Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Mumbo Jumbo

Give me a break!

by: Larry Walker, Jr.

Worthless Government Statistics

It was just back on November 3rd when the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), a division of the U.S. Commerce Department, declared that Gross Domestic Product grew at an annual rate of 3.5% during the 3rd quarter of 2009. Then on November 23rd, the Bureau declared that the revised rate of growth for the 3rd quarter was only 2.8%. The question that came to mind, right away, was: What exactly does this mean?

Click to Enlarge

First of all what it does NOT mean is that the economy grew at the rate of 2.8% during the 3rd quarter of 2009. The rate of 2.8% is derived by taking the rate of increase from the 2nd quarter to the 3rd quarter of 0.70% and assuming that this will stay constant for the next 3 quarters (0.70% times 4). Why is this a bogus way of measuring the economy?

When I open my quarterly 401K statement and it reads that my portfolio has increased by 8.0% during the recent period, I don’t automatically assume that my annual rate of return is 32.0% (8.0% times 4). No, on the contrary, I look at the past four quarters to determine my annual return. If I lost 8.0% in the previous three quarters combined, and then gained 8.0% in the most recent quarter, then I am close to breaking even. But have I broken even? No.

To demonstrate, let’s assume my portfolio was valued at $100,000 at the end of the previous fiscal year. After declining by 8.0% in the succeeding three quarters, the value had dropped to $92,000 ($100,000 times 0.92). Now, after gaining 8.0% in the most recent quarter, the value of my portfolio has increased to $99,360 ($92,000 times 1.08). You will note that I have yet to break even. I am in fact still down by 0.64% ($640 divided by $100,000) having started with $100,000 and declined to $99,360 over the past four quarters. So much for growth. Now back to GDP.

GDP has declined by 1.42% over the past four quarters

Now when it comes to GDP, a more reasonable way to look at our present rate of growth, similar to measuring an investment portfolio, is to look at the past 4 quarters. Since the BEA only publishes figures in annual terms, I will approach this by using their figures, but keep in mind that the quarterly GDP figures are shown as annual amounts (in billions).

  • 4th Quarter 2008 - $14,347.3

  • 1st Quarter 2009 - $14,178.0

  • 2nd Quarter 2009 - $14,151.2

  • 3rd Quarter 2009 - $14,266.3

Dividing the above by four, the average GDP over the past four quarters is $14,235.7 billion. The final GDP figure for all of 2008 was $14,441.4. So GDP has dropped by $205.7 billion ($14,441.4 minus $14,235.7) over the past four quarters. That equals a percentage drop of 1.42% ($205.7 divided by $14,441.4) since 2008.

GDP has declined at the rate of 1.21% since 2008

An even more accurate way to look at this is to start with the 2008 total GDP of $14,441.4 billion and to measure the decline over the next three quarters. In this respect GDP declined by 1.82% in the 1st quarter of 2009, by another 0.19% in the 2nd quarter of 2009, and then improved by 0.80% in the 3rd quarter of 2009. Overall GDP has declined by 1.21% since 2008. This is the statistic that’s most meaningful to me.

GDP has declined at the rate of 1.21% since 2008. In dollar terms that’s $175.1 billion per year in lost production in our economy. That’s the equivalent of losing 3.5 million jobs paying $50,000 per year. That’s more meaningful to me than the BEA’s mumbo jumbo.

GDP growth averaged 4.93% per year from 2003 to 2008

While we are at it, you will note on the chart above that GDP was $11,142.1 billion in 2003 and grew to $14,441.4 billion in 2008. That’s an increase of 29.6% over the six-year period, or an average of 4.93% per year. It also represents an increase of $3,299 billion in U.S. production over the period. That’s the equivalent of an increase of around 65.9 million jobs paying $50,000 per year.

So wake me up when Obama’s economy killing policies have created 65.9 million jobs, or when GDP reaches $18,490.7 billion (an increase of 29.6% from today’s level), whichever comes first, but don’t bother me with meaningless government statistics.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Give Me a Tax Cut, or Give Me Death!

Small Business Tax & Toil

By: Larry Walker, Jr.

I have been contemplating all the blood, sweat, and tears shed by Small Business owners such as myself. Having been in business for the past 9 years, I have come to the realization that:

  1. I am paying a hell of a lot in Taxes (and government mandated fees), and

  2. I am feeling mighty underappreciated.

The Federal Government, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, chose to give a Social Security tax cut, the Making Work Pay Credit, to workers making under $75,000 per year. That's all well and fine, but what about the Small Businesses who pay those wages? Small Business Owners have to pay double the amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes on our own pay, plus a matching amount on what we pay our employees.

