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Now that Biden’s $1.8T fiscal stimulus bill has passed Congress, and next a $2T+ Infrastructure spending bill will be soon proposed, the question is how will the multi-trillion dollar dual fiscal package be paid for? Part will be financed no doubt by federal government borrowing (i.e. selling Treasury bonds). Another part will be paid for with new Biden initiatives in the form of tax hikes on Capital (and individuals earning more than $400k per year).

During the 2020 election year Biden provided general outlines of his tax proposals–some of which were designed to reverse Trump’s massive $4T giveaway to businesses, investors and the wealthiest households.

Recently the Biden administration has begun to clarify in more details what his forthcoming tax proposals might be. That too will soon be further detailed. What are Biden’s latest tax proposals? How do they compare to his campaign year promises to voters?

For my description of the latest version of Biden’s tax policy, listen to my Alternative Visions radio show of friday, March 25, 2021.

TO LISTEN GO TO:

https://alternativevisions.podbean.com/e/alternative-visions-biden-s-tax-plan-crossroads-for-american-democracy/

SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT

Dr. Rasmus provides a first look at President Biden’s Tax proposals, designed to roll back the worst of Trump’s $4T tax cuts in 2018 for businesses and investors. Rasmus describes the 40 year historical tax shift in favor of the 1% wealthiest households, their businesses and their investments—a key hallmark of Neoliberalism policy since 1981. Biden’s 3-part economic recovery program—the $1.8T recent stimulus, the $2T-$3T infrastructure bill to be announced next week, and the tax proposals to help pay for both—are described in context of a struggling US economy and a global deterioration in Europe and elsewhere of the fight against Covid 19 and another economic downturn in many economies. What’s happening in Europe and the prospects of a third wave of Covid based on new and more dangerous variants from UK, So. Africa, and Brazil. Rasmus introduces the show with commentary on the current, intensifying fight to retain even limited democracy in America—as Republicans launch voter suppression legislation in 43 states and as Democrats offer HR 1 in Congress to ensure absentee and mail in voting. America’s ‘triple crises’ of Covid, a faltering economy, and a declining democracy are not over. Is a new phase in each on the horizon?

For my latest commentary on the growing attention in mainstream media that US government deficits are about to cause escalating inflation, check out my Friday, March 19, 2020 Alternative Visions radio show:

To Listen GO TO:

https://www.podbean.com/site/EpisodeDownload/PBFE45F4QHCDI

    SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT
:

Now that the Biden $1.9T (actually $1.8T) fiscal stimulus has passed, mainstream economists and media are pumping up the rhetoric it will soon lead to excess inflation and rising interest rates that will endanger the economic recovery. Rasmus debunks the notion that deficits and debt—or ‘too much money chasing too few goods’ cause inflation, as well as related ideological notions of mainstream economics. What has been the actually deficits in 2020-2021 due to the three bouts of economic fiscal stimulus during the pandemic (March, December, and now March again)? What have been the actual causes of the deficits (besides the fiscal stimulus)? What’s the likelihood of inflation in 2021 and beyond and its real causes apart from deficit spending? What are financial markets reacting now so negatively driving up long term Treasury interest rates? And what instability might that lead to?
Bond interest rates are rising fast, signalling a problem with business, households & local govts repaying record levels of debt recently accumulated. Financial crises occur not just when debt reaches excessive levels (which it has in the wake of the covid crisis in the real economy), but when businesses, households & govts can no long ‘service’ that debt (i.e. pay principal & interest) on the accumulated debt. A harbinger of financial system problems may be indicated by the current rapid rise of US bond rates and other interest rates that follow. On top of the excessive business and govt debt recently accumulated there’s the question of how will tens of millions of households now pay for their debt accumulated over the past year: more than $75B in back rent payments, $70B in back owed mortgages, $hundreds of billions in forbearance of student debt, etc. The current $1.2B Biden fiscal plan (yes, only $1.2B not $1.9B per the Congressional Budget Office) does not address the debt repayment problem.

