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Japan's looming benefit cuts an unspoken, unsettling election theme

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By Lisa Twaronite and Tetsushi Kajimoto

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What needs to be cut is the inane spending on unnecessary public projects, and government waste. But no, they want the average citizen to feel this is all their fault.

25 ( +26 / -2 )

Looming benefit cuts are causing people like Shinohara to save rather than spend, complicating Abe’s attempt to break the nearly two-decade deflationary mindset.

Government projections indicate that even if Abe had raised the national sales tax to 10% from 8% next October as initially planned, Japan was not on track to meet its promise to balance the budget in the next 7 years.

Not a pretty picture. Can't get people to spend because they are so worried about the future -- so the 2% inflation plan is really not going to be effective. Then, even with another bump in the sales tax, the primary budget still won't be in balance for at least another 7 years. Meanwhile, the debt just keeps rising because the LDP is trying to spend its way out of the problems. Gonna be a bumpy ride for a while.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

I was made to pay into this pension scheme/scam for four years working for a Japanese company. I wrote a letter to the ministry pleading with them to let me off it on the grounds of not having any intention of retiring in Japan and taking their piddley pension. I also explained I have my own private super fund, which will pay me a lot more than the pittence this pension scam will. However, the ministry flatly denied my request. I can apply to get the money only after I have lived outside of Japan for one year and, I will only receive 50% (or less) of the money back.

The Japanese pension system is a failed scam! It was set up over 50 years ago and has never been updated. Now, they want to gamble the funds in the stock market in a desperate attempt to increase the pool. The Jaoanese peopel are just being robbed blind by their government.

18 ( +21 / -3 )

"We cannot rely on high growth but must seek both tax hikes and welfare spending cuts to fix public finances,” said Kazumasa Oguro, associate professor of economics at Hosei University.

Spending cuts across the board would be a better option than tax hikes. Asking people to pay more for less service, less benefits makes no sense.

Tax hikes aren't panaceas for fiscal woes. In the 80s, the Canadian government introduced a surtax on income taxes, a consumption tax, and still, the national debt ballooned. Canadian provinces, nearly all with high consumption taxes themselves are swamped in debt.

Japan needs to get the economy growing again. Settling for growth below 3% isn't going to raise incomes or boost profits.

These economists and politicians are missing the bigger picture. The ECONOMY is the real problem.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Disillusioned you need to check into the refund paperwork. If you fill out the proper forms you can collect back the income tax that would be withheld on the lump sum repayment

http://www.nic-nagoya.or.jp/en/e/archives/349

5 ( +5 / -0 )

-- With the tax hike delayed by 18 months, there is even greater need for cuts to generous social benefits --

Is the a quote from someone missing the quote marks? because it's certainly not a statement of fact. Yes, the overall burden on the government is huge, but that's due to demographic factors - the amount received by individuals are hardly generous.

Unemployment benefit stops after a few months, the state pension is tiny and to qualify for welfare you have to have virtually no assets and are banned from owning a car.

The claim that the Japanese government is generous to the disenfranchised and vulnerable is not backed by any evidence.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Disillusioned

You seem to be an Ausralian. The Japanese pension is not the equivalent of Super. Instead you have the option to open a Japanese financial institution accumulation type pension fund which you own completely and that would be the equivalent of Super. The Japanese Pension is the equivalent of the Australian Old Age Pension, except there is no means test for payment, and if you leave the country you can even get a partial refund on premiums. Try that with your Australian Pension contribution!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Democracy has a good thing and a bad thing. People demand more welfare and less taxes - two contradictory requests. They don't understand the government cannot do more than the taxes they receive from people. The politicians do not take hard policies to their constituences in fear of losing elections while in America and Britain, the governments are sometimes more ruthless and people accept it rationally. Japanese people are sentimental.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

“I really worry about people in their 30s and 40s now. Will there be any money left for them when they’re old?”

Of course not...

If anyone in 40-ish or younger thinks there is going to be any meaningful amount of money they have paid into any public scheme in any country to allow some form of retirement I suggest you need a reality check.