As the owner of an S-Corporation, in order to write myself a paycheck I am hit with 25% in Federal Withholding Taxes, 15.3% for Social Security and Medicare (since as an owner-employee both halves come out of the same pocket), 5% for State Withholding Taxes and Federal and State Unemployment Taxes. Excluding Unemployment Taxes, I have to withhold and pay in 45.3% of my pay every month. On top of that, since I have employees, I also have to match 7.65% of their pay for Social Security and Medicare Taxes.

As a side note, I also have to pay County business license fees, Federal and State license fees, County property taxes, State Sales Taxes, Federal Excise taxes on telephone, cell phone and internet usage, interest and principal payments on a Federal SBA loan and other business debts, professional liability insurance, health insurance, matching retirement contributions, etc. ... and then the actual operating expenses. When it's all said and done, in return for my contribution to society, I get to keep about 20% of my gross income (toil). But lets just keep the focus here on Social Security, Medicare, and Income Taxes.

As an example, let’s say I have to write gross pay checks for myself and my employees of $8,000 per month. And let’s say $5,000 of that is for me, and the other $3,000 is for two employees. In order to pay myself $5,000 I have to set aside $2,265 for taxes ($5,000 * 45.3% = $2,265). In order to pay my employees $3,000 I have to set aside an extra $229.50 ($3,000 * 7.65% = $229.50) to match Social Security and Medicare.

So to summarize my gross pay started out at $5,000, but my net take home pay wound up being only just $3,117.50 (see the chart below). In the end, I have spent a total of $8,612.00. My employees took home $2,770.50, I took home $3,117.50, and the Government took home $2,724.00.

click to enlarge

When times are good and I can afford to take a full paycheck I have to fork over 45.3% of my earnings to the Government. When times are tough and I can’t afford to pay myself a full paycheck I still have to fork over 45.3% of my earnings to the Government. And when the business makes a profit, the Government will be standing there laying claim to another 30% or more of my toils (25% Federal Taxes and 5% State Taxes).

And now the Federal Government, through the Senate’s Health Care Bill, is proposing to:

  • Add an Excise Tax on Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans

  • Burden us with Employer Reporting of Health Insurance Costs on W-2 Forms

  • Hike Taxes on Health Savings Account Withdrawals by 10%

  • Raise the “Haircut” for Medical Itemized Deductions from 7.5% to 10% of AGI

(See How Does the Reid-Obama Health Bill Raise Taxes on Your Current Health Plan?).

If there is any common sense at all in Washington D.C., Congress and the President will realize that Small Businesses employ most of America, and that Small Business owners pay an unfair burden of Social Security and Medicare Taxes. And we receive nothing in return. By nothing I mean that business owners do not get double the Social Security and Medicare benefits for paying twice what the average worker pays into the system. When liberals start whining about tax cuts for the rich, perhaps they should try standing in the shoes of a small business owner. They would not last a week. They would die from their own complaining.

Do Small Business Owners deserve tax relief? You’re damned right! What can you do about it in Washington D.C.? Well, if you want Small Businesses to spend more, hire more, and stop the lay offs, then stop squeezing us.

  1. Give small business Owners an immediate tax cut of 50% of the Social Security and Medicare Taxes on the wages that they pay themselves. This is not only fair, but it would be just that simple.

  2. Or, if you really want to be fair, then give us a 50% tax cut on the Social Security and Medicare Taxes on all the wages that we have paid so far this year. It's time to act.

Give me a tax cut, or give me death!

Related: Common Sense vs. Obamanomics

Related: A Brief Legislative History of Social Security

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Obama's Cluelessian Economics - Obamanomics

By: Larry [Update: below in red]

As economists from across the globe are grappling to find a new name for Barack Obama's economic policies, I have beat them to the punch. Cluelessian is Obama's new model for future economic (failures). Thus, in an effort to ensure that others do not slip and fall down into the same bottomless pit, let me help you define the difference between Free Market Economics and Cluelessian Economics.

The two most basic concepts in free market economic theory are the laws of supply and demand. Under the law of supply as prices increase the quantity of goods and services increases, as additional investment is attracted into the market. Under the law of demand as prices decrease, the quantity of goods and services demanded increases, because more consumers are able to afford these goods and services. Where supply and demand meet is at the prevailing market price.

Now when a price is set below the prevailing market price in order control prices, less investment is attracted to produce the supply. Where the price is fixed as in the graph below, the quantity demanded is higher than the quantity supplied, thus creating excess demand, better known as shortages. And shortages lead to rationing.

