Economics for One

That’s Some Clunker!

The US House of Representatives has just approved another $2 Billion for the “Cash for Clunkers” program.

Under this program, people will receive $3,500 to $4,500 when they trade in a car and buy a new car that gets better gas mileage than their trade-in did. That covers approximately 500,000 new cars.

If you are thinking of purchasing a new car, this may be a nice additional incentive.

Of course, the skeptic in me notes the irony that the Federal Government is working to boost demand of an industry in which it now has a major financial stake. (Where are the $500 rebates for trading in an older computer, or television, for a newer model that uses less power?)

There seems to be no end to the efforts to rescue dead business models and dying industries.

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Economic Cycle Analysis from the New York Times

Here’s an interesting graphic (“Turning a Corner?”) courtesy of the New York Times. It shows the pattern of economic cycles, over a period of decades.

This graphs plots the relative amount of industrial output against the change in industrial output over a running 6-month period. As you move through the 9 images, you can see how various recessions have progressed.

It’s a neat visual, and shows some interesting patterns, but doesn’t provide much fundamental insight.

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The $1,090,000,000,000 Credit Card Bill

This month the US Federal deficit passed $1.09 Trillion. That’s the amount of money the US has borrowed so far this year. It does not include debt from past years. The previous record was about $500 Billion.

It’s a pretty ignominious accomplishment. And since the year is not yet over, and the US continues to spend, the debt is continuing to pile up. Based on current spending projections, this year’s debt is expected to hit nearly $2 Trillion by October.

How much is $2 Trillion? It’s about $6,500 per person in the US. For a family of four, that’s about $26,000 in debt accumulated this year.  That’s on top of all previous debt, as well as any consumer or household debts.

But does it really matter? It isn’t like the taxpayers will ever have to pay this debt, right?


The US government’s credit rating is so good it is considered “risk free” by most of the world. The people who loaned the US this money absolutely expect to be paid back. If they are not, it will rock the worldwide financial markets so strongly it will make the recent financial crisis look tame by comparison.

The only ways the US government can pay back that debt are 1) by raising taxes and / or lowering spending, or 2) by devaluing the US dollar through inflation. Higher taxes means less money to hire employees, and less money for those employees to take home and spend.  Inflation makes the dollar worth less relative to other commodities, goods, or services. But while it makes the US debt effectively smaller, it also lowers the value of everyone’s existing savings, investments, and retirement funds.

Given the politics of Washington, DC, which do you think is the more likely scenario?

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