Smaller Stimulus Leaves Room For Restructuring

By: John Browne | Wed, Jan 21, 2009
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As all recovery hopes are now pinned on the efficacy of Washington's next stimulus package, President Obama has opened the bidding at $825 billion. Most Republicans see this number as too big, and many Democrats see it as too small. If the question is one purely of impact, then under these circumstances, the Democrats are probably correct.

Measured against the erosion of some $20 trillion from American household wealth in just two years and the waste of some $3 trillion (including long tail medical liabilities) on a fruitless war in Iraq, populists and democrats will label Obama's planed expenditure as relatively small. They will argue that to affect a noticeable change in America's $14 trillion economy, a much larger stimulus is needed. However, this would be the sort of change that would paralyze the economy for years, perhaps decades.

From my perspective, the size of Obama's proposed stimulus may be just large enough to prevent widespread dissatisfaction with government inaction but small enough to leave room for a great opportunity -- the genuine restructuring of the American economy.

For the past 30 years, an increasingly socialist U.S. Congress has drastically overspent in its errant attempt to 'help' everyone. In so doing, it has depleted the wealth of a hugely productive economy by consistently encouraging citizens to consume more than they produce. Today, America's standard of living is financed largely by depreciation of the U.S. dollar, high taxation and by massive borrowing, from citizens, foreigners and from future generations.

The natural cure for such over consumption is a cutback in consumer spending, or a recession. But recessions, by nature, involve high unemployment. They are socially painful and therefore carry a distinct political cost if leaders cannot quickly bring recovery. Politicians fear recessions and are loath to accept them as a natural cure of excessive spending. They are tempted therefore to keep exorbitant consumerism alive, by a progressive and unsustainable combination of taxation, inflation, currency depreciation and borrowing. What is happening today is a classic example of this unfortunate political/economic dynamic.

The tragedy is that this reaction prevents necessary restructuring and sustains failed systems. While claiming the converse, the vast sums spent by government have actually prevented the vital but painful restructuring of the American economy.

Some argue that Obama's proposed stimulus package is not only too small, but also too late. Ironically, this may be a benefit. If it does come too late, it will prevent American politicians from 'saving' individual industries and companies that have no hope of sustainability. By force of circumstance, it will allow a recession to do the hard and unpleasant job of restructuring the American economy.

In short, the political or financial inability of Congress to fund a larger stimulus package could be a major blessing in disguise. It may not help the current office holders, but it could benefit greatly America's economy, its citizens and non-U.S. citizens who trade with America.

If President Obama sticks to his expressed intent to spend on 'real' job creating enterprises, there will be less and less money available for Congress to spend on 'rescuing' defunct industries, companies and jobs. All this presages a possible major restructuring and turn-around in America's economic fortunes. At long last, it's possible to see such events unfolding. However, it will only be possible by a firm stance with no deviations.

This may mean that Obama's policies may more likely be supported more by Republicans than by those in his own Party.

In order to survive against a Democrat dominated Congress, President Obama must be able to speak over the heads of Congress directly to the American people in order to inspire them to accept the short-term pain of recession in return for the long-term gain of economic revival and the return to America of genuine wealth creation. For those listening, there was a whiff of support for capitalism in his inauguration speech. Let's hope his words were not merely fig leaves.

Therefore, as strange as it may seem, a stimulus package which is both too late and too small, may be just the blessing that America needs to restructure its economy and return to the generation of long-term wealth creation.

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John Browne

Author: John Browne

John Browne, Senior Market Strategist
Euro Pacific Capital, Inc.

John Browne

John Browne is the Senior Economic Consultant for Euro Pacific Capital, Inc. Mr. Brown is a distinguished former member of Britain's Parliament who served on the Treasury Select Committee, as Chairman of the Conservative Small Business Committee, and as a close associate of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Among his many notable assignments, John served as a principal advisor to Mrs. Thatcher's government on issues related to the Soviet Union, and was the first to convince Thatcher of the growing stature of then Agriculture Minister Mikhail Gorbachev. As a partial result of Brown's advocacy, Thatcher famously pronounced that Gorbachev was a man the West "could do business with." A graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Britain's version of West Point and retired British army major, John served as a pilot, parachutist, and communications specialist in the elite Grenadiers of the Royal Guard.

In addition to careers in British politics and the military, John has a significant background, spanning some 37 years, in finance and business. After graduating from the Harvard Business School, John joined the New York firm of Morgan Stanley & Co as an investment banker. He has also worked with such firms as Barclays Bank and Citigroup. During his career he has served on the boards of numerous banks and international corporations, with a special interest in venture capital. He is a frequent guest on CNBC's Kudlow & Co. and the former editor of NewsMax Media's Financial Intelligence Report and Moneynews.com. He holds FINRA series 7 & 63 licenses.

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