House prices, and cost of living without corresponding wage increases has gone up worldwide to a point where the large majority of people will simply have to work as long as they are physically able, more or less until they die.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

People I know have already determined there'll be no money around for them so have decided not to bother with paying into the scam,I mean pension system and will go it alone and save for themselves.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

How about cutting back the amount of welfare paid to unemployable imbeciles working for the Government? How much time and money is wasted on meaningless bureaucracy? I recently had to spend 2 days shuttling back and forward between a J-Gov department and Foreign Gov mission to get some meaningless piece of paper correct in order to get a registration done by an arbitrarily decided deadline. 5 people in the J-Gov department were working diligently to decide if my piece of paper was correct and at 5 mins before closing decided to accept the paper as had been agreed on a Gov to Gov basis. Spastics the lot of em!

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Asides from the health care benefits (the elderly only pay 10% on like, everything, which is why so many spend so much time at the doctor), the state pension system here being described as generous is insane. According to the site the old age pension is 785,000/year. Unless your employee pension effectively triples this, you can't afford to live here, unless you're being supplemented by your children (which is what the system seems to assume will happen).

5 ( +6 / -1 )

When are the Japanese people realize that they are being taken in for the ride of the century. I am waiting for a youngster in the crowd to shout "the emperor is naked" and hopefully Japan will awaken to the fact that Abenomics is just a game for the rich.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

For those with a passport of a country that has an agreement with Japan, you can pay into your country's pension fund instead of Japan's.

I really worry about people in their 30s and 40s now. Will there be any money left for them when they're old?

The Japan pension system is a ponzi scheme, there are less and less people at the bottom of the ladder, eventually the system will collapse. As usual, the solutions are not discussed in this election. Bringing in young immigrants would increase the number of people paying in the system thus making it viable.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

I live in an area with a lot of elderly people -who doesnt!- and they do have a lot of benefits. When they go to the doctor the come back with literally a basket full of medicines. Everyday I see a bunch of social services vans that come to pick them up to go to rehabilitation or other things like that. If I go to the local swimming pool there's only old people there, because they don't pay. They don't pay for the bus ride neither...

So, it's nice to have a good healthcare service, but some of the "extras" shouldn't be free.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

When are the Japanese people realize that they are being taken in for the ride of the century. I am waiting for a youngster in the crowd to shout "the emperor is naked"...

Wait on. No one ever has, and no one ever will shout that. People Here are not only uninformed, they actively supress "unpleasant" things it seems. It's embarrassing to witness. When I saw those youngsters in Hong King take to the streets and scream as one voice: "The Emperor is naked!!", it made me smile and feel some hope that humans still have it in them.

Then I watched the world around me, with non-smiling, drone-like people everywhere, uneducated and unintrested in anything that has to do with politics....

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Cut the money those government representatives and employess receive!

Reduce their bonus which is paid at least twice a year to a "normal" level.

Stop the wasteful spending that you can see all over the country.

Reducing the social benefits is NOT an option IMO. Those people worked all their life, they built Japan and now that they are old "you" want to put them on the lowest (pay-) level. Give me a break!

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Welcome to Japan where the authorities have made convenience into an art form but hedged it with a maze of rules and regulations. Abe and his cohorts must been having round-the-clock keg parties.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Might I suggest raising incomes? My wife works full time, lots of over time yet we are barely scraping by. To me that's madness, how can you not live on a full time wage?

History has shown that people earning a decent living spend and thus feed the economy.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

I've been trying to get out of this pension scam for years - as I was forced into it by my psycho ex-fiancé. The long and short of it is, once you're in - you're in it for life. ¥15,000 / mth regardless of what you earn. On top of health insurance & the inhabitant's tax, I simply cannot afford it. It cannot be adjusted nor deferred, either. Such a joke!

5 ( +7 / -2 )

sighclops, if you really cannot afford it there are exemptions for the needy.

http://www.nenkin.go.jp/n/www/service/detail.jsp?id=3770

3 ( +3 / -0 )

All these pension schemes are a version of a Ponzi , anyone in their 30s or 40s will not be getting anything from any govt scam, I mean scheme.

