Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bailouts for Everyone!!! (Except You and Me)

We're in the midst of a $700 Billion bailout of the financial system. This is a scary large monetary figure. I was against the bailout, as I am very concerned with the lack of accountability for the bad decisions the large banks and mortgage companies made. They should be punished, and the natural punishment is to fail as an ongoing entity.

The car companies are now going to be bailed out to the tune of $17.4 Billion. In the past, this would have seemed like a gargantuan amount. People would have been outraged instead of accepting of the bailout. This bailout could not have happened without the preceding $700 Billion bailout of the banks to take the heat.

Neither of those bailouts scare me the way Obama's proposed stimulus plan scares me.

Both the $700 Billion and the $17.4 Billion bailouts are being spent on "investments". In other words, they consist of loans or capital infusions for which the government receives stock or warrants. The expectation is that some portion of this money will eventually be returned to the government either as interest, dividends, or capital repayment. In the end, the taxpayers will hopefully not be eating the entire price of the bailout.

Now we have the newest proposal, now estimated at $800 Billion, but potentially rising to more than $1 Trillion. The intent of this proposal is to spend money on infrastructure and job creation. There is no explicit means for providing a return on investment. The money will be gone...spent. This is costing every single person in the country close to $3,000. For my family of four, our share is $12,000. I, for one, can not afford that kind of price tag, no matter how beneficial the result will be to the overall health of the country. Luckily, I shouldn't have to pay it all in one lump sum. But I know that I will be paying it with a small tax increase here and a new tax there. It's likely most people won't even realize their money is being siphoned away from them. Ignorance is bliss.

People tell me I'm a glass half empty kind of person. Can you blame me?

New Stimulus Details

You can read more about Obama's new stimulus proposal here.

I know this plan will help a lot of people. A number of the large construction companies will see a great deal of increase to their bottom lines. This will be quite a windfall for a number of government contractors. Hooray for them!! I'm sure a large number of blue-collar jobs will be created as a result of the infrastructure work that will be taking place. And believe me, I am all for improving our country's infrastructure.

But does this plan help you and me? I don't see any relief coming for distressed homeowners. I don't see this solving the mortgage crisis. I don't see this stimulus unfreezing the credit markets (and I will be speaking more on this at a later date). In fact, on the surface of the plan, I see absolutely nothing in it for me except a tax increase.

I want our economy to succeed. I want people in general to succeed and find happiness. Will the stimulus plan help get us out of a recession? Maybe. Nobody really knows. There has never been a recession quite like this one. The recession will supposedly end at some point without any government intervention. The stimulus plan is being proposed to hurry the end of the recession. Is it worth $800 Billion to end the recession a few months early?

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Bailout Proposal

I think the government has this bailout mess all wrong. They are bailing out the wrong people!! They need to use a bottom-up approach rather than a trickle-down approach. And it all needs to start where the mess began...home owners.

I propose the government give all homeowners the option of taking a tax credit of 10% of the purchase price of their primary residence each year for up to ten years. That puts money into taxpayers' pockets now, and provides added incentive for people not only to work harder to stay in their home, but gives potential new home buyers a little more motivation to get into the market.

This would not necessarily be a tax cut, but rather a tax deferral. Each year that a taxpayer chooses to write down the value of his house by 10%, it reduces the cost basis of the house. When the house is later sold, the government would collect a larger amount in capital gains. For example, if the house is sold after ten years, the entire amount of the sale would be taxed at the capital gains rate.

I think this would result in the following:

  1. Distressed homeowners could use the money they receive from the tax credit to get caught up on their mortgages.

  2. More people would be inclined to buy their first home in order to receive the tax credit. This would reduce the inventory of homes for sale and help to stabilize prices.

  3. Homeowners would be less likely to sell their homes as a greater percentage of the sales price would be taxable. This would also reduce the inventory of homes for sale, and would drive up prices.

I'm sure there are many kinks to be worked out of this system. What do you think? Any ideas for making this plan better?

More on Social Security

Is there a reason the government is so opposed to letting individuals control their own Social Security funds? I know there are a number of people out there who are, from a financial perspective, less than talented. I'm not proposing that we privatize Social Security (although I'm not opposed to the idea, either), and force everyone to decide what to do with their accounts. I would just like to have the option of controlling my own destiny, so to speak. I strongly believe I could beat the rate of return the government offers on Social Security investments. And if for some reason I can't match that rate, I'm willing to deal with those consequences.

I don't have any facts to back this up, but if I had to guess, I'd say the primary reason we aren't allowed to control the funds in our Social Security accounts is because those funds aren't really there. The money has been spent already, and all that's really sitting in our Social Security accounts is a big fat IOU. Does that thought scare anyone?