How will households repay their record debt, when more than 1.3m a week are still filing for first time jobless benefits? When 24m are still unemployed? When it is clear business will recall workers to jobs very very slowly, when hours of work for those employed will be most part time and temp jobs, when wages will remain mostly stagnant, and when rising prices now taking off will reduce their real wages and real incomes even more?

Meanwhile, as businesses see bond and interest rates now rising rapidly, they too are taking on even further record levels of debt to take advantage of the soon disappearing low interest rates. Will Zombie companies be able to pay back the even greater debt load in progress? Business sectors like commercial real estate, travel, entertainment and big box retail, malls, etc. are candidates for default and bankruptcy as rate levels rise more rapidly.

Recently I was asked to explain by Michael Albert and ‘Revolution Z’ media how Wall St. stock markets work, what’s up with the recent Gamestop bubble, what’s financial speculation, what causes financial instability and crises–and how they are all related to, or unrelated to, the real economy. Presented in simple terms, the interview clarifies for laypersons how the current capitalist financial system functions to make investors ever richer, while the rest of the real economy experiences periodic great recessions, wages stagnate and fall, and the quality and quantity of jobs deteriorates.

    TO LISTEN GO TO:


https://www.patreon.com/posts/47552141
With all the hype emerging in mainstream media and among politicians about the US economy about to boom, Dr. Rasmus discusses a contrarian view based on the various warning signs in the US economy now emerging. Despite the official talk of GDP recovery underway this quarter there’s: the Fed’s warning this week of rising ‘insolvency risk’ and business bankruptcies coming; new claims for jobless benefits rising again and consistently more than 1 million/week since October; the recent retail sales bump as really a warning not good news; financial market bubbles churning as investors chase ever more risky yield in cryptocurrencies and worthless stocks; China’s introduction of its own digital currency; and growing indications of Biden’s ‘bipartisan back-tracking’.

    To Listen GO TO:


https://alternativevisions.podbean.com/e/alternative-visions-economic-red-flags-rising/

Recently I was asked to explain by Michael Albert and ‘Revolution Z’ media how Wall St. stock markets work, what’s up with the recent Gamestop bubble, what’s financial speculation, what causes financial instability and crises–and how they are all related to, or unrelated to, the real economy. Presented in simple terms, the interview clarifies for laypersons how the current capitalist financial system functions to make investors ever richer, while the rest of the real economy experiences periodic great recessions, wages stagnate and fall, and the quality and quantity of jobs deteriorates.

    TO LISTEN TO The ‘REVOLUTION Z’ Interview GO TO
:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/47552141
Listen to my February 12, 2021 Alternative Visions radio show for my debunking of Larry Summers, Oliver Blanchard, and other economists’ phony arguments why spending $1.9 trillion in fiscal stimulus (Biden’s proposal) will lead to runaway inflation, unaffordable deficits, and other nonsense.

TO LISTEN GO TO:

https://alternativevisions.podbean.com/e/alternative-visions-debunking-economists-larry-summers-et-al-attack-on-fiscal-stimulus-bill/

    SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT


What are the arguments of Larry Summers, Oliver Blanchard, and other nonconomists rallying behind Republicans and big capitalists’ trying to reduce Biden’s $1.9T economic stimulus proposals? How bad is the US recovery in January 2021? Rasmus debunks each of the main points being made by Summers & friends and the rosy picture being painted for first quarter 2021. Dr. Rasmus then comments on the current impeachment trial in the US Senate and why it will resolve nothing of the threat to what remains of US democracy in the next two years by the Trump forces and Trump himself.
Watch my January 18, 2021 half hour Video Presentation to the Green Party of Alameda County, California on the US economic crises over the past year, and future possible scenarios in 2021. Why the current economic crisis is best understood as the Great Recession 2.0–and a more serious repeat of the 2008-15 prior Great Recession 1.0. Why the economic crisis is not a V-Shape, or strictly Covid driven crisis, but rather a long duration W-shape recovery marked by a partial recovery of last spring’s deep crash (March-May), followed by short and shallow rebound (July-September) and periodic relapses in turn (November-February 2021). The current situation is best understood as well as a ‘Triple Crisis’–covid/health crisis, economic insufficient stimulus, and political crisis–determining the trajectory of today’s Great Recession 2.0.

