miércoles, 25 de abril de 2012

Ideas interesantes para salir del pozo


Estaba viendo el último video del profesor Keen y al final da unas ideas para salir de la situación actual de endeudamiento constante.

Vale la pena verlo si no están familiarizados con el concepto de aceleración de la deuda y para conocer un punto de vista diferente sobre algunos pilares de la macroeconomía tradicional.

Este es el resumen final:

“Acciones Jubileo”

Problema: el 99% de las transacciones de bolsa actuales son especuladores comprando y vendiendo acciones ya existentes, usando plata prestada y tratando de explotar burbujas como la de las puntocom.

La idea es crear estas nuevas acciones que se comportarian de esta forma:

1.1. Duran para siempre si se compran directamente a la compañía
1.2. En el mercado secundario solo se pueden vender 7 veces
1.3. Luego de la última venta expiran a los 50 años (pasan a valer cero y se destruyen como activos)

La idea es desincentivar la toma de préstamos para la compra venta de acciones e incentivar la compra de acciones para recibir los dividendos y no solo para especular.

“The Pill” - Property Income Limited Leverage

Problema: las casas (y propiedades comerciales) cuestan más que lo que la gente generalmente tiene ahorrado. Esto lleva a que se tomen préstamos para comprar este tipo de bien. Hoy en un mercado inmobiliario sin casi límites para la obtención de dinero, el que consigue endeudarse más es el que compra, generando las burbujas que todos conocemos.

2.1. Máxima hipoteca contra un inmueble no puede superar 10 veces el potencial de ingresos que el mismo puede generar en un año.

La idea es que la única forma de ganarle a otro para la compra de una casa sea poniendo plata del bolsillo propio, ya que todos los compradores estarán igual de limitados en cuanto a la cantidad de dinero que pueden pedir prestado para un inmueble en particular.

Situación actual

Por último, para la situación de endeudamiento actual, propone un “Jubileo de duda moderno” en el que el salvado sea el público en general y no las instituciones que prestaron en forma irresponsable, la plata que hoy va para los bancos y compañías deberá destinarse a las cuentas bancarias privadas de la gente común.

La idea es darle plata a todo el mundo con la condición de que el que tiene deuda, primero tiene que usar ese dinero para cancelarlas.

Esto último es bastante radical y no aguanto la respiración esperando que esto se aplique.




domingo, 22 de abril de 2012

Entitlements


Hay pocas cosas que me sorprenden de las noticias económico-políticas, sigo con atención la información australiana y global y es raro encontrar hechos que parecen fuera de lugar, todo siempre obedece a las mismas fuerzas y cae en las mismas casillas. La tentación del poder es tan grande que las promesas repartidas a diestra y siniestra en campaña electoral son ignoradas y justificadas sin vergüenza ninguna por la clase política o lo que es peor, son cumplidas sin pensar en cómo se va a afectar al país en 20 años de generosidad popular mal entendida.

El populismo y la demagogia son moneda corriente en todos lados y este país no es la excepción, se prometen siempre nuevos beneficios o mejoras en los existentes durante la campaña como si el boom de la minería fuera a durar para siempre y el barril de plata no tuviese fondo. Y bueno cuando todo se vaya al carajo los que prometieron y dieron ya no van a ser parte de la vida política y que los futuros gobiernos se las arreglen como puedan.

Uff como detesto la falta de visión, la falta de compromiso con las futuras generaciones a cambio de un puñado de votos para obtener lo único que les importa, el poder; por el poder mismo y no por la oportunidad de ser un estadista. Que poquito por favor, que poquito.

Por si alguien todavía no lo digirió o no lo capto en los párrafos anteriores, lo repito, en Australia los políticos también mienten y en general pagan el precio en las siguientes elecciones, pero eso es harina de otro costal. Para poner un par de ejemplos recientes, la primer ministro del gobierno federal (Laborista) puso un impuesto que en campaña juro y perjuro que no pondría y el primer ministro del estado de Victoria (Liberal) dijo que sacaría un sistema de tickets para el transporte público en el que se han perdido billones y todo sigue igual, es más lo está implementando a la fuerza. Como esas hay varias y siempre encuentran la excusa perfecta para hacer lo que dijeron que no harían. Siempre es igual y lamentablemente cuando me toque votar en Australia, también voy a tener que elegir al que me parezca menos peor, esperaba un poco más sinceramente.

Bueno como me fui por las ramas, volvamos al tema de la sorpresa. Pasó la semana pasada que leyendo un discurso de Joe Hockey, figura de la oposición y actualmente ocupando el cargo de Ministro de Economía sombra (si ganan la elección en este momento el sería el ministro) quedé definitivamente descolocado.

