U.S. Economy

GDP Is a Lie – It’s Time for a New Measure of Economic Growth

Gross domestic product (GDP) is the most commonly used measure of economic growth. But GDP isn't just inaccurate and misleading - it's the contrivance of Keynesian economists seeking to push their own, big-government agenda.

That's right. GDP is a financial ruse - the biggest of the past half-century. And it's time to move past it to another, more accurate measure of economic growth.

Keynesian economist Simon Kuznets designed GDP at the height of the New Deal era. Kuznets first revealed the measure in a report to Congress in 1934. GDP takes into account consumption, investment and government expenditure to create a measure of economic growth.

But the Keynesians employed some chicanery, or sleight-of-hand, to generate this statistic. A close look reveals the dirty little secret about GDP: It intentionally overplays the importance of government spending - and in doing so inflates the role that Washington plays in each of our lives.

And it's been doing this for 77 years ...

The Biggest Lie of the 20th Century

Gross domestic product is supposed to be a measure of all the goods and services produced here at home.

But there's a discrepancy.

You see, private-sector output is measured by the price people are prepared to pay for it. But government output is fudged: It's measured by its cost.

That means GDP increases any time the government spends money. It doesn't matter if that money is actually put to productive use or not - GDP rises nonetheless.

The bureaucrat devising regulations that damage business? His salary increases GDP. The $300 million Alaskan "bridge to nowhere" of a few years back? That was $300 million added to GDP. The jet-fighter project that costs billions, and is plagued by huge overruns that lead to its cancellation? Those billions add to GDP.

Even public-spending "stimulus" programs, however foolish, are always effective according to the GDP definition, because their cost is simply added to output.

It's obvious why big-government Keynesians would like this calculation: It substantiates their claim that government spending stimulates economic growth.

In the real world, however, this makes no sense. Indeed, none of the examples above actually add to economic welfare.

Don't misunderstand - some government output is very valuable. We could not exist in a free society without a court system that protects our property rights and a national defense that protects our borders. In most other cases, however, if government output were truly cost effective, the private sector would've already taken the initiative (and probably done so at lower cost and greater impact).

So how can you get an accurate measure of economic growth?

Arithmetically, there's a simple solution: You take Line 1, "Gross Domestic Product," in the Bureau of Economic Analysis' GDP Table and subtract from it Line 21, "Government Consumption Expenditures andGrossInvestment. "

That gives you a net number, which we can call "gross private product," or GPP. It's a measure of all the output produced by the private sector. In general, it will underestimate national "welfare" unless government is really bad. But it will give you a much better idea of the output the market economy is producing.

Indeed, looking at GPP's past performance helps to explain some things that GDP doesn't.

Keynesians like to proclaim that World War II got America out of the Great Depression: Thus, if you make stimulus big enough, it will solve economic problems.

This is the biggest lie of the 20th century.

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The Debt-Ceiling Debate: Three Federal Tax Increases That Could Save the U.S. Economy

As the debt-ceiling debate escalates, U.S President Barack Obama says federal tax increases are necessary to close the U.S. budget deficit.

Although Republicans then said that tax hikes were "off the table," this statement is reminiscent of a toddler who threatens to hold his breath until he turns blue if you make him eat spinach.

Given that our elected leaders in Congress just can't seem to curb their spending addiction, the unpleasant reality is that some types of tax hikes are essentially inevitable.

Truth be told, I can show you three tax increases that should be enacted.

As a taxpayer, that statement will probably make you wince in anticipated pain.

But once I've made my case, I'm betting that the investor in you will agree that these three federal tax increases could save the U.S. economic recovery.

Let's take a look ...

Federal Tax Increases We Don't Want to See

If we ignore the debt-ceiling debate (and the Aug. 2 deadline for increasing the ceiling) for a minute, and just consider the health and welfare of the U.S. economy, we can see that there are a number of federal tax increases that would be highly counterproductive.

One example: boosting the corporate tax rate above 35%.

Except for Japan, the United States already has the highest corporate tax rate in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Corporations don't pay much tax because they are able to keep profits overseas in tax-free jurisdictions and employ leasing and other tax breaks. It would make much more sense to lower the corporate tax rate - perhaps to 30% - and close many of the loopholes so that the "yield" (what's actually collected) is the same or perhaps even a little higher.

Similarly, it makes no sense to increase the 15% tax on dividend income. Dividends are paid by corporations out of their after-tax income. The levy on dividends - paid by the company's shareholders - means those companies actually suffer from a "double-taxation" rate of about 47%.

This encourages companies to fool around with stock options, repurchase agreements and with overpriced acquisitions, thus ripping off ordinary shareholders and reducing the economy's efficiency.

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How to Fix the U.S. Housing Market

If this week's economic reports showed us anything, it's the fact that two years into what's supposed to be an economic recovery, the U.S. housing market remains on life support.

But here's what those reports didn't tell you: If the housing market isn't fixed soon, it's going to drag the rest of the economy down into a hellish bottom that will take years, if not decades, to crawl out of.