    TO Watch the Video GO TO
:

https://http://www.dropbox.com/s/yx4d0q7f3wyj1tq/210110_Green%20Sunday-Jack%20Rasmus.mp4?dl=0
Listen to my Alternative Visions radio show of Friday, February 5, 2021 for my discussion of the latest Jobs Report, status of Biden’s $1.9T proposed stimulus, and financial asset bubbles like Gamestop and US stock mkts.

TO LISTEN GO TO:

http://alternativevisions.podbean.com

    SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT:


Dr. Rasmus reviews the three main developments of the past week: today’s jobs report showing economy not creating sufficient jobs, the Biden fiscal aid stimulus bill stalled in Congress, and financial asset bubbles continuing to grow, including the financial speculators’ internecine war over Gamestop and other assets. What’s in the Labor Dept. jobs report that shows job situation even worse than the headline of 49,000 jobs created in January? What’s behind the Biden-Dems effort to push for the $1.9t stimulus ‘American Rescue Plan’ and why is unconomist, Larry Summers, again trying to get the Dems to spend less (as he did in 2009)? Finally, why are bubbles in stocks once again growing and analysts predicting a 15% market correction coming?
Dr. Jack Rasmus
Copyright 2021

This past week a video game company in trouble, Gamestop, became the center of media attention. Day traders had driven up the company’s stock price by thousands of percent in just one day. The mainstream media narrative was the ‘small guy’ investor challenged the big boys of finance who had bet Gamestop stock price would contract, not rise sharply. The little investor, so the story goes, initially won big but Gamestop’s stock price escalation was stopped in its tracks by coordinated forces of Wall St., as trading was abruptly halted later in the day in the midst of the run-up. But that narrative, that media spin, has it wrong. The real meaning of what has happened is quite different.

The Facts

Earlier in the week stock day traders gathered on the platform called Reddit in what’s called a ‘crowdsourcing’ event. They communicated among themselves and as a group began betting up the stock price of Gamestop. Similar moves were made against the movie theater chain, AMC, also in big financial trouble, with little revenue coming in but loaded up with mountains of junk debt. A couple other companies in similar condition were targeted by the crowdsourcing day traders as well. Stock prices of these companies—all losers or about to be losers—were in a matter of hours driven to record heights in some cases—as if these companies were raking in profits like a Tesla or Google. But there were no fundamental reasons for the price acceleration; in fact just the opposite. Betting so, hedge funds and other financial market speculators were short selling their stock, betting their price would fall; and by ‘short selling’ they were actually manipulating the stock to force a price decline.

Short selling has a time limit on the bet. If the stock price doesn’t fall by a certain time, then all the money ‘bet’ by the short selling hedge fund is lost. As Gamestop’s price kept rising, some of them found themselves short of ‘liquidity’ (money) to cover their short sale bets. They had to sell other assets to pay for them. Or they have had to borrow money from other speculators and lenders (and pay interest) to cover their failed bets.

This had never happened before! That’s not how the system is supposed to run, the hedgies cried! The day traders weren’t playing by the rules of the game, they shouted! But of course they were. It was the hedge funds very own rules. It was all quite capitalist legal.

It was kind of like a poker hand at a Casino. If you bet your opponent isn’t holding a winning hand, you can raise the stakes and hope he drops out. You win the pot. But if some other player puts money on the table and raises you back, i.e. in this case raising the price of the stock like the day traders did with Gamestop, then they in effect call the hedge funds bluff; the hedge funds lose! The hedgies didn’t like that, of course. They are used to short selling without interference and then taking home the entire pot. But this time they didn’t. The day traders were winning the bet—at least the first hand played for the hedge funds got the Casino manager to change the house rules at the last minute to minimize their losses by halting further trading.

So the hedge funds, the big finance capitalist price speculators—as opposed to the crowdsourcing small day trader speculators—immediately changed the rules of the game, i.e. their rules, in order to teach the upstarts a lesson.

