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The Lesson of Warren Harding Revisited

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Though I have written extensively about the Recession of 1920, it is worth revisiting it per Glenn Beck’s show last night.  Beck rightly pointed out that the policies of decreased taxes and decreased government spending implemented by both Harding and Coolidge paved the way for the dramatic economic growth of the roaring 20s. What Beck didn’t mention was that prior to this period of unprecedented economic expansion, President Warren Harding had inherited one of the worst recessions in American history.   This Recession of 1920-21 is another one of the dirty secrets glossed over in the Progressive history books.

By late 1919, America was facing inflation in prices as measured by CPI of 20%.  Between 1920 and 1921, unemployment doubled from 5.2 to 11.7%.  During this same period, from their peak in June of 1920, prices declined by 15.8% on a year-over-year basis, a 50% greater deflation in prices than during ANY 12-month period during the Great Depression.  So what was Harding’s proposal to deal with this mess? To understand how to get out of recession, Harding looked towards how we got into it in the first place.

For America was coming out of World War I.  Government was controlling huge swaths of the economy, as it had mobilized land, labor and capital towards war production and away from normal commerce as dictated by consumer demand.  In addition to the mass of resources that needed to be reallocated according to market forces, the economy had been further distorted due to the policies of the Federal Reserve which had inflated the money supply by 71% from 1913-1919 (while the physical volume of business had only increased by 9.6%), and whose policies had led to an increase in prices of a staggering 234% between 1914 and 1920.  Prices needed to readjust according to the reallocation of resources.  In addition, not surprisingly, due to the costs of war, the federal budget had grown to $18.5bn.

One will note the parallels to our economic situation today.  Just as war led resources to be allocated away from where an unfettered economy would have directed them, so too did the artificial boom fueled by the Federal Reserve and various government policies lead resources to be misallocated towards assets such as houses and stocks during our most recent boom and bust cycle.  While unsustainable businesses and concomitant rises in prices developed in the private sector, the government too drastically increased.

Harding understood the root cause of recession.  As he noted in his inaugural address:

The economic mechanism is intricate and its parts interdependent, and has suffered the shocks and jars incident to abnormal demands, credit inflations, and price upheavals. The normal balances have been impaired, the channels of distribution have been clogged, the relations of labor and management have been strained. We must seek the readjustment with care and courage…All the penalties will not be light, nor evenly distributed. There is no way of making them so. There is no instant step from disorder to order. We must face a condition of grim reality, charge off our losses and start afresh. It is the oldest lesson of civilization.

And so what was his big Keynesian stimulus plan to bring the economy back from the abyss?  He argued during his Republican nomination speech:

Gross expansion of currency and credit have depreciated the dollar just as expansion and inflation have discredited the coins of the world. We inflated in haste, we must deflate in deliberation. We debased the dollar in reckless finance, we must restore in honesty. Deflation on the one hand and restoration of the 100-cent dollar on the other ought to have begun on the day after the armistice, but plans were lacking or courage failed. The unpreparedness for peace was little less costly than unpreparedness for war. We can promise no one remedy which will cure an ill of such wide proportions, but we do pledge that earnest and consistent attack which the party platform covenants. We will attempt intelligent and courageous deflation, and strike at government borrowing which enlarges the evil, and we will attack high cost of government with every energy and facility which attend Republican capacity. We promise that relief which will attend the halting of waste and extravagance, and the renewal of the practice of public economy, not alone because it will relieve tax burdens, but because it will be an example to stimulate thrift and economy in private life.

And so, shockingly Harding practiced what he preached.  Regarding deflation, the Federal Reserve jacked up interest rates from 4.75% in January 1920 to 7% in June 1920, and held this rate through the aforementioned major drop in prices through May of 1921.  Harding slashed the federal budget from $18.5bn in 1919 to $6.4bn in 1920 all the way down to $5.1bn in 1921.  Meanwhile, the government actually ran surpluses during these years, allowing them to pay down the debt by $300mm from 1920-21.  The Chief Economist of Chase National Bank of the era, Benjamin Anderson summed Harding’s philosophy and his attack on the recession as follows:

The idea that a balanced budget with vast pump-priming government expenditure is a necessary means of getting out of a depression received no consideration at all. It was not regarded as the function of the government to provide money to make business activity. It was rather the business of the US Treasury to look after the solvency of the government, and the most important relief that the government felt that it could afford to business was to reduce as much as possible the amount of government expenditure, which had risen to great heights during the war; to reduce taxes—but not much; and to reduce public debt.

Nor did the government increase public employment with a view to taking up idle labor. There was a reduction in the army and navy in the course of these years, and there was a steady decline in the number of civilian employees of the federal government. This policy on the part of the government generated, of course, a great confidence in the credit of the government, and the strength of the gold dollar was taken for granted. The credit of the government and confidence in the currency are basic foundations for general business confidence. The relief to business through reduced taxes was extremely helpful.