Para dar contexto, estamos en un momento muy complicado en los estados que no viven del boom de las materias primas. En Victoria están cerrando fabricas o echando cientos de personas semanalmente, se han cambiando miles de empleos de tiempo completo por empleos part-time implicando un descenso en el ingreso medio de las familias que encima de todo tienen un endeudamiento gigantesco (sobre todo por los préstamos para las casas) y afectando el consumo muchísimo, la tasa de desempleo oficial ha pasado cómodamente ya el 6% en el estado de Victoria (la no oficial para Australia ya está casi en el 10%) con el consecuente aumento de las prestaciones sociales entregadas a la población y la cantidad de gente que se está jubilando y accediendo a otros beneficios sociales también está en aumento con los baby boomers llegando a la edad de retiro. A todo esto le sumamos que el país está en claro déficit y comprometido con lograr un superávit al final del mandato, sin rumbo, aumentando y poniendo los impuestos que pueden y ‘cuidando no descuidar’ la demagogia porque cada voto vale un montón y las encuestas están dando bastante mal.

Para que tengan una idea de cómo están sacando cartas debajo de la manga ya anunciaron el retiro de las tropas de Afganistán para ser completado cuando la campaña electoral esté en su apogeo. Tal es como ven de difícil retener las preferencias del electorado.

Bueno, en este contexto que es lo que uno espera de un posible futuro Ministro de Economía, la demagogia de siempre. Nosotros te vamos a dar más, con nosotros vas a estar mejor, nosotros no vamos a hacer nada como el gobierno actual. Todos los beneficios te los damos y de los sacrificios ni hablamos... qué necesidad hay.

Pues no, el señor salió a atacar los “entitlements” , los derechos de la gente garantizados por la ley cuyo pago son uno de los mayores problemas que enfrentan las economías occidentales.

Se podrá estar de acuerdo o no con los beneficios o como son repartidos, pero que alguien que pretende ser gobierno salga a decir que te tengo que dar menos para mejorar tu vida suena como venido de otro planeta.

Como es de esperar fue una semana muy ocupada para Hockey, como saben el estado de bienestar está enquistado en lo más profundo del ser Australiano y más de un comunicador habló enardecidamente en contra de este hombre. Cabe mencionar también alguna gente ofendida por la comparación con un país Asiático, como si eso fuera una cosa horrible, no importa si el ejemplo es bueno o malo, era como si dijeran con esos ni me compares; por lo menos me choco bastante la actitud.

Una sola cosa es cierta, este hombre perdió unos cuantos votos por decir abiertamente lo que piensa y más de uno del oficialismo se debe estar relamiendo por esta veta que se abrió en momentos en los que están desesperados para ganar nuevamente el favor popular.

Les dejo el discurso con algunas partes resaltadas que me parecen interesantes desde el punto de vista de que el primer paso para solucionar algo es reconocer el problema y por ahora lo único que se había visto es gente haciendo lo mismo (incrementar la deuda) pretendiendo resultados diferentes (la definición de locura para Einstein), léanlo si tienen ganas y saquen sus propias conclusiones.


“THE END OF THE AGE OF ENTITLEMENT”
SPEECH NOTES FOR AN ADDRESS TO THE INISTITUTE OF ECONOMIC AFFAIRS


London


17 APRlL 2012


Introduction


I wish to thank my friends at the Institute of Economic Affairs for the opportunity to discuss an issue that has been the source of much debate in this forum for sometime….that is, the end of an era of popular universal entitlement.


There is nothing much new in the debate other than the fact that action has now been forced on governments as a result of the recent financial crisis. Years of warnings have been ignored but the reality can no longer be avoided.


Despite an ageing population and a higher standard of living than that enjoyed by our children, western democracies in particular have been reluctant to wind back universal access to payments and entitlements from the state.


As we have already witnessed, it is not popular to take entitlements away from millions of voters in countries with frequent elections.


It is ironic that the entitlement system seems to be most obvious and prevalent in some of the most democratic societies. Most undemocratic nations are simply unable to afford the largesse of universal entitlement systems.


So, ultimately the fiscal impact of popular programs must be brought to account no matter what the political values of the government are or how popular a spending program may be.


Let me put it to you this way: The Age of Entitlement is over.


We should not take this as cause for despair.  It is our market based economies which have forced this change on unwilling participants.


What we have seen is that the market is mandating policy changes that common sense and years of lectures from small government advocates have failed to achieve.


And we have subsequently witnessed over the last twelve months a raging battle.  This has been a battle between the fiscal reality of paying for what you spend, set against the expectation of majority public opinion that each generation will receive the same or increased support from the state than their forebears.