Robin Hood of Capitalist Finance

The small speculator capitalists used a trading system called Robin Hood in order to place their disruptive bets to drive up Gamestop’s stock price. What’s Robin Hood? It’s a finance trading competitor to the Schwabs, Interactive Brokers, and other low cost stock trading platforms. In recent years there’s been a ‘race to the bottom’ in charges for stock trades across the trading industry. Who can charge the least per trade can steal trading market share from the others. Robin Hood broke into the sector by introducing ‘no fee’ trades. It appealed to the ‘day trader’ by peddling the message that Robin Hood was about enabling the small trader to compete with the big boys. Robin Hood promised to enable the small speculator day trader to make more money at the expense of the big boys like the hedgies.

Except Robin Hood kept it a secret from its day trader clientele that it was funded in large part by the same big hedge funds. In fact, one of its biggest, Citadel Securities, which reportedly had a $2.7B stake in Robin Hood.

So Robin Hood halted the day traders’ speculation in Gamestop…and almost certainly at the behest of Citadel and other Wall St. finance capitalists. By stopping the day traders driving up the price of Gamestop stock, it saved the hedge funds and other short sellers billions of dollars of potential additional losses. They next day, January 28, Gamestop and other targets’ stock prices began to retreat once again. While Robin Hood has since indicated day trading of Gamestop could resume, it would have certain limits on trading and Robin Hood made it clear it would halt trading again if necessary.

The CEO of Robin Hood was interviewed on CNN shortly after these events by host, Chris Cuomo, who asked outright: “How do you make sure Robin Hood isn’t rigging it for the Sheriff of Nottingham?”—the Sheriff of course being Citadel, other hedge funds, and other short selling institutional speculators. Robin Hood’s CEO hemmed and hawed during the interview and hid behind the claim that it wasn’t Citadel or other that made him halt the buying of Gamestop stock and its price escalation. No, Robin Hood was just following regulatory requirements by the SEC and other government regulatory bodies, its CEO argued.

Left unanswered, however, was why did Robin Hood stop the buying of Gamestop stock when the SEC and other real regulatory bodies did not intervene themselves to stop the trading in the stock? When asked what regulatory agency asked Robin Hood to do so, the CEO had no answer to Cuomo. And why did Robin Hood halt only the buying of the stock that was driving up the price, but not the selling of the stock? Why did Robin Hood act as regulator, when the regulators saw no need to intervene? After all, the buying of Gamestop stock was no less legal than the short selling of Gamestop stock, according to capitalist regulatory rules. Government regulators didn’t tell Robin Hood it had to shut down Gamestop trades. A smoking gun anyone?

A Finance Speculator Food Fight

What happened with Gamestop, Robin Hood, Citadel and who knows what other big boys behind the scene, is best understood as a feud between two wings of Finance Capital. This isn’t about the small mom and pop day trader David vs. the Hedge Fund Goliath! It isn’t about Goliath telling David to put down his sling because it’s not allowed to fight that way.

Both the hedge funds and the day traders are financial asset market speculators. What’s a speculator? It’s someone who ‘invests’ (aka bets) that the price of some stock or bond or derivative or currency will rise (or fall). The speculator then bets on the rise or fall by buying or short selling the stock. The objective is to then ‘flip’ the stock purchased in a relatively short time and thereby make a quick capital gain. It isn’t investing in a normal sense. It’s just the mere buying or selling of a piece of paper (or now mere electronic entry) claiming temporary ownership of the paper. An actual investment is buying and holding a stock longer term in expectation of the company realizing future profits that will eventually drive up its stock value—in a company that actually makes things or provides an actual service, that requires hiring workers who in turn earn wages or revenue that would benefit the real economy.

In contrast, financial speculators are interested only in boosting demand for a stock in order to artificially drive up its price, then to flip it, and realize a financial profit—i.e. a capital gain. Speculative investing is about making a purchase and then a quick sale to realize a capital gain. That may also take the form of a short sale—i.e. a contract to buy a stock after its price had fallen and sell it at its higher price at the time of the contract. In both cases, its about selling after a price appreciation.

Make no mistake: the day traders driving up the price of Gamestop stock price weren’t doing it for the pleasure of tweaking the nose of short selling hedge funds. They were doing it to accelerate the stock price in order to later quickly sell it—just as the hedge funds were ‘short’ selling it for an expected profit as well. Only the method of the selling is different.

