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Archive for February 28th, 2013

If you’re an amoral person with political connections, it’s possible to make a lot of money.

Warren Buffett lined his pockets by making a government-subsidized investment in Goldman Sachs during the financial crisis.

The rest of us suffered and he got richer, but the left seems to be okay with that perverse form of redistribution because he supports class-warfare tax hikes. Sort of like buying an indulgence in the Middle Ages.

Hey, nice work if you can get it.

But Buffett may be an amateur compared to the crony capitalists at Citigroup.

The just-confirmed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was given a huge bonus for leaving Citigroup several years ago. Did the company give Lew a bonus because they were happy to shed his $1.1 million salary after he presided over gigantic losses at the firm’s alternative investments division?

Don’t be silly. He was showered with money specifically for leaving the company to take a “high level position with the United States government”

Again, nice work if you can get it.

But Lew’s loot is pocket change compared to the $115 million that former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin received for helping to steer the company into financial collapse.

So is this evidence that the private sector is systematically stupid?

I wish that was the explanation.

Instead, this is tragic evidence that it’s possible to “earn” a very high return when you “invest” in cronyism.

Big Bank SubsidyAccording to the Treasury Department’s Special Inspector General, Citigroup got $45 billion of TARP handouts and $301 billion of guarantees.

Not to mention an estimated $13.4 billion subsidy thanks to the government’s too-big-to-fail policy.

Since we’re talking apples and oranges, I have no idea how to compare the value of the payments to Lew and Rubin with the value of all the handouts and subsidies that Citigroup got (and is still getting) from taxpayers.

But I do know that mere mortals like you and me don’t have a prayer of “earning” the incredibly high returns that Citigroup received by “investing” in Robert Rubin and Jack Lew.

And let’s not forget what Goldman Sachs “earned” by “investing” in the previous Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner.

Hey, nice work if you can get it.

And you can even be absolved of your sins by supporting higher taxes! What’s not to love. You get millions of dollars that you could never earn in a genuinely capitalist economy, and all you have to do is agree to give back an extra 5 percent or so if tax rates go up.

But if you’re someone like Tim Geithner, maybe you can avoid the extra burden by cheating on your taxes. Of course, you’ll be taking a risk of having your wrist slapped if you get caught. And that can really sting for 10 seconds.

Remember, rules and laws are for the peasants, not the cronyist 1 percent.

Nice work if you can get it.

And there are lots of opportunities for unjust enrichment, as explained in this video.

The moral of the story is…well, that you should be a libertarian if you want to be a decent person and not reward those who are indecent.

P.S. At least Jack Lew has now shown us that it’s perfectly fine to invest in the Cayman Islands and benefit from tax competition.

But only if you’re an insider, of course. Nice work if you can get it.

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I realize the sequester kicks in tomorrow and I should be writing about that rare opportunity to control the burden of government spending.

To be sure, my fingers are crossed that Republicans won’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and I’ve been busy on Capitol Hill talking to folks about the issue, but this post already says everything you need to know about that topic.

It’s time to switch gears, particularly since I have a soft spot for feel-good stories.

And what could be more heart-tugging than a story about the right to keep and bear tanks?

Here are some blurbs from the Wall Street Journal.

Weapons buffs may stock semiautomatics in the gun safe. But nothing makes a statement like having an Army tank in the garage. …there are several hundred to 1,000 private tank owners in the U.S. …Brothers Ken and Gene Neal, owners of Bullet Proof Diesel, a truck-parts manufacturer in Mesa, Ariz., once took their 1966 British Chieftain tank into the desert and joyfully backed it over a rusty car. When their insurance agent inquired about their plans for the tank, the Neal brothers emailed back, “We are going to use it to take over the world.” Says Ken Neal, 45: “A tank is cool.”

Private Tank

The latest in home defense

But is it legal?

Yup, and it can even have a working gun if you’re willing to fork over $200 for a permit.

A tank in the U.S. can have operational guns, if the owner has a federal Destructive Device permit, and state laws don’t prohibit it. The permit costs $200, and the applicant must swear he hasn’t been a “fugitive from justice,” “adjudicated mentally defective” or convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” A local law-enforcement official, usually a sheriff or police chief, has to sign off on the application. Tanks generally aren’t street-legal, so owners usually drive them off-road or on other private property. Some say local authorities sometimes make exceptions for parades, a quick test drive or a trip to the gas station.

But won’t tanks in private hands lead to horrible crimes? Doesn’t seem that way, particularly since the story mentions that the only tank used in a crime was one taken from a government armory.

And in sensible places such as Texas, local police think a tank is “awesome,” not a cause for hysteria.

Earlier this month, Mr. Bauer, the Texas banker, took his Chaffee out for a spin in his warehouse parking lot. He had rigged the .50-caliber machine gun on the turret with a propane system that generates the noise and muzzle flash of gunfire, without the bullets. He fired off several bursts. Minutes later, two Port Lavaca police cruisers pulled up. The first officer rolled down the window and asked dryly: “You know why we’re here, right?” Mr. Bauer assured him that no actual rounds had been fired. …The second policeman, Jeremy Marshall, got out of his car and eyeballed Mr. Bauer’s tank. “Awesome,” he said.

Meanwhile, a 6-year old boy in Maryland is suspended for making a gun shape with his fingers and a 5-year old girl in Pennsylvania is busted for having a pink plastic gun that shoots bubbles.

The best of America…and the worst of America.

But we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels. Most able-bodied men in Switzerland have fully automatic guns (i.e., capable of continuous firing) in their homes, so it’s an open question which nation is more “awesome.”

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