According to Anderson, how did the recession end?

…we took our losses, we readjusted our financial structure, we endured our depression and in August 1921 we started up again. The rally in business production and employment that started in August 1921 was soundly based on a drastic cleaning up of credit weakness, a drastic reduction in the costs of production, and on the free play of private enterprise. It was not based on governmental policy designed to make business good.  (See Benjamin Anderson’s Economics and the Public Welfare or his gratisThe Return to Normal“)

Now we can debate fiscal and economic policy all day, but across the spectrum, it should be clear to all that a government that intervened and created the conditions for economic crisis will not be able to solve it.  If government’s can create prosperity when the private sector is imperiled, then why would Americans be against government central planning when all is rosy?  Do the rules of economics not apply during downturns?

If we can agree that recessions are the result of resources being improperly allocated, then we can also agree that the only way to return to economic health is to allow for their reallocation according to the market.  This involves allowing nonproductive business ventures to go belly-up, prices to naturally fall where they have unjustifiably risen and reduction in the size of government allowing resources to be released to entrepreneurs to reverse the ills of the artificial boom and spur growth.  All measures that impede the natural cleansing of an economy will only ensure pain and suffering like that witnessed over the last few decades in Japan.  Harding had things right and it would do our lawmakers good to follow his lesson: central planning and government control creates problems; innovative Americans are the only ones who can solve them.

Against Government Money

January 23, 2010 1 comment

Back in the olden days, people simply bartered products.  One might trade a couple of loaves of bread for a fish.  In order to ease this process so people didn’t have to bring their produce to market, over time people turned to gold, later paper money backed by gold and ultimately paper money backed by faith in government as currency in trade.  Money itself should thus be considered as merely a commodity to be exchanged for other commodities.  It only differs from other goods to the extent that it is not consumed like milk or sugar or a house.  Its value is in serving as a medium of exchange of other goods and services.

As such, it makes no sense that governments should create money through “quasi-private” central banks, or at the very least impose legal tender laws that prevent others from doing so.  If there is consumer demand for facilitating the exchange of goods and services, then there will arise through the spontaneous order of the free market a system of competing providers of currencies.  Presumably, those who produce money that will retain its value will drive out of the market those incompetent or unscrupulous competitors producing depreciating money.  This is because money that retains its value over time will make the exchange of products easier because businesses will be able to make better calculations in exchange, and because as with any product, a premium will be placed on maintenance of value over depreciation.

One could speak to a host of problems with government currency: that inflation of the money supply unfairly benefits debtors at the expense of creditors and serves as an outright tax on all; that a constantly debased currency allows the government to fund unjustifiable wars in addition to all sorts of social programs and other means of unjust and unconstitutional wealth redistribution; that government naturally will mismanage the money supply just as they do all programs from a purely economic standpoint; that it is absurd that the government should have the power to outlaw monopolies yet grant itself a monopoly on a commodity like money that serves a specific special interest of the banking sector; and finally that government’s record in management of the money supply has been horrendous, with central banks creating a perpetual boom-bust cycle and constantly devaluing the people’s money.  Concentrating the monopoly power over the money supply in the hands of a select group of bureaucrats is an asinine, irrational and furthermore dangerous policy.

But without going into these sometimes arcane economic phenomena, the most important thing to understand is that at its core, money supply is just like the supply of any other good or service except to the extent that its value is derived from its use as a commodity in exchange, rather than from the utility we gain in consuming a traditional good or service.  If the market can provide other goods and services in the proper quantities and qualities to meet the demands of society, then surely it too can provide the proper quantity and quality of money.  To believe that somehow, government provision of money is any more sacred or preferable to government provision of any other good or service is pure folly.

10 Points Americans Must Understand About the Economy

January 15, 2010 5 comments

1. The interest rate is a price – the price of credit like the price of any good.  In a free market the price would be set like the price of any good at the intersection of the supply of funds (our savings), and demand for funds (businesses’ and individuals’ investing wants).  Instead, we have an interest rate that is arbitrarily picked by a handful of economists from the Federal Reserve Banks.  To repeat, one committee centrally plans the cost of credit, of which interest rates on all debt are directly or indirectly based.

2. The Federal Reserve has the monopoly power to print or inflate the money supply, thus artificially lowering the cost of money (the aforementioned interest rate).  This means that they can (and always do) devalue the money in your pocket as every dollar printed decreases the value of all dollars to come before them.  Inflating the money supply may not lead to an increase in prices if an equal or greater amount of goods is produced, but the purchasing power of the dollar will still be reduced because without printing money, your dollars would have been able to buy more goods.  Alternatively, if more dollars are printed than goods are produced, prices will increase though not necessarily uniformly across all goods.  Inflation may not manifest itself in explicitly higher prices but merely impede prices from falling for certain goods as they would were the money supply to remain constant.

3. When you