So both sides were planning on ‘selling’ Gamestop stock—just in different ways. The day traders by driving up the price by buying it first; the hedgies by reserving the right to sell the stock at yesterday’s price, after they ‘buy’ it when the price collapses tomorrow.

In other words, they’re both financial stock speculators. They’re both committing money capital that could—and should—be invested in the real economy not in paper claims of temporary ownership. Real investment is about longer term money capital commitment in order to make real things or services that required hiring and paying wages.

Both forms of stock price speculators are thus vultures preying on the real economy and undermining its recovery! They divert much needed money capital from the real economy into the financial sector that produces no actual economic growth, no jobs, no wage incomes, no consumption. The day traders aren’t the ‘poor little guy’ being exploited by big Wall St. hedge funds. They’re part of the problem.

Day Trading Is Also Casino Capitalism

Crowdsourcing day trading stock speculation is just the latest form of Casino capitalism, clashing with traditional financial speculators dominated by hedge funds, private equity companies, investment banks, and the other forms of shadow bank institutions that have risen in recent decades to prominence and power in 21st century capitalism. The newcomers are just fighting for a piece of the finance asset speculation pie, previously eaten whole by the hedge funds and the other shadow banks and professional investors.

It’s therefore absolute nonsense to make the latest specie of financial speculators—the crowdsourcing day traders—appear as if they are the ‘little guy’ being crushed by big guy Wall St. players. This isn’t about small financial speculator good, large financial speculator bad. This is a family food fight between sectors of capitalist finance.

The real question is what has given rise to the family food fight? What has enabled it in the first place? And how does it reflect a deeper social crisis in the country?

Technology the Great System Destabilizer

Technology in general, and social media in particular, has contributed significantly to the growing political instability in America. It has enabled conspiracy theories and lies to displace debate over facts. Without technology and social media there would have been no Trump, Trumpism, Breitbart, Parler, Proud Boys-Oath Takers, political institutional collapse, and now accelerating decline of Democracy in America. Technology may not be the fundamental cause of the above, but it certainly has been a major enabler of the deepening of the more fundamental causes.

Think of Reddit, the day trader’s WallStBets app, Robin Hood, etc. as the financial markets analog to the Breitbarts, Parlers, etc. in the sphere of political markets! Technology is disrupting 21st century capitalism in myriad ways. The Moloch has begun to devour itself!

Technology has enabled the day trader speculator gang to challenge the hedge funds and other shadow banks’ ability to manipulate the capitalist speculator show as they will. It has enabled the ‘small’ investor to aggregate his bets into a big enough play to compete with the traditional finance capitalists; it has enabled the ‘small’ investor to inter-communicate and coordinate those bets; and it has enable the concentration of financial bets to move a stock or even perhaps a market—contrary to the bets of the hedgies and other traditional speculators. And that’s what has really pissed off the latter.

So the old speculators quickly struck back! And their political allies will now hold meetings and deliver yet another slap on the wrist of the newcomers. Congress has already called committee hearings to figure out how to deal with it should it happen again.

The Real Origins of the Conflict

The ‘small guy’ crowdsourcing financial speculators aren’t really so ‘small’. Virtually all the stock trading by day traders is done by players who are easily within the wealthiest 5% of households in the US, and probably even fewer. So where have they gotten their money capital to make such bets sufficient to challenge the established rules of the game? The same place that the hedge funds and others ultimately get their money capital.

Since at least the past quarter century the central bank of the US, the Federal Reserve, has pumped tens of trillions of dollars into the banking system. The big commercial banks affiliated with the Fed—i.e. Chases, Wells, Citi, Bank of America—in turn have loaned the tens of trillions of dollars to the shadow banks—i.e. investment banks, private equity, VCs, hedge funds, etc. They in turn redirect much of it into financial asset markets—stocks, bonds, derivatives, etc. They reap record financial profits for themselves and their owners and members, who then redirect it back into the same markets as well.

At the same time, the US tax system has been turned on its head: More than $15 trillion in tax cuts has flowed to the investor class since 2001. That too gets largely redirected into financial markets.