The entitlements bestowed on tens of millions of people by successive governments, fuelled by short-term electoral cycles and the politics of outbidding your opponents is, in essence, undermining our ability to ensure democracy, fair representation and economic sustainability for future generations.


Perhaps we could re-apply noted British philosopher, AC Grayling’s words on liberty to our debate by declaring that we may record that the age of entitlement might have passed its best point, “after so brief a period of flourishing…”


And flourish it did.


Government spending on a range of social programs including education, health, housing, subsidised transport, social safety nets and retirement benefits has reached extraordinary levels as a percentage of GDP.


However an inadequate level of revenue has forced nations into levels of indebtedness that, in an age of slowing growth and ageing population, are simply unsustainable.


The social contract between government and its citizens needs to be urgently and significantly redefined. The reality is that we cannot have greater government services and more government involvement in our lives coupled with significantly lower taxation.


As a community we need to redefine the responsibility of government and its citizens to provide for themselves, both during their working lives and into retirement.


As part of this process, we must emphasise that government spending should be funded from revenue rather than by borrowing from future generations in whatever form that may take.


The Problem


Entitlement is a concept that corrodes the very heart of the process of free enterprise that drives our economies.


All of us would agree that there are some basic community entitlements.  For generations we have all sought to define those basic rights.


For example, in the United States constitution the founding fathers determined that citizens are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


You will remember it was Margaret Thatcher who interpreted community entitlements as the right for our children to “grow tall and some taller than others if they have the ability in them to do so”.[1]


This broader and timeless conservative definition of our end game lays down some foundations for the role of government.


Equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome is my preferred model for contemporary society.


Thankfully the modern capitalist economy is centred around the satisfaction of personal wants and needs. Commercial transactions are at the core of the system.  And it is a simple and proven formula for willing buyers to engage with willing sellers. If we want a product or service we go and buy it with the dividend from the fruits of our own labour.  The producer is happy and the customer is satisfied.


The problem arises however when there is a belief that one person has a right to a good or service that someone else will pay for.  It is this sense of entitlement that afflicts not only individuals but also entire societies. And governments are to blame for portraying taxpayer’s money as something removed from the labour of another person.


In our collective effort to win votes, political leaders deliberately portray a new spending commitment as if it is coming out of their own personal bank account. Political leaders rarely thank taxpayers for their funding of the policy.


To pay for all these good policy initiatives, governments have taken the easy option and borrowed money from that mysterious and amorphous group defined as “bondholders”.


We all know this is simply a case of borrowing money from the taxpayers of tomorrow for spending initiatives of today. Of course I say with irony, it gets even better when some governments borrow more money to pay the interest on current debt so existing taxpayers and voters will never notice the pain. This is the public sector equivalent of those much maligned ponzi schemes.


The sovereign debt problems we are seeing in Europe and the US today are the outcome of countries wanting a lifestyle they cannot afford but are quite happy to borrow from others to pay for.


Of course in recent months in some countries in Europe the “borrowings” have turned into permanent transfers of wealth as those countries have become unable – or unwilling – to repay the loans.


Richer countries are either writing off the debt of poorer countries or they are subsidising the debt repayments with sophisticated transfer payments.


As a parent I want to give my children everything they wish for.


As a democratically elected legislator I want to give my constituents everything they wish for.


The hardest task in life is to say NO to someone you care about.


So perhaps what we are witnessing is a chronic failure of the democratic process.


A weak government tends to give its citizens everything they wish for. A strong government has the will to say NO!


Being profligate is easy and politically popular in the short term, particularly when the political cost of raising sufficient revenue is avoided by resorting to debt.


But painless revenue makes for reckless spending.


Whether it is defence, law and order, income support, social programs and so on, the outcome is the same.  Eventually the piper has to be paid.


Since World War 2 western communities have enjoyed prosperity that has exceeded all expectations. This has been fuelled by innovation, materialism, globalisation, free trade and debt.


Of course these are not malevolent developments. Rather they are the lauded natural outcomes of a free and successful society.


Moreover these initiatives, which have fuelled a massive improvement in global economic productivity, have driven the age of prosperity. Arguably this has delivered the most dramatic improvement in the material quality of life since the beginning of humanity.


In effect the rapid rise in private prosperity has been matched with demands for an equal improvement in state provided prosperity.


This is understandable. We all want the best available health care, the best education, the best pharmaceuticals and so on.


The difference is that the handbrake on private demand is income.


Unless a consumer can borrow money, it is their income and wealth which determines whether they can buy a new television or renovate the family home.


But for governments with seemingly unlimited capacity to borrow money, that handbrake on expenditure is not real.


While the Keynesian model of Government-led stimulus during the inevitable downturns in the economic cycle is well documented, governments who have turned on the fiscal tap seem completely incapable of turning it off when the cycle turns upwards.


