Saturday, July 27, 2013

Competition

Probably the most poorly understood characteristic of competition is the fact that competition absolutely ensures that the strong get weaker and the weak get stronger.

The tendency to believe that the opposite happens is so strong that it is embedded in numerous aphorisms. Such aphorisms attest to an absence – not the presence of competition.

The tendency is strong because of the ease of thinking in absolute not relative terms.  Cognitive sloth then is unhelpful.

Take away competition and you go a long way toward ensuring that the weak can never get strong while the strong grow ever stronger.

Crony capitalism, crony unionism, crony regulation and crony politics is therefore always fundamentally focussed on removing or lessening competition – that is why it is harmful.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Next Bubble?

Student debt in the u.s. (part 3) Guest post from Kimberly Green

This is our third entry in a three-article series about student debt in the United States; our first entry tacked the causes of rising student debt, while the second part looked at the historical connection between tuition and debt.

BWGL comment – the value of this piece is the parallels between subprime and the GFC….. interesting questions arise.

Experts continue to debate whether student debt in the U.S. will lead to an economic bubble; one which, when it bursts, will mean dire consequences for the whole economy. As tuition rises, students are simply borrowing more and more; many financial experts worry graduates won’t be able to keep up. Most income levels don’t leave graduates prepared to handle large amounts of debt; when students make their monthly loan payments, they end up with less to spend on cars, houses and other consumer goods. So could paying off student debt cause the economy to plummet? Let’s explore the debt situation today and examine the potential for such a disaster.

Current debt statistics

Debt Bubble

The last two decades have been marked by sharp increases in student debt, leading to record highs in 2013. According to a report by Mark Kantrowitz of Edvisors, the average debt per student is now $30,000. Debt has tripled since 1993 and the reason for it is simple: Colleges just keep hiking their tuition. And while tuition spirals upwards, real income for middle-class workers has essentially stagnated over the last three decades. Today’s graduates aren’t making enough to pay their loans and live a comfortable lifestyle. Analysts worry the most heavily indebted won’t have enough money to buy cars, houses, or much else. Worse yet, some may simply stop paying their loans altogether. This could lead to a severe economic downturn similar to the ones following the housing and dot-com bubbles.

What is a bubble?

Economic bubbles are cycles that lead to a steep expansion followed by a quick contraction. The triggers of an economic bubble are difficult to pinpoint, but experts believe inflation and excessive pricing of specific products and services (such as tuition) play key roles. Financial roller coasters like these are unpredictable, and lead to disasters on the individual, organizational, and industry level. They can mean financial ruin for many participants who have built their businesses and lives on the high prices that come crashing down.

Homeowners caught in the housing bubble during the period of 2006-2012 faced high foreclosure rates as property values plummeted. Participants in the dot-com bubble experienced a similar crisis during 2000-2001, as people became overly-confident in the value of high-priced stocks. Many investors bought in, hoping the high-priced stocks would continue to grow and pay off. They flooded the market, purchasing shares until people realized the numbers didn’t add up and the market crashed – those who bought into the exuberance lost millions.

Will student debt be the next bubble?

Debt Bubble

Bubbles occur when a particular market is flooded with people eager to buy in, causing prices to skyrocket. This happened with the U.S. housing market and Silicon Valley startups before that. And it’s what we are seeing today with college enrollment, which grew by 11% between 1990 and 2000 followed by 37% over from 2000 to 2010, according to the Institute of Educational Sciences.

Some experts see clear similarities to past economic bubbles like the housing crisis that brought the whole U.S. economy to its knees. The Federal Advisory Council has certainly noticed the disturbing similarities between student debt and past bubbles, calling attention to the $1 trillion student debt record the nation has reached. They emphasize that as student debt rises, colleges continue to raise the price tag on tuition, creating a vicious cycle.

However, others are not so convinced we’re facing an economic bubble. Professor Robert Archibald from The College of William and Mary does not see the connection between student debt and a looming bubble. Professor Archibald explains student debt is different from debts of the recent past, since bubbles occur when an overpriced product suddenly drops in value. Instead, Professor Archibald contends the price will never come crashing down; students will simply be burdened with ever-growing debt and tuition costs each year.

Other consequences of the crisis

Yet even if prices don’t come crashing down and the bubble never bursts, graduates will face stagnant salaries and potentially long periods of unemployment. It’s difficult to envision an upturn in spending if graduates continue to leave higher education with unmanageable loan payments. Analysts are especially worried about the housing and automobile markets, which won’t see growth in purchases so long as students struggle. As students cut their budgets, rely on rentals, and use public transit, it remains unlikely that automobile and home purchases will rise. In lieu of a crisis, a depression in these key industries could indicate student debt will drag on the economy for years to come.

A true student debt crisis could arise from factors like inflation and the rising price of tuition, to name only two. If things continue along the current course, massive debt will not be a sustainable part of education for new generations of students. Something’s gotta give. The only question is whether student debt will be a hard and fast crisis or a drawn out burden we must shoulder.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The toughest policy option–leave it alone

The debate over LVR regulation has become needlessly complex – the utter farce is that there is very widespread knowledge of the lunacy involved.

  1. If you prevent banks lending someone else will lend. Likely at a higher interest rate thus adding to the “risky housing debt” problem you set out to solve. Fail. And likely made things worse. Just don’t.
  2. If the object is to lower house prices and you assist someone to pay the price via an exemption or like workaround you just failed in your objective – worse everyone pays the price of the failure since workarounds are not free to administer.

If you do nothing, either:

  1. People conclude life is tough and adjust their aspirations down to their budget in the current market; or,
  2. People think more broadly in adjusting and think beyond living in Auckland or inner Auckland; or,
  3. People do borrow at excessive rates for their budget, get burned – nay fried – and learn a lesson nothing else will teach them; but,
  4. You do not impose the cost of their learning on all other investors and buyers; and,
  5. You have the satisfaction of being able to say “I used my brain, didn’t react on a short term ad hoc basis, and did what I know is correct in the long term.”

Just as an aside - imposing an LVR regulation will likely increase fiscal instability because of the higher variability of credit and default performance in non bank lending – that may be a breach of the Reserve Bank legislation which calls for the RB to maintain stability.

Testicular fortitude in this policy area please….

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How unfortunate… we’re not as unequal as some want to think

Brian Fallow’s recent article on inequality in NZ is a worthwhile read. Fallow could hardly be described as “right wing” or particularly a promoter of any hard line stance. He can be almost irritatingly neutral.

This is a well balanced assessment based on recent and relevant data. The conclusion – which being a journalist he opens with:

The idea that New Zealand has become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world is just not supported by the data.

is therefore worth noting.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Brent Wheeler Group–site makeover

We have thoroughly stripped back, re built, made over, re thought and otherwise upped the ante with our corporate website http://www.brentwheeler.com Do take a look – there are some new features and plenty of new information.