The housing market is our single-most important generator of gross domestic product (GDP) and, ultimately, national wealth.

It's time we fixed what's broken and implemented new financing and tax strategies to stabilize prices.

Contrary to the naysayers - and in spite of political pandering and procrastination - we can almost immediately execute a simple two-pronged plan to fix mortgage financing and stabilize U.S. housing prices.

I call it a not-so-modest proposal.

The Worst Since the Great Depression

The facts are frightening: We are in a bad place. The plunge in housing prices we've seen during the current downturn is on par with the horrific freefall the U.S. housing market experienced during the Great Depression.

And without an effective plan to arrest the double-dip in housing, there's no bottom in sight.

Hope Now, an alliance of lenders, investors and non-profits formed at the behest of the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, counts 3.45 million homes being foreclosed from 2007 through 2010. Current estimates of pending and potential foreclosures range from another 4 million to as many as 14 million.

According to RealtyTrac, a real-estate data provider, the country's biggest banks and mortgage lenders are sitting on 872,000 repossessed homes. If you add in the rest of the nation's banks, lenders and mortgage-servicers, the true number of these REO (real-estate owned) homes is closer to 1.9 million.

These shocking statistics illustrate just how large the current overhang of bank-owned properties actually is (at current sales levels, REO properties would take three years to unload). And they help us to understand how the staggering number of yet to-be-foreclosed, repossessed, and sold homes will depress U.S. housing market prices for years to come.



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Gasoline Price Outlook: An Epitaph For Sam the Service Station Man

I am a great believer in the American entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, the U.S. economy stands or falls on our ability to provide enough space to allow small folks to have big-time dreams.

However, when times get difficult, some little folks end up under the bus - along with their dreams.

To understand what I mean, let's take a look at my friend Sam.

Many of you may remember Sam, the proprietor of an out-of-the-way rural service station situated outside of Pittsburgh. I introduced him to Money Morning readers last summer in an essay: Gasoline-Price Forecasting: What Sam the Gas Station Owner Knows That We Don't.

I've known Sam for years.

So I was stunned to discover that he's throwing in the towel.




To understand what this means for gasoline prices, please click here...

Retirement Concerns Plague U.S. Baby Boomers

Retirement used to be synonymous with leisure and travel. Americans believed that decades of hard work and thriftiness would make for a prosperous and successful life they could enjoy after their jobs - the "American Dream."

Now retirement doesn't evoke the same sense of tranquility for most U.S. workers. Instead, economic anxiety has taken its toll.

Americans used to ride a "three-lane highway" into retirement: a traditional pension, Social Security, and individual savings plans, like 401(k)s.

But the recent economic downturn packed a devastating punch to many 401(k) accounts, U.S. households have dipped into savings to make ends meet, and debt-laden federal, state and local governments will have trouble meeting pension and Social Security obligations.

As the first of the 78 million U.S. Baby Boomers start to retire, most of them worry they don't have enough retirement savings to support them in their post-work years.

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Eurozone Debt Crisis, U.S. Economic Policy Not Likely to Cause Currency Collapse

The Eurozone debt crisis and U.S. economic policy continue to draw speculation over how these countries will overcome growing mountains of debt - and how the incessant borrowing will affect the euro and U.S. dollar.

More bad news came from Europe yesterday (Thursday) when the European Central Bank (ECB) had to intervene in Eurozone bond markets to buy Portugese debt. The country's 10-year bond yields hit a new euro-era record of more than 7.6%.

Portugal has already instituted pay cuts and tax hikes to pay down its debt, but recessionary concerns are casting doubt over Portugal's economic recovery. The Eurozone government's inability to agree on rescue tactics for its weaker governments is also making investors lose faith in the euro.

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Fed's "QE2" Could Fuel Inflation in U.S. & Deflation in Europe

The U. S. Federal Reserve's latest round of quantitative easing (QE2) may further escalate the currency war by producing a crippling bout of deflation in Europe and conversely, another period of inflation on the domestic front.

The diverse results are possible because further Fed purchases of debt are likely to re-ignite economic growth and increase prices in the United States, while a surging Euro will make it more difficult for European countries to pay off debt.

Fed purchases of Treasuries to stimulate the U.S. economy could send the euro rising against the dollar, sparking deflation in Europe, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Mundell told Bloomberg News.

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Question of the Week: Readers Eager for U.S. Economy Overhaul After Midterm Elections

A tense Congressional tug-of-war carried on before midterm elections this week as Republicans and Democrats fiercely campaigned for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

This Republican-Democrat contest was the hottest in years as voters debated over which candidates would be the most likely to lift the United States out of a morass marked by near-double-digit unemployment, sluggish economic growth and a terrifying $1.29 trillion budget deficit.

Although Republicans were poised to take control of Congress, a significant number of seats remained vulnerable until the very end.