So we have witnessed a continual over-commitment in many countries, funded by the lure of cheap and easily obtainable debt.


It is a problem which is not new. We might think by now we would have learnt the lessons.  But clearly that is not the case.


A Tale of Two Systems


In September last year I travelled to Hong Kong – a city of 7 million[2] - which sits at the edge of the Pearl River Delta – home to over 100 million additional residents. As a Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong is now serving as a conduit between China and its global trading partners, particularly those with business directly to the north.


So even though its destiny has changed, Hong Kong continues to maintain its own currency, laws and Parliament but is now totally wed at the hip to Beijing.


Without a social safety net, Hong Kong offers its citizens a top personal income tax rate of 17% and corporate tax rates of 16.5%. Unemployment is a low 3.4%[3], inflation 4.7%[4] and the growth rate still respectable at over 4%[5]. Government debt is moderate[6] and although there is still poverty, the family unit is very much intact and social welfare is largely unknown.


The system there is that you work hard, your parents look after the kids, you look after your grandkids and you save as you work for 40 years to fund your retirement. The society is focussed on making sure people can look after themselves well into old age.


The concept of filial piety, from the Confucian classic Xiao Jing, is thriving today right across Asia. It is also the very best and most enduring guide for community and social infrastructure.


The Hong Kong experience is not unusual in Asia. Characteristics such as low inflation, low unemployment, modest government debt, minimal unfunded benefits and entitlements, and significant growth are powering a whole range of emerging markets and developing an Asian middle class that will grow to some two and a half billion people by 2030[7].


The sense of government entitlement in these countries is low. You get what you work for. Your tax payments are not excessive and there is an enormous incentive to work harder and earn more if you want to.


By western standards this highly constrained public safety net may, at times, seem brutal.  But it works and it is financially sustainable.


Contrast this with what we find in Europe, the UK and the USA.


All of them have enormous entitlement systems spanning education, health, income support, retirement benefits, unemployment benefits and so on.  Some countries are more generous than others and in many instances the recipients of the largest amount of unfunded entitlements are former employees of the Government.


In all these areas people are enjoying benefits which are not paid for by them, but paid for by someone else – either the taxes of those who are working and producing income, or future generations who are going to be left to pay the debt used to pay for these services.


Despite tax rates much higher than in Hong Kong, government revenue in these economies still falls well short of meeting current government spending initiatives.


The difference is made up by the public sector borrowing money.  And more often than not we are borrowing money from people such as the citizens of Hong Kong.


You would have to say that this is a flawed formula. For western democracies the party is over.


Our most deeply exposed western economies can no longer continue to accumulate debt without constraint. The ongoing credit crisis in Europe seems a very long way from resolution. Ultimately, spending on entitlements becomes a structural problem for fiscal policy.


In the United States for example, the excess of government expenditure over receipts is enormous. The Government has $15 trillion of Federal gross debt and it’s going up by $1.5 trillion a year because expenditure is $6.2 trillion a year and receipts $4.8 trillion[8].  Obviously with interest rates at near zero levels the cost of debt is limited but sooner or later it must end in tears.


So why is it that western nations are so deeply indebted and so tragically unfunded when it comes to meeting their future obligations in the face of an ageing demographic and longer life expectancies?


Both sides of the western political spectrum are to blame.


As the electoral pendulum has swung between socialist and conservative sides of politics, the socialist governments, often winning electoral success thanks to the funding from unions, have created a huge array of entitlements for selected classes of individuals, particularly and ironically employees of government and members of unions.


These entitlements have now begun to hang like a millstone around the neck of governments, mortgaging the economic future of many Western nations and their enterprises for generations to come.


I will give you a classic example.  In Boston USA, there’s a certain former police captain who retired aged 55 some 20 years ago after a 32 year career on the force. During that period he managed to contribute some $73,000 to his defined benefit pension plan, a plan which gives you a percentage of your salary for life when you retire.  On retirement he started receiving 100% of his retirement salary, namely $55,000.


He is now 75, which means he has collected some $1.1 million in benefits.  And it looks like he’ll live until he’s at least 90 or even older, so that’s almost another $1.0 million over 15 years. It’s more than he earned in 32 years and he contributed just $73,000 to help pay for it. Either taxpayers pay the bill or the government has to borrow to pay for the entitlement.


When the electoral pendulum swings, conservative governments have come in promising to fix the problem but in most instances have just trimmed around the edges without addressing the real problem of the growing entitlement burden.


And the greatest Catch 22 of modern democratic politics is that socialist governments are blindly wedded to increases in expenditure while conservative governments are blindly wedded to not increasing taxes. So once the cycle of economic growth comes to its inevitable end, the problem is exacerbated.


