we need to try something different. Like a government that can actually do stuff that makes us all better off. Not just a few wingnuts fantasizing about their right to play with guns on your front lawn, or America’s Top Fifty Families who have more money than God. I know all about government failure. I am an economic historian. But now I think it’s time to turn the page on a very bad chapter in American history. It’s called market failure. And even in America, it may be time to admit that that when a crook calls insider trading “the American Dream” (see Kelly Loeffler and thrice-recounted Georgia), it’s time to blow the whistle. I am not a crook is a nightmare, not the American dream.