Then there’s the corporate conduit itself. US corporations have redistributed more than a $ trillion dollars a year on average, every year, since 2010 to their shareholders in the form of stock buybacks and dividend payouts. Under Trump, the average for 2017-19 was $1.3 trillion a year. The deep tax cuts on capital gains since 2001 means the shareholders then get to keep more of the buybacks and dividend payouts, and that in turn means even more funneled into financial asset markets.

So the Fed’s monetary policy, the US government’s tax policy, and corporations’ buybacks-dividend practices have all converged the past two decades to keep the US and global stock markets ever rising. But the hedge funds haven’t been the only investors grown fat on the redirecting of massive money capital to investors. Nearly all within the top 5% of the income scale—and that means the day trader crowd—have benefited as well.

The crowdsourcing ‘small guy’ has had excess money capital with which to risk in speculative trades like Gamestop no less than the hedge funds—thanks to the Fed, government, and corporate America. Add the new technologies to the dry powder of excess speculative capital and the mix is explosive. It’s a witches brew of financial speculation!

The Realization Behind the Appearance

What appeals in this story of Gamestop is the appearance of ‘small guys’ getting screwed by the big guys even after they figure out how to ‘win one’. The Gamestop affair is just another confirmation for John Q. Public that the system is rigged. Gamestop is an example of how those with wealth and power are able to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game to ensure they will always come out on top! And they not only do it to ‘us’. They do it to each other. The big fish always eat the smaller, even the smaller of their own species.
But one should be less concerned about day traders getting burned, and more about the tens of millions of Americans families going hungry, jobless, being evicted from their rents, and dying in the hundreds of thousands due to a failed health care system and gross government mismanagement. The day trading stock speculators will survive. Many who have no idea what a stock trade is may not.

Dr. Jack Rasmus
January 28, 2021

Readers interested in a further explanation of finance capital in the 21st century, the role of shadow banks, financial asset speculation, and the rise of the new global finance capital elite, read Dr. Rasmus 2017 book, ‘Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy’, Clarity Press, 2017.

Listen to my friday, January 22, 2021 Alternative Visions radio show for my discussion of Trump’s political legacies–a complement to the show two weeks ago discussing Trump’s Economic Legacies and last week’s show on Biden’s $1.9T stimulus proposal.

    TO LISTEN GO TO
:

https://alternativevisions.podbean.com/e/alternative-visions-trump-s-political-legacies/

    SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT


As a follow up addendum to a prior week’s show on ‘Trump’s Toxic Economic Legacies’, today’s Alternative Visions show discusses Trump’s Political Legacies.

At the top of the legacy list is the deep change in political consciousness among all sectors of US society that Trump’s regime—and in particular his last year in office—has generated. Political elites in Washington have been deeply shaken by the events leading up to and during January 6. They now realize the threat to limited US Democracy (and their own safety) is serious and not limited to the mob that attacked the Capitol that day. Key institutions like the police and even military are infected with right wing radical beliefs & intentions. Another fundamental shift in consciousness is among right wing radical movements. They now see January 6 as a ‘success’ to be repeated elsewhere later. Still another fundamental shift in consciousness is by John Q. Public, who now realizes US Democracy has not only always been fragile, but that the Electoral College is evident as basically anti-democratic, and that even the college can be thwarted and overturned by tactics. These changes in consciousness will be enduring.

Apart from this widespread consciousness shift, Trump’s second political legacy is the radical takeover of the Republican party under Trump and the forthcoming fight over who will run that party—traditional elites or Trump forces. A split in its structure is likely before 2024.

The third political legacy is the evident deep failure of government and institutions in addressing the US Triple Crisis: Covid, Economic, Political. It will be a challenge for Biden and traditional elites to restore the normal functioning of government soon.

Trump’s fourth political legacy is that US global hegemony and alliances are in a shambles. Former allies will never return to status quo ante pre-Trump again and will cautiously pursue independent relations with China and other countries.

Finally, the fifth political legacy, is Trump’s legitimization and organizing of the radical right forces in America, in and out of Government. That genie will not soon return to its bottle.