The rich are willing to take risks. What they’re not willing to do is gamble. There’s a difference. Investors require risks to be quantified and priced - the reason the financial system nearly shut down in 2007 wasn’t because there was too much risk - it was because the risk couldn’t be priced, so no one knew the value of the monetary instruments moving through the economy.
If I give an investor a business plan with a 50% chance of failure, I might get funding for it - if the return on investment in the case of success is high enough to warrant taking that risk. But if I give an investor a business plan with an unknown amount of risk, he won’t touch it.
The problem investors are facing right now is that investment risk is hard to price. Some of that is the fault of government regulatory uncertainty and uncertainty about the actions of the fed. Some of it is uncertainty about the resolution of the various debt crises around the world. These are chaotic events impossible to predict, and therefore price. That’s what really chills investment.
Take the health care bill. According to the bill, employers with over 50 employees who do not provide health care for their employees will be subject to fines of $2,000 or $3,000 per employee. In addition, health insurers will be hit with new fees, and the mandatory insurance clause kicks in requiring everyone to have health insurance.
What is this going to do to the market in health care? How much will prices go up for companies already providing health care? No one knows. In addition, this is going to cause huge sectoral shifts as labor-intensive businesses are hit harder than businesses that use less labor. In addition, companies that have currently negotiated with employees to provide higher salaries in lieu of health care coverage are going to find themselves with the higher salaries AND health care costs, putting them at a disadvantage.
What makes the uncertainty even higher is the penalties for companies that already have health care plans, but whose employees choose to seek health care from the exchanges instead. As I understand it, if even one employee chooses to do so, the company is fined $3,000 for every employee it has. How do you quantify that risk? To make matters worse, no one even knows what the health exchange coverage is even going to look like at this point, so no one knows if their current insurance is adequate. And no one knows what will happen to the cost of health care coverage overall once 30 million more people start seeking coverage.
If you own a company that has 45 employees without health care coverage, would you hire another 10 knowing that as soon as you hire the sixth, you are now going to have to remit $3,000 per employee to the government? That sixth employee sure is expensive, eh?
By the way, the historical creator of private sector jobs is small business, and all those small businesses out there just under 50 employees are probably sitting on their hands right now, waiting to see how this shakes out.
Now assume I come to you with a business plan for a restaurant. What’s my cost structure? Normally, the staff will be close to minimum wage, with their wages supplemented by tips. Most people in those kinds of businesses do not have employer-provided health care coverage. So should I assume that in 2014 I’m suddenly going to be paying $3,000 per year more for each employee? That’s a whopping increase in my labor costs of almost 20%. How will that allow me to compete against the large fast-food chains or other established restaurants?
This is just the effect from one aspect of one bill. Then there’s the 2,000 page financial reform bill, the manufacturing bill that changes the way inventory depreciation can be calculated, new EPA regulations, the threat of new taxes or an economic downturn because of high deficits, yada yada. Much of this is unquantifiable risk. How do you make investment decisions in that atmosphere? How do you know how much return you need on your capital to make the investment a better deal than just putting the money in a T-Bill or a Municipal Bond?
Speaking of employment costs… The new minimum wage went into effect in 2009, right in the middle of the recession. It raised the rate from $5.85 to $7.25. How much effect do you think that might have on employment when productivity is down? Now add in $3,000 in fines per employee from the health care bill, and compare:
Cost of a minimum wage employee in 2008: $12,168
Cost of a minimum wage employee in 2014: $18,080
How many industries in an economic downturn can afford a 50% increase in labor costs? Might that not explain why the unemployment rate among young people, who typically fill the low paying jobs, might be so high?