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Voters Frustrated With U.S. Economy Turn to Republicans in Midterm Elections

Republicans predicted huge gains before today's (Tuesday) midterm elections, as voters fueled by frustration over the struggling U.S. economy are eager for change in Washington.

A poll in The Wall Street Journal asking voters which party they hoped would be in charge gave the GOP a six-point edge of 49% to 43%. About half of the Republican voters said frustration and protest over Democratic policies fueled their election decisions.

"The Democrats are about to feel the full force of a tidal wave, tsunami or a 7.0 earthquake," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who co-directed the survey.

Survey co-director and Republican pollster Bill McInturff called the results a "grim set of data that projects a larger election for Republicans than 1994."

In 1994 the GOP regained Congressional power with a gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives after 40 years in the minority spot. This year they need a net gain of 39 seats to win the House.

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How Far Will Fed Go To Get Economy Rolling?

The market has been marking time lately as investors await the election results and the much -anticipated Federal Reserve announcement after the Federal Open Market Committee wraps up their meeting on Wednesday.

The Fed is expected to provide a peek into its next round of quantitative easing, now considered a fait accompli. The only question seems to be how far the Fed will go to reinvigorate the economy.

But unless Republicans fail to capture the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the Fed's next move could provide market bulls with just the ammunition they need to send the bears running for the hills.



Read on to find out how far the Fed will go...

Will Midterm Elections Ignite a Stock Market Rally?

The Democrats and Republicans have spent a record $3.5 billion in preparation for this year's midterm elections. But regardless of the outcome - whether you're a Democrat or Republican - the good news is that the stock market traditionally has performed well during midterm election cycles.

"The question is, 'Did the markets go up in the midterm election years by more than average in non-election years?' Brian Gendreau, market strategist for Financial Network told U.S. News & World Report. "And the answer is, 'Yes, by a huge amount more.'"

In the period from 1922 to 2006, the average gain of the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the 90 trading days following midterm elections (roughly November until mid-March) was 8.5%, according to a new study authored by Gendreau. That's almost 5% higher than the Dow's gains in non-election years.

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The "Mortgagegate" Scandal: Congratulations America, You're Now in the Title-Insurance Business

U.S. taxpayers already own pieces of such problem-plagued companies as General Motors Corp., Chrysler LLC, American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG), Fannie Mae (OTC: FNMA) and Freddie Mac (OTC: FMCC). Now the increasingly problematic "Mortgagegate" saga could land American taxpayers in the trouble-ridden title-insurance business.

On Oct. 8, Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) indemnified Fidelity National Financial Inc. (NYSE: FNF) against any losses that Fidelity might sustain in litigation over title insurance it writes on foreclosed homes - the same homes, coincidentally, that Bank of America wants to sell to new buyers.

This arrangement amounts to U.S. taxpayers, who are the ultimate backers of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), backstopping a giant, publicly held title-insurance company, which is backstopping a huge commercial bank, so that the bank can sell properties that it might not have proper title to.

It sounds like a Wall Street version of the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," but it's no game - it's a daisy-chain scheme that once again sets American households up as the biggest losers.

To understand the latest "Mortgagegate" developments - and see the steps to take - please read on...

An Open Letter to Washington: How to Fix the Deficit and End the Bush-Tax-Cuts Debate

Dear Mr. President and members of Congress:

In the months that follow Tuesday's midterm elections, and into the New Year, you all face three very significant challenges. You must:

  • Find a solution to the Bush-tax-cuts controversy.
  • Rein in the huge-and-growing U.S. budget deficit.
  • And better police Wall Street, which got us into this mess in the first place.
You can solve all three of these problems with a single, simple proposition. And you can do so without having to ask U.S. taxpayers to dig into their wallets or savings.

Let me explain.



To see Hutchinson's solution, and to see how to join our campaign, please read on...

Investment Strategies: Three Ways to Profit – No Matter Who Wins Tuesday's Midterm Elections

If you're worried that next week's midterm elections could further cloud an already-uncertain investment landscape, take a page from the investment playbook of Money Morning's Keith Fitz-Gerald: Position yourself to profit no matter which party wins on Tuesday.

During an interview with Fox Business Network journalist Stuart Varney yesterday (Tuesday), Fitz-Gerald detailed three strategies that will afford investors both safety and significant profit potential - whether the Democrats or Republicans carry the day.

For the full story - and a look at the video - please click here...

Question of the Week: Mortgagegate Makes Investors Wary of U.S. Banking Industry

A potentially crippling crisis is flashing through the banking industry and threatening to derail the already struggling housing market and U.S. economic recovery.

But Gilani said the headlines aren't telling the full story.

Dubbed "Mortgagegate" - a nod to the earlier scandal-ridden crisis touched off by Watergate - this latest crisis involves such big lenders as Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) and GMAC LLC (NYSE: GMA), which are alleged to have conducted negligent foreclosure practices. 

Money Morning Contributing Editor Shah Gilani warned about the allegedly fraudulent business practices employed by lenders and their hired "robo-signers" that led to thousands of questionably reviewed foreclosure documents.

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