Get yourself sorted and don't rely on any govt to provide for you, they are all in the shite having mishandled things for decades.

Putting off the tax hike only puts things back 18 months, so no big deal, eventually if spending is capped, and the young play their part and breed (as procreation is humans ultimate goal), things may return to a positive balance, they need breeders to provide future tax payers, the govt needs to stimulate people into child rearing mode, ie help families to grow more kids.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Cut the money those government representatives and employess receive! Reduce their bonus which is paid at least twice a year to a "normal" level. Stop the wasteful spending that you can see all over the country.

Well stated.

Reforming the compensation schemes of elected officials, and bureaucrats would bring on a significant reduction in costs. Politicians are the biggest beneficiaries of government funds, and services. High salaries, and gold retirement plans, regardless of their performance in office.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I've been trying to get out of this pension scam for years - as I was forced into it by my psycho ex-fiancé. The long and short of it is, once you're in - you're in it for life. ¥15,000 / mth regardless of what you earn.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Pension

Something does not sound right here, you should check the link out,. You pay into one scheme or another, if you work, your employer is paying in with you as well and included health as well as pension benefits (more than likely)

If you have no income you do not have to pay...folks who work will hopefully cover it.

Might I suggest raising incomes? My wife works full time, lots of over time yet we are barely scraping by. To me that's madness, how can you not live on a full time wage?

Sounds like an Abe drone talking here.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Yes, pensions are a worldwide problem in most developed countries. My guess is, that the generation of today's 30/40 something will have to sort this out once they are steering the government/institutions.

But I was also shocked to learn, that JUST living in Japan will cost me around ~40.000¥ per month. That is Pension Contribution, Health Insurance and City Tax which are all mandatory. On the other hand you can say that for 4man I have all bases covered.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It's looking ominous, opposition parties in disarray, a incumbent government with some painful decisions to make to balance the economy, an expensive general election without any clear policy manifestos for public debate, hold on to your safety belts the poplus patience isn't without limits. Cards on the table face up please.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Unfortunately, Japan cannot afford to continue it's current social security spending, as things stand.

The maths is simple. Japan's total expenditures are some 100 trillion yen a year. Of this, more than 25 trillion yen (and growing) is debt servicing costs - this can't be cut without the sovereign defaulting, which would be Bad. Further to this, 31 trillion yen (and increasing at a pace of 1 trillion yen per year due to the aging population) is social security spending.

So right there we are talking 56 trillion yen of expeditures.

However, tax revenues are budgeted as 50 trillion yen this year.

We haven't even discussed yet the useful services that government provides such as education, police, defense, and roads. But it's clear that it is spending beyond it's means just on the necessary debt servicing, as well as the and social security outlays.

It is therefore imperitive that either tax revenues need to be increased (through tax hikes or miracle economic growth that just hasn't happened for the last 20 years), or social security spending must be cut to a degree, in addition to cuts elsewhere. Or else, far worse things could come about as a result of failing to take responsible actions.

The good news is that the recipients of a lot of the social security spending are actually loaded with cash and other financial assets - the elderly of Japan have most of the money. A basic principle should be to keep support for the needy, but cut it for the people who aren't. I don't know why Abe and Aso need until next summer to come up with such a plan. It suggests they just aren't serious, and it's no wonder Japan's soveriegn is being downgraded.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I have no pity for these people. If they are not smart enough to inform themselves about all the issues, or worse yet know about them and STILL vote in the people who will screw them, they get what they deserve. Time to make a change. If the old man is truly worried about Abe's policies, why shrug and vote for him?

5 ( +8 / -3 )

to all the housewives/mothers under 40 that stay at home, if your husband does make at least 10million yen a year and if you dont have any large inheritance coming your way then youd better get back to work and save, anybody who expects the J pension system to support them when they retire is in trouble. dont expect your children to support you when you get old, with the smaller wages and larger taxes theyll struggle to support themselves.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

The politicos have no clue, they will not cut their pension or entitlements, never have never will no govt anywhere ever has or will.

