July 1, 2010
No One's Capital Is Safe in Obama's America
Obama's poorly coded message to investors is to take your money out of America and keep it out. Whether through excessive taxation, suffocating over-regulation, or thuggish confiscation, the lesson to be drawn by anyone with excess capital is to look for friendlier places to put it to work.
The list of friendlier places excludes North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran for the time being, but almost everywhere else qualifies. Russia's president spent several days in Silicon Valley recently looking for adventurous investors and came away with a $1B commitment from Cisco Systems. For Cisco, sitting on a cash hoard of $30B, with years of experience partnering with the burgeoning Russian venture capital industry, the decision was probably not a very tortured one. And what a perfect opportunity for Cisco's CEO John Chambers to keep his cash as far from Obama's collection agencies as possible.
President Medvedev promises Cisco a capital gains tax rate of zero; President Obama promises to retire the evil George Bush capital gains rate of 15% and increase it to 20% in 2011. Cisco is merely telecasting to anyone who wants to tune in that Russia is taking advantage of Obama's lurch towards socialism (or worse). While Russia is portraying itself as a stable bastion for capitalists, America is increasingly seen as the land that mauled Chrysler and GM bondholders. While erstwhile command economies are liberalizing, America under Obama is nationalizing. The lesson is clear: Don't leave cash within the American financial system, earning minimal returns, with the fear that at any moment your assets can be confiscated or redistributed by a lawless and capricious federal government.
When will Obama decide that Cisco (or Wal-Mart, or Apple, or Google, or any other successful enterprise) is not paying its "fair share"? Aren't the profit margins earned by Cisco on its routers -- sometimes approaching 70% -- too rich, or even obscene? Aren't these gains, in essence, nothing but windfall profits resulting in the eventual gouging of the average American internet subscriber? Cisco might not drill in the Gulf of Mexico for its profits, but man-made disasters could await it too, in the form of arbitrary, BP-like shakedowns of its hard-earned wealth. Why risk shakedowns in gangland Obama when a much more competent criminal like Putin will guarantee your investments?
Cisco is not the only company sitting on a gigantic cash cushion. All told, the balance sheet cash for the non-financial segment of the S&P 500 totals around $1 trillion. Businesses sit on these huge asset cushions and accept earning virtually nothing in real terms because risks are too high to consider anything else.
In 2011, one of the largest tax increases in American history goes into effect. Not only do capital gains rise, but so too does the payroll tax, the income tax, and the estate tax. And even then, businesses large and small, while in their final financial death throes, will have nothing to look forward to other than the doom of ObamaCare and the unknown costs that Obama will attempt to afflict via cap-and-trade and a European-style value-added tax.
Fears are also emerging about the eventual burden imposed on all of us by dozens of states virtually bankrupt, especially if the federal government structures bailouts for those states deemed too big to fail. Unfortunately, the biggest and most likely to fail -- California, New York, and Illinois -- are Democrat and union fortresses that Obama will not let topple.
These and many other states have already been thrown a life jacket during the last near-trillion dollar stimulus in the form of unemployment insurance and other transfer payments. But the effects of those financial stimulants are beginning to wear off, and the federal drug dealer has little inventory left -- except for massive money-printing.
Inflation is almost the last strategy left for the Federal Reserve, having driven short-term interest to zero and purchased all the treasuries, agency, and mortgage debt thrown its way.
Fears of excessive taxation and unpredictable costs are muting American entrepreneurial animal spirits. These fears are likely at the root of our persistently high unemployment. The issue too often is not lack of loan supply to launch a new enterprise, but a lack of demand for the loans to get started. Strangling business creation translates into no new job creation. If you launch a business today and organize as an S-Corporation, how can you be even reasonably sure will you take home enough in profits to justify the initial risk of the undertaking? And if you were successful enough to reach the revenue heights of $250K, Obama would target you as a capitalist predator and promote you to the highest tax bracket.
In contrast to Jefferson's goal of preserving "a model of government, securing to man his rights and the fruits of his labor, by an organization constantly subject to his own will," our current administration is brutally determined to transform government into an organ that redistributes those fruits to its cronies. The reaction of sane, rational Americans to these perverse incentives is not to create or hire or produce. Instead, existing businesses and potential founders of new ones are hunkering down, hoping to wake up from this national nightmare in 2010 and 2012 with some of their wealth still intact.
Claude can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.