Perhaps the real problem is the exuberant excesses of politicians who do not seem to understand or care about the fact that like a household, a nation needs to balance its budget over time and needs to make sure it can cover its future commitments.


This has already reached dangerous levels with some OECD countries like France spending close to 30% of their GDP on public social expenditure.


Other countries get by with much less.  Korea only spends 10% of GDP on public social expenditure with Australia at 16% of GDP, the USA at 20% and the United Kingdom at 23%.[9]


The bottom line is that our communities need to make a tough decision. We cannot choose both higher entitlements and lower taxes. We must make a decision one way or the other. We can take more and more of our citizen’s money and spend it for them, or we can take less of it and rationalise government services.


But it is a decision that must be made …and soon.


This challenge is compounding in scale as an ageing population in many industrialised countries is making even further demands on the entitlement system.


Europe for example, has the highest proportion of over 60s of any region in the world. And while 22% of the population in Europe is currently over 60, this number is forecast to rise to 35% by 2050.


Plans for the future of Europe have assumed strong economic growth, but it is highly uncertain how growth will be achieved as the fiscal burden associated with rising health and aged care costs, as well as a generous pension scheme, continues to grow.


According to a study commissioned by the European Central Bank[10], 19 EU countries had almost 30 trillion Euros of unfunded entitlement obligations for their existing populations. Of this 30 trillion Euros, France has liabilities of 6.7 trillion and Germany 7.6 trillion.


These liabilities will continue to grow without significant reform. And, by the way, I don’t see how a debate in France about lowering the retirement age from 62 to 60 will help address these challenges.


A lower level of entitlement means countries are free to allow business and individuals to be successful. It reduces taxation, meaning individuals spend less of their time working for the state, and more of their time working for themselves and their family.


An economy that impedes individual ambition – whether through higher taxation, the lack of opportunity in employment, or restricted social mobility – is one that enforces the barriers of class, rather than reduces them.


Governments should ensure that the actions they take will leave their citizens better off because, naturally, that will reduce the desire for ‘entitlements’. The role of government must be to help people to the starting line, while accepting that some will then run faster than others.


Everyone should know that they grow up in a country where it is possible, through hard work and diligence, to achieve their dreams.


Naturally the Americans call this the American Dream, but it is similarly played out across the globe, including in emerging economies in Asia.


The Australian Experience


As the child of a father who came to Australia in 1948 as a refugee from Palestine and built himself into a successful businessman, I know that being successful in Australia is not the product of belonging to rich and prosperous families, but rather is the result of hard work and diligence.


In fact those stories are most often repeated in countries without extreme interventionist governments. For example, over 80 per cent of the millionaires in the United States are the first generation in their family to be millionaires.


But Australia has had its fair share of irresponsible governments.  In 1996 the incoming conservative government inherited a budget in a weakened state.  The previous Labor administration had racked up a succession of budget deficits and $96bn of net debt, about 17% of GDP.  (I know that figure is not large by the current experience of most countries in Europe, but trust me, the repayment task was a challenge.)


It took nine years of budget surpluses and asset sales to repay the debt.  That is three election cycles in Australia.


It took another two years of hard fiscal rectitude to build up a stock of net assets equivalent to 4% of GDP.  In total that is a long period of sustained fiscal austerity.


Australia has not completely avoided the problems of other western democracies because it still has a lot of spending by government which many voters see as their entitlement.


However, over the years there have been a number of key decisions to reduce spending to manageable levels.


Australia has sought to reduce the burden on government of providing aged pensions through a compulsory system of savings for retirement.  Retirees must rely first on the benefits they have accumulated rather than on government income support.  And retirement benefits to government employees and politicians are no longer provided on a defined benefit basis but on a contributions basis so they only get back the principal and earnings on what they have put in.


The government is also gradually raising the age at which government benefits can be accessed, from 60 to 67 for women and from 65 to 67 for men from 1 July 2023.


Most importantly, the net government assets of $45 billion arduously built up by the previous conservative government were set aside into a Future Fund.  The funds cannot be touched by the government for everyday expenditure.  Rather, the fund can only be accessed to pay for the previously unfunded entitlements of federal public servants so as to reduce the burden on taxpayers.


That was an initiative of great foresight.  It is, if you like, Australia’s sovereign wealth fund with the explicit purpose of boosting the sustainability of the budget through time.


The Road Back


So where do we go from here?


There is really only one solution in the long term, and that is for countries to live within their means.


We must rebuild fiscal discipline.  Budget surpluses must be restored, ideally until the debt is repaid.


This can only be achieved by cutting spending or by raising taxes.  And given the general acceptance that the increased drag from higher taxes would compromise economic growth, the clear mandate is to lower expenditure.


