America's biggest companies are united for "urgent" action on the debt and united against the the fiscal cliff, which would cut the deficit, urgently
America's most powerful CEOs are in absolute agreement: The debt stinks. And we need to fix it.
That's the impression you get if you believe their words, at least. An open letter signed by 80-some chief executives -- including the heads of AT&T, Bank of America, and Microsoft -- begins this way:
Policy makers should acknowledge that our growing debt is a serious threat to the economic well-being and security of the United States.It is urgent and essential that we put in place a plan to fix America's debt.
The tone of these opening bromides might cause you to think that the U.S. doesn't have a plan to fix the debt. In fact, we do. It's a three-step plan. Step One: Do nothing. Step Two: Repeat. Step Three: Watch the deficit plummet by hundreds of billions of dollars in 2013.
It's a simple solution to our debt problem. It's also a drastic and potentially disastrous solution. It would lower the typical family's disposable income by $2,000 and drive the U.S. into a short, but steep, recession. That's why none of these CEOs who signed the letter above want to reduce the deficit even though they claim it's "urgent" that we reduce the debt.
America's biggest companies are united against the fiscal cliff because -- wait for it -- they want tall deficits. They need tall deficits. Maybe it's not obvious that huge federal deficits today are good for big businesses who rally against the debt. But they are.
Our deficits today are the result of two things: Historically low taxes and historically high spending. Historically low taxes on families increase take-home income, bolstering overall spending on stuff that corporations make, which raises corporate income. Special tax exemptions passed in the stimulus and expanded since have saved corporations millions on depreciation and new payroll-tax-free employees. Meanwhile, historically high spending has set a disposable income floor for families without jobs while maintained support for contractors.
Joe Weisenthal explains the picture:
It shows the various drivers and drags on corporate profitability. So for example, household savings are always a drag on profitability, since that's money not spent to buy goods. Net investment helps boost corporate profitability, since that investment will flow to the profit line of another corporation. When the government is in a surplus, that reduces corporate profitability, since that means the government is taking in more than it pays out. When the government is in deficit, that boosts profitability ... As you can see in the chart, what REALLY stands out is the huge explosion of the red area (representing government deficits), helping to drive corporate profits at a time when nothing else is doing the work.
In the long-run, fiscal responsibility is a virtue and tall deficits are an overdose of very strong medicine. But the U.S. has still got a fever and more deficits (along with historically low interest rates) are the only prescription. If the most powerful CEOs in America really wanted to make an honest collective statement, they would have signed a different letter, many years ago, with a slightly different opening paragraph:
Policy makers should acknowledge that our ongoing jobs dearth is a serious threat to the economic well-being and security of the United States. It is urgent and essential that we put in place a plan to fix America's upfront unemployment crisis before turning our attention to a long-term deficit reduction package ...