On Health Care Reform

Under Cluelessian Theory, the laws of supply and demand didn't work for everyone. Thus, what is being proposed with health care reform is an increase in the number of people covered by insurance through a legal mandate (demand), without increasing the price. This is only possible under the Cluelessian Model. In fact, under the new theory demand will increase, prices will decline, supply will decline (as insurance companies go bankrupt) and higher income taxes will make up the difference.

Under Cluelessian theory you actually wind up paying more for less, but that's all right because higher taxes don't count towards the price of health insurance, right? Also by following the Cluelessians we can get rid of all those evil, greedy doctors and insurance companies at the same time. So under Cluelessian theory it would appear that we would actually destroy the free market system, and create not only government run health insurance, but also government doctors and hospitals.

On Climate Change

Now when it comes to making an impact on the effects of that evil, and relentless Sun, that sits in the middle of our solar system spewing out all that heat, the laws of supply and demand just don't quite cut it. So it will be necessary to dramatically reduce the supply of electricity, coal, natural gas, and gasoline; meaning that prices will necessarily 'skyrocket' (a Cluelessian axiom).

Cluelessian policies will necessarily call for a dramatic decline in the demand for energy. As the supply declines and businesses begin to lay off workers and shutter plants, and as people begin to freeze to death in their homes and to die of heat stroke, the Cluelessians will compensate by _______? (I don't think they have thought this one all the way through.)

A. Raising taxes to help those who can no longer afford their energy bills?

B. Coming up with a nifty formula to demonstrate how many human beings they saved, or how many years of life they added to Planet Earth?

On Jobs

Under Cluelessian law, a job saved (or created) is equal to giving a pay raise to existing employees. Contemporary economists thought that a job saved entailed cancelling a layoff, or recalling laid off workers; and that a job created meant hiring new employees on top of the existing workforce. However, under Cluelessian theory, whatever makes you look good counts. As we saw recently in the news, the Southwest Georgia Community Action Council was able to save 935 jobs by providing a cost of living increase for only 508 people. (See the last post: Jobs and O-bonics Interpreted).

The Cluelessians haven't yet been able to formulate a way to actually create jobs so please check back for updates over the next three (3) years.

[Update: The Cluelessians have just stated that a key part of their plan for job creation will involve housing Guantanamo terrorism detainees in U.S. prisons. Cluelessian economists are talking to Illinois officials about buying the Thomson Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison about 150 miles west of Chicago. A limted number of the remaining 215 Guantanamo detainees would be housed there which some Cluelessians are claiming could create up to 2,000 jobs. So now we have an even better understanding of how Cluelessian policies will impact future economic and social deterioration.]


So in conclusion it's not very hard to understand Cluelessian Economics. Simply throw away the idea of a free market system. Forget about the laws of supply and demand. Under this new theory the Government will take care of all of us. The Government will supply our health care, energy, and employment needs. The Government will take the place of the free market. The Government is good, and we are bad. The Government knows all. And when the Government runs out of money, then under Cluelessian law, they will make up another lie (i.e. blame Bush).

Now if you want some real answers, you should check out The Just Third Way Blog, or The Center for Economic and Social Justice. You may even want to read, Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen or Binary Economics: The New Paradigm.

Related to and inspired by John Galt at: John Galt's Wisdom Blog

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jobs and O-bonics Interpreted

Why Take Math? So Your Ignorance Isn’t Broadcast Nationwide on the AP Wire

November 6, 2009

This is pretty funny. Or horrifying. Depends on how you want to look at it.

Several days ago, I noted on Twitter that there were a lot of “saved” jobs that weren’t saved at all but actually cost of living increases. About 24 hours after I noted this, there was an Associated Press article about that very phenomena.

Coincidence? Almost certainly. But I’ll flatter myself anyway.

But the laugh riot comes several paragraphs into the article as they look into why Southwest Georgia Community Action Council was able to save 935 jobs with a cost of living increase for only 508 people. The director of the action council said:

“she followed the guidelines the Obama administration provided. She said she multiplied the 508 employees by 1.84 — the percentage pay raise they received — and came up with 935 jobs saved.

“I would say it’s confusing at best,” she said. “But we followed the instructions we were given.”

“Confusing at best”? The multiplication of percentages is “confusing at best”? It seems obvious to me she should have multiplied 508 people by the amount the increase (.0184) and gotten 9.3. But she forgot that you have to divide the percentage by 100 before you multiply.