This is lovely rhetoric but to actually do it needs some very harsh political and social decisions.


To be bold, I have some suggestions.


The first is that people need to work longer before they access retirement benefits. When the age pension was introduced in Australia at age 65, life expectancy was 55. Today life expectancy is in the 80’s.


So you can understand how I was shocked to hear that one of the policy promises of one of the main French Presidential Election candidates, François Hollande, is to bring the official retirement age back down to 60 from 62.


Second, there have to be universal compulsory retirement schemes into which employees and employers must contribute so that after a man or woman has worked for 40 or more years they have set aside an amount that can provide them with a reasonable income for a further 15-20 years at least.


Defined benefit schemes need to be phased out worldwide, including in Australia, whether they are for public servants or private sector employees. In addition, all government funded pensions and other such payments must be means tested so that people who do not need them do not get them.


Third, there needs to be clear thinking about which services should be provided by governments and whether government funded services should be entirely free or have some affordable co payment.  Many will argue that certain government services should be free and universal but the problem with any free good is that it will be overconsumed and underappreciated.


For example, in Australia, health services are partly funded through compulsory levies, paid either to the government or to private health insurers.


Across the Western world we have saddled our nations and our children with a debt burden that is simply unsustainable. It is time for strong political and economic leadership to clean up this mess properly, not with a series of band aids and political spin but with genuine economic and social reform.


The age of unlimited and unfunded entitlement to government services and income support is over. It’s as over in Greece as it is in Italy, in Spain, and in the USA.


There also needs to be a rethinking of government borrowing.  Some might argue that some low level of debt is not a bad thing.  I believe that is a dangerous proposition.   Once some level of debt is accepted it becomes too tempting to opt for just a little more.  Pretty soon a little debt becomes a big problem.


Also, there is a significant cost to servicing debt.  Even in Australia, where net debt as a percentage of GDP is lower than in Europe, interest costs on net debt are approaching $7 billion a year.  That is enough to build 7 new teaching hospitals every year.


The message is that every dollar of debt has an opportunity cost.


Another aspect of the problem is that credit is no longer easily accessible for the private sector or the public sector.


And the credit market no longer automatically favours the public sector. Ironically more and more sovereigns are seen as a greater credit risk than many international companies. I would think the experience of the past few years has been something of a reality check.  Lenders now know that even today advanced western economies can default on their debts.


In today’s global financial system it is the financial markets, both domestic and international, which impose fiscal discipline on countries.  A country which is viewed as approaching its safe limit for debt will find it increasingly difficult to borrow additional funds at an affordable rate.  Eventually the capital markets will close.


We are now in an era where lenders are much more wary about credit risk.  I view this as a healthy development.


Lenders have a more active role to play in policing public policy and ensuring that countries do not exceed their capacity to service and repay debt.


This is playing out most dramatically in Europe where the European Commission and the European Central Bank are either directly or indirectly heavily influencing public policy in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal to name a few.


It is also worth noting that the system of regulation of banks and other deposit taking institutions is artificially boosting demand for sovereign credits with mandated liquidity requirements generally emphasising a prominent role for government securities.


Governments have been too prepared to exploit the resultant lower borrowing costs.


And whilst securities issued by sovereigns have traditionally been viewed as the safest and most liquid assets, I am not sure that it is still the view of investors in Europe today.


Concluding Comments


The road back to fiscal sustainability will not be easy.


It will involve reducing the provision of so called “free” government services to those who feel they are entitled to receive them.


It will involve reducing government spending to be lower than government revenue for a long time.


It is likely to result in a lowering of the standard of living for whole societies as they learn to live within their means.


The political challenge will be to convince the electorate of the need for fiscal pain and to ensure that the burden is equally shared.


Already in the UK and parts of Europe we have seen the social unrest that can result when fiscal austerity bites.


But the alternative is unthinkable.


The Western world cannot continue on its current path of borrowing to fund its excessive lifestyle.  The problem of fiscal sustainability will only get worse.


Eventually lenders will cry enough is enough and turn off the credit tap.  And when that happens the economic, financial, social and political dislocations are likely to be catastrophic.


The Western world is at the most important economic cross road in its history – Governments must accept their responsibilities to fiscal discipline and the prudent use of their citizens hard earned monies, or they need to accept that the demise of western economies will be forced upon them in a dramatic, unpredictable and possibly violent way.


Adam Smith’s free hand is perfectly capable of forming a fist to punish nations who ignore the fundamental rules.  Unfortunately I think Adam’s down at the gym right now and in training for one almighty whack.


Restoring fiscal credibility will be hard.    But it is essential we learn to live within our means.