Cut the old, yes say the politico bunch, how about they means test the rich who do not need the pension, how about they encourage, entice, or lure the young to get married have kids so in 20 years time we have a new generation of millions of tax payers to help service the debt.

To do this they need to implement a number of changes and pollicies to encourage people to procreate, support them with some of the money saved from reducing the pension to those who do not need it.

Enlarge the tax on profits from share market gains, plenty there to be had.

Once out of govt you do not receive a salary for life or the other trappings, you must support yourself like the rest of us.

Stop the subsidies to the farmers make them become self sufficient, merge farms into real producing profitable entities not these mom n pop enlarged vege gardens they call a farm. They are not self sufficient or profitable.

Stop lining your own pockets mr politico do the job you are supposed to be doing.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

The point about Abenomics is to take value (by monetization of debt and by holding down interest rates) from savers and give it to borrowers.

Losers will be those who hold cash, deposits, bonds and other fixed income instruments.

Winners will be the government and its beneficiaries/dependents, and, as a semi-unintended consequence, owners of hard assets, real estate, commodities, equities, foreign current assets and businesses, particularly if they are leveraged.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

StormR,

how about they means test the rich who do not need the pension

That's right. It's better than Japan figures out how it wants to take the necessary measures by itself, rather than procrastinate and have to do what the IMF or China tells them down the line (if the IMF and China are even in a position to help should things turn Bad).

how about they encourage, entice, or lure the young to get married have kids so in 20 years time we have a new generation of millions of tax payers to help service the debt.

Sounds good, but in practice 20 years is a long way down the line, and there are no guarantees that the politicians would be successful in engineering this baby boom.

Enlarge the tax on profits from share market gains, plenty there to be had.

Can't agree there. That would be bad for investment (and thus the economy), so would be counter to the government's efforts to get people to invest for their own retirements, and bad for the value of the ETFs that the BOJ is buying as part of their QQE experiment. It'd be the investment version of the consumption tax hike, and unlike consumption tax revenues which did actually increase, I'm not sure you'd be guaranteed a tax revenue boost. Investors would just take their money elsewhere.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I just hope everyone on here has private pension schemes... I have to pay into the national scheme, but made sure to get a "real" one to run alongside it. No point risking my future for the sake of a relatively small amount per month.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The first benefit cut should be the public funds stolen by the political parties, mainly the LDP. They should survive off of donations alone.

Next, cut public works/waste projects.

Then sack all the bureaucrats in charge of things like butter production as they are evidently useless.

Double or triple the tobacco tax.

I'm sure there's plenty more to be saved, if the government had the will. The DPJ had a panel looking into government waste, but the LDP soon put a stop to that.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

'Abenomics? I want it to stop,' she said.

'..but I'll go ahead and vote him in anyway'...she likely continued.

This is one of those times when a vote for the lame-duck opposition would actually be doing the country a favor.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Generous social welfare system? Well, not as far as pensions are concerned. Japan's is rated as one of the worst in the developed world.

http://www.newsmax.com/Finance/Denmark-Pension-System-China-India/2014/10/14/id/600542/

1 ( +2 / -1 )

You guys should read fxgai's numbers. It's too late to play around cutting bureaucrats or public works. You could cut every project and every person in the government and it still doesn't work. There is not enough money.

There are only two choices - catastrophic default or monetize the debt.

Abenomics is an immoral, highly risky and desperate policy. Unfortunately the alternatives are even more immoral and risky.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Stop the subsidies to the farmers make them become self sufficient, merge farms into real producing profitable entities not these mom n pop enlarged vege gardens they call a farm. They are not self sufficient or profitable.