The fact that she had “saved” more jobs than there were people in the organization should have been a tip-off. But this is a pretty common problem with people who don’t have a very good grasp on mathematics… they don’t recognize obvious mathematical errors, they just plug in the numbers and go with whatever comes out.

And this, children, is why you pay attention at school. So you don’t get in the national news for doing something really stupid and then blame it on the instruction manual.

Via: Political Math Blog


My Comments:

So I take it that instead of creating or saving 1 million jobs, we only created or saved around 10,000 (after moving the decimal place two places to the left). And since we know that no jobs were actually created, what Obama really means, you have to interpret the Obonics, is that, “we lost 4.2 million jobs, and we think we would have lost 1 million more, but thankfully our $787 billion dollar stimulus program saved around 10,000″. Right?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

3.5% Growth in the 3rd Quarter? No! Try 0.87%

Source: Trade and Taxes

Raymond L. Richman

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis issued a misleading report when it announced October 29, 2009, that annualized Gross Domestic Product, measured in 2005 prices, increased 3.5 percent from the 2nd quarter 2009 to the 3rd Quarter of 2009. The fact is that annualized GDP in the 3rd quarter was $13,014 billion compared with $12,901 in the 2nd quarter , an increase of 0.872, less than one percent. The number, 3½ , asserted by the BEA was obtained by multiplying 0.872 by 4, in other words by extrapolating the rate of increase in the 3rd quarter for three additional future quarters, hardly a scientific way of prediction . What is worse, analysis of the data indicates no reason to expect any future growth of the economy at all.

Net private non-residential investment, the key to a growing economy, declined in the 3rd quarter. So did net exports. Exports increased but imports increased even more, resulting in a drag on the economy. Personal Consumption increased but that was due principally to a non-recurring factor, the “klunkers” rebate, a costly exercise in subsidized consumption which did more economic harm than good. We already have evidence that it was at the expense of sales in the succeeding period. Thus, it will contribute to a decline in the current quarter. And it will no doubt have a negative effect on auto repairs and maintenance expenditures. Although the administration claimed that it was intended as a stimulus to the economy, it was done at the urging of environmentalists wanting to reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Personal Consumption may increase in the future but there was nothing in the 3rd quarter data to give any assurance that it will.

Personal consumption may grow if expectations about the future of the economy improve. Unfortunately, the data do not lend to the expectation of the economy’s growth. The real growth of the economy is dependent on fixed private investment. Private non-residential fixed investment fell, -1.88 percent in current dollars and -.636 percent in 2005 dollars. Multiply those by four!

The other principal contributor to economic growth is positive net exports. While exports of goods rose 4.65 percent in current dollars and 3.49 percent in 2005 dollars, imports increased faster, 6.43 percent and 3.86 percent respectively. This occurred in spite of a falling dollar which is supposed to increase exports and reduce imports. Multiply those numbers by four, too!

For years we have been warning that the growing trade deficits of the U.S. were a threat to the health of the U.S. economy. It caused the loss of millions of industrial jobs, depressed wages as the laid off industrial workers sought jobs in the service sector, and worsened the American distribution of income. It is urgent that we get trade into reasonable balance. If we succeed, the economy has a chance of recovering quickly because it would stimulate private investment , growth, and employment. These and other measures appear in our book, Trading Away Our Future (2008), which deals with the causes of and cures for the trade deficits.

The stock markets boomed on the news that GDP had grown at an annual rate of 3.5 percent. Pres. Obama and Dr. Romer, Chairwoman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, repeated the number. The latter should have known better. What should have been reported is that in the third quarter GDP rose, compared with the 2nd quarter, 1.06 percent in current dollars and 0.87 percent in 2005 dollars. The next day, after investors had time to read the release and the accompanying tables, the stock markets collapsed.

We have great respect for the Bureau of Economic Analysis and their statistical methods. But the extrapolation of the rate of growth into the future serves no purpose and adds nothing to the data and should be abandoned.


Link to BEA Report:

Note: It says, "Real gross domestic product...increased at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2009..." The use of the term Annual Rate means that GDP actually only rose by 0.87% during the 3rd Quarter of 2009. Thus, I concur. This is a shameful deception by the Obama Administration and he needs to be called on it.

It's also debatable whether when annualizing GDP growth one should take the previous three quarters plus the current one, or as makes no sense here, take the current quarter and expand it out by three future quarters at the same rate.

I don't see any consistency with this even with the BEA. In checking the BEA's 2nd quarter report, for example, GDP decreased by -0.8% in the 2nd Quarter but the annualized decrease was stated as minus -1.0%, not minus -3.2% as would be apples to apples. So what's up with that?