The Age of Entitlement should never have been allowed to become a fiscal nightmare. But now that it has, Governments around the world must reign in their excesses and learn to live within their means. All of our futures depend on it.

miércoles, 11 de abril de 2012

Rummy Canasta

Hace años que no jugábamos canasta y con Gaby desde hace unos días nos avocamos a la noble tarea de recordar las reglas y jugar unas partidas.

Primero lo de siempre, las reglas con las que jugábamos en nuestras familias o con amigos tenían varias diferencias por lo que hemos terminado recién una etapa en la que asentamos un reglamento y luego de probar algunas variantes hemos decidido liberar la versión “la.banda” del tradicional juego Oriental.

Canasta, para dos personas. Versión la.banda.0.1 (draft).

- Se juega con dos mazos de poker
- El que reparte baraja solo o con ayuda, dado el volumen exagerado del mazo.
- Una vez barajado se procede a realizar un corte.
- El que reparte selecciona cartas del tope y reparte de arriba, 11 cartas a cada comensal y si la cantidad de cartas que tenía en la mano es exacta entonces ya se gana 100 puntitos de pique.
- Luego pone 6 cartas boca abajo y 1 carta boca arriba para preparar una pila de descarte jugosa.
Si la carta boca arriba es un comodín (carta número 2 o Joker), entonces se tapa el comodín con una carta boca abajo y se da vuelta una nueva carta en la pila de descarte para comenzar. Repetir este loop hasta que los comodines dejen de joder aparecer.
- Si se reciben en la mano cartas número 3 rojos deben bajarse a la mesa y remplazarlas en la mano con cartas del mazo.
- Gana el que haga 5000 puntos, si los jugadores llegan juntos a 5000 gana el que haga más puntos.
- Como la conga (o chin-chon) cada jugador roba del montón y tiene que descartar una. También puede quedarse con toda la pila de descarte si cumple las condiciones adecuadas. (ver “Quédese con la pila de descarte y ríase de su rival” más adelante en este post)
- Si se roba del montón un 3 rojo, debe dejarse a un lado boca arriba y robar nuevamente de la pila.
- Cuando el jugador descarta una carta su turno termina y no puede bajar ninguna carta más. Si baja todas sus cartas o corta con la última entonces la mano termina y los puntos se suman. El jugador recibirá 100 puntos adicionales por cerrar el juego y debe tener por lo menos una canasta armada para que el cierre sea válido.
- Las cartas deben ser descartadas en forma prolija para que solo se vea la carta superior. Es importante porque la memoria juega un papel fundamental en el juego.
- Las cartas de la mano se pueden bajar en grupos de tres cartas (o más) del mismo número y cuando se logra un grupo de 7 cartas se ha formado una canasta. Las cartas se agrupan en una pila y se dejan al lado de los 3 rojos que se posean (si no tiene 3 rojos, deje las pilas de cartas iguales en un costadito pa’ que no jodan y le permitan contar bien los tantos al final).

    o Si el conjunto de 7 cartas igualitas no tiene ningún comodín, deje una roja arriba.
    o Si el conjunto de 7 cartas incluye algún comodín (números 2 o Jokers) entonces deje una carta de color negro arriba.
    o Si usted ya bajó una pila de 7 cartas, supongamos con el número 4 y luego en su turno recibe un número 4. Puede apilarlo con sus cartas respetando el color del tope, no porque tenga 7 números cuatro la canasta se vuelve roja, si uso originalmente un comodín, la canasta queda negra.
    o Los dos competidores pueden tener la misma canasta, con cuatro cartas iguales y tres comodines. Un competidor solo puede tener una canasta con cada número.
    o No puede usarse más de 3 comodines en una canasta.
    o No valen las canastas usando solo comodines (Numero 2 y jokers)
    o No valen las canastas usando el número 3

- Los números 3 negros se llaman tapones y si se descartan prohíben al rival robar la pila de descarte.
- Los números 3 rojos dan puntos adicionales y por cada uno al final de la mano se reciben 100 puntos y si un jugador tiene los cuatro 3 rojos entonces son 800 puntos. Si no se hace ninguna canasta durante la mano, esos puntos van en negativo.
- Si todas las cartas del montón son robadas la mano termina y las cartas que los jugadores tienen en la mano deben ser contadas como puntos en contra, todas las cartas en la mesa deben ser contadas como puntos a favor siempre, independientemente si se han armado canastas o no.