Sounds good, except that these are the very people that Shinzo Abe and other LDP people from provincial backwater constituencies depend on to keep getting elected. They don't want self-sufficient, profitable farmers who aren't going to feel they owe their livelihoods to pseudo-socialist government hand-outs - there's no saying who they might vote for.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Absolute clowns running a shit-show of a circus, and the punters either have no idea or don't care beyond repeating "Abenomikusu!!" like the spin has actually got to them. I'm so, so f***ing glad I got out of Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Gerard van Schip: I suggest you get a job too, one low income for two people is living on the poverty line. Don't blame the gubmint for that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

“We cannot rely on high growth but must seek both tax hikes and welfare spending cuts to fix public finances,” said Kazumasa Oguro, this is a good start you need to get rid of dead wood in the government local councils any silly scheams stop funding, them the Japanese government have got to seriously rain in the spending, its took the UK economy 5 years from the start of the recession to finally getting out of it, its been tough for every one, but we have come out of it fighting and now the UK is ready to start trading and exporting, were in a much better position then ever before, the wasteful spending will not get you trough a recetion, it will only plummit you country into further dept, Greece/ island went bankrupt, so let this be a warning

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

zootmoney,

Generous social welfare system? Well, not as far as pensions are concerned. Japan's is rated as one of the worst in the developed world.

The article says the rankings were "based on factors such as adequacy, sustainability and integrity of the retirement income system". I suspect sustainability is the major shortcoming of Japan's system, rather than not being generous enough.

TravelingSales,

There are only two choices - catastrophic default or monetize the debt.

There's the choice of draconian spending cuts as well, but monetizing the debt and frying the currency looks to be their path of choice, they can probably stay in politics longer that way. The upshot of this approach is that at least people who have saved some money have the option to reduce their exposure to the monetization.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Want to talk to about "unspoken cuts" well cut the real spending costs first, for example the Military Labor Contract government support provided to US bases. The MLC is one of the biggest wastes in all of Japan. This program still operates manpower as in the old days despite a US drawdown. Really how many guys does it take to change a ceiling light bulb in a facility, the last time I walked by it took 4 people. Or the guys taking long breaks in hideout areas asleep while getting paid but everyone turns a blind eye. That's the spending that needs to be cut. There is no reason to have that many MLC's supported by tax money when there isn't a need anymore and it doesn't take 4 people to change a light bulb.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"There is not enough money."

Do you seriously believe that Japan is going to run out of money it has the solely authority to issue? How exactly would that play out?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

That's the point. Abenomics is another word for printing money. When you print money, it becomes less scarse and less valuable, so the people who have money (savers) lose, and the people who owe money (government) win.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Silly to target 2% inflation as a key policy. It has no meaning to the real issues and problems.

An aging and declining population will result in low to negative growth; accept that unless you are prepared for mass immigration and a change of the fabric of the Japanese society. 245% of government debt to GDP means government has too much debts and grossly overspent; has to cut government spending dramatically and reduce government size and increase productivity. Take measures for increase productivity in all areas; expand capable women workforce, reduce & eliminate red tapes, cut taxes, facilitate new small businesses & entrepreneurs, eliminate barriers to entry, retrench old & unproductive "services" executives. Japan's hard engineering & manufacturing areas are still competitive, but administrative services are extremely unproductive.
1 ( +1 / -0 )

"generous social welfare program"

Somebody has to pay for all this stuff. I'm guessing it's the taxpayers ( me included ).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I agree with you mr_jgb. It's more than just economic reforms that are needed to help Japan, it also involves wide scale societal reforms. To start with, opening the doors more for immigration of experts and professionals, the legalization of gambling (which Abe has proposed), the legalization of marijuana (which actually is deeply rooted in the mythology of Shinto) and the legalization of prostitution (which, of course, already exists throughout the nation) would all greatly benefit the Japanese society and create rivers of tax revenues and jobs for everyone. Just those four changes alone would enable Japan to become a really true economic power once again.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Unfortunately, Japan cannot afford to continue it's current social security spending, as things stand.

It can because those elder 'savers' simply put them in savings and the financial institutions that hold them simply buy JGB (not lending due to deflationary cycle).

Cutting them is SIMPLY a dumb idea for what you are essentially advocating is for them to SAVE more and not spend.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

If anyone has any idea how a US citizen in Japan can pay into US Social Security and not the Japanese pension system please advise... The US will go broke but Japan will go broke first.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Abenomics is another word for printing money"

No it isn't. The bond buying program is not "printing money." It's buying assets in exchange for yen credits (electronic blips) that go into the commercial banks's accounts at the BOJ. Cash will be printed only when it's demanded.

"When you print money, it becomes less scarse and less valuable"

Most of these transactions are for real estate, investment, etc., which don't use cash, but rather involves entries on spreadsheets.

BTW, "printing money" is a figurative, not literal, expression.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

For the record...Quantitative easing and the quantity theory of credit......Richard Werner

http://www.res.org.uk/view/art5jul13features.html

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

what you are essentially advocating is for them to SAVE more and not spend.

That's a totally backwards interpretation. Quite a feat.

I'm advocating that the rich elderly generation spends its own savings to support its retirement, as opposed to keep saving its savings while living off borrowed money that is (purportedly) to be repaid with the taxes of future generations who haven't even had a vote on this yet.

There is just no point in giving rich people money so that they can spend it AND save their own money which is then (in your favoured deflationary scenario) ultimately funneled into JGBs because there is nothing better to do with it, in the process burdening future tax payers with paying the money back (with interest, despite the deflationary environment).

So just slash it. As a result, the rich will have to spend their own money (that's what "savings" are for) and they aren't going to go on hunger strike while in possession of tens of millions of yen in financial assets. The future generations won't be saddled with snowballing debt obligations to service. The government might alternatively spend money elsewhere, such as supporting young people to have bigger families, and other such policies that might actually pay for themselves through increasing productivity and economic potential.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Reckless I would suggest that you call the US Embassy and ask about paying into US Social Security. I'm sure that they will be very happy to help you with that. As for getting out of the Japan Pension Service, it may be possible but I am not sure. It should also be noted that the JPS is the world's largest retirement fund with over one trillion dollars in reserves. It may be best for you to stay in it.

As for your concern about the US and Japan going broke, this will never happen. Trillion dollar economies don't go broke, they adjust. I'll probably get heat for this, but IMHO what Abe and Kuroda are doing now is best for long-term growth in Japan. I know they are not popular, but it is exactly the same for Obama and Bernanke in the US. Abe and Kuroda are two radical leaders that Japan has needed for a very long time. That said, some like myself, feel that they should be doing more in terms of societal reforms as well as economic reforms. You can't have one without the other.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm advocating that the rich elderly generation spends its own savings to support its retirement, as opposed to keep saving its savings while living off borrowed money that is (purportedly) to be repaid with the taxes of future generations who haven't even had a vote on this yet.

Define "rich"? What you are advocating is for the soon to be elders to "save" rather than spend due to the lack of safety net once they retire. In other words, you're encouraging practically the entire working population to not spend but rather save, thus contributing to the further deflationary cycle.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It is therefore imperitive that either tax revenues need to be increased (through tax hikes or miracle economic growth that just hasn't happened for the last 20 years), or social security spending must be cut to a degree, in addition to cuts elsewhere. Or else, far worse things could come about as a result of failing to take responsible actions.

Well said, fxgai, but the top priority should be fixing the economy. We've seen just what affect increasing taxes has on the economy. If things continue to slide, Japan won't make any headway on its fiscal shortfall.

The law of diminishing returns very much applies here. Raising taxes reduces consumers' buying power, forcing them to save even more of their cash, continuing the cycle of deflation, and economic stagnation.

An "economic miracle" may not be in the offing, but, improving the economy is still possible. Trade, foreign investment, liberalizing the Japanese market, tax cuts (income and business) etc. These are far better options as they would leave more money in the economy.

A recessed, or depressed economy won't deliver more revenue over the long term. People will curb their discretionary spending, and investors will take their money to more friendly shores.

People need to be allowed to keep more of their money, not less. The same goes for business. The more money that is moving in the economy, the better tax revenues will be down the road.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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