Quédese con la pila de descarte y ríase de su rival

- En una mano se puede robar del mazo o se puede robar la pila de descarte, para esto una vez que el rival se descarta de una carta uno debe de usar la carta al tope de la pila en una de las canastas que está armando en la mesa o usar cartas en la mano para bajar un juego y añadir la carta que el rival recién descartó.
- Si el rival descarta una carta de una canasta que uno ya cerró, esa carta es como un tapón y el pozo de descarte no puede ser robado.
- Si un jugador arroja a la pila de descarte un comodín (número 2 o joker) la pila de descarte queda premiada. El comodín se debe poner en forma transversal cosa que siempre quede visible.
- Si la pila queda premiada ya no es tan fácil de robar, no se pueden usar los juegos que se están armando en la mesa y si se tienen cartas en la mano no se puede usar una carta con el mismo número y un comodín. Se necesitan dos cartas iguales para poder robar la pila de descarte (está es el arma fundamental del que va perdiendo).

Primera canasta

- Hay limitaciones para realizar la primera bajada de cartas para poder robar la pila de descarte por primera vez. Dependiendo de los puntos acumulados hasta el momento será necesario bajar una cantidad mínima de puntos a la mesa.

Si, creo que no lo había dicho, pero las cartas valen puntos. :)

Estos son los valores:

Jokers ................... 50 puntos
Aces ..................... 20
Números 2 ............ 20
K,Q,J,10,9,8 ......... 10
7,6,5,4 y 3 negros .... 5

Estos son los valores mínimos para bajar el primer juego:

Puntos negativos ..... 0 puntos
0 a 1495 ................ 50
1500 a 2995 .......... 90
3000 o más ........... 120

Resumen de todos los puntos que se pueden obtener en una mano:

Canasta pura .................................................................................... 500 puntos
Canasta con comodines .................................................................... 300
Cada 3 rojo ...................................................................................... 100 (200 c/uno si se tienen los 4)
Cerrar la mano (bajando todas las cartas o cortando con la última) .... 100

- Cartas en la mano se suman como puntos negativos.
- 3 rojos cuentan como negativos si no se han cerrado canastas en la mano.
- Todas las cartas en la mesa y que se han usado para canastas deben ser sumadas y los puntos cuentan positivos.

Mantendremos este documento actualizado con la versión más nueva (o no, a quien engaño, la verdad no creo que actualice esto nunca más).

martes, 3 de abril de 2012

El regalo (in)correcto


Para mí es muy difícil comprar regalos, es una de las tareas que me generan más estrés. Me cuesta un montón ese sencillo acto y me quema como puede ser interpretada mi selección por el homenajeado. O tal vez me complico mucho la cabeza y pienso de más y asumo que el que recibe el regalo va a sacar conclusiones sobre lo que le doy, onda, “que me habrá querido decir regalándome un libro con las mejores dietas de la historia o el DVD de Pilates para perder 20kg en una semana”. :P

Cuando elijo algo, no quiero que piensen que fue lo primero que vi y lo compré, quiero que se note que es algo comprado porque uno ha estado atento a las señales, a los gustos o las preferencias del otro y elige desde el conocimiento que uno puede tener de la otra persona.

También es importante para mí que el regalo sea algo personalizado, para que lo disfrute el que lo recibe y que en lo posible sea un objeto de recuerdo que represente un agasajo a medida y permanente.

Ni hablar que mi estrés se va a las nubes cuando se agrega la complicación de tener un presupuesto y gastar hasta tanto, eso limita las opciones y siempre esta eso que sale unos pesos más pero que sería el regalo ideal. Para colmo uno lo ve primero y ya no importa si sigue mirando, nada se compara a ese regalo que no se puede comprar por limitaciones monetarias. Una situación tan común como terrible.

A la hora de recibir un regalo, soy también complicado, primero por la sencilla razón que nunca necesito nada y si me preguntan siempre contesto lo mismo, un par de medias está bien,  eso siempre uso. :)

Esa falta de necesidades también genera que no emita señales al entorno para que tengan pistas de que pueden regalarme, reconozco que genero también cierto estrés a los que se toman el tiempo y piensan un lindo regalo personal; a ellos pido perdón.

Para terminar con una anécdota, mi peor momento,  le compre a mi señora una máquina de hacer pan. Ella siempre mencionaba que quería una pero no es algo que se deba comprar para un cumpleaños, créanme hombres y aprendan de mi error.

Ellas dicen que necesitan cosas, bien podría haber sido una lavadora de más kilos, una tele, un aire acondicionado. Pero eso no lo hace un buen regalo para un cumpleaños, simplemente es algo necesario que va ayudar a toda la familia en el día a día. Lógicamente, si hay un poco de tacto no les van a decir que le erraron al regalo adecuado, pero lo van a notar, lo puedo asegurar.  :)

PD. Y para los preocupados por la salud de mi matrimonio, les cuento que ya he recuperado el equilibrio y compensado a mi esposa como corresponde con el siguiente regalo de cumpleaños, espero no cometer la misma torpeza nuevamente ahora que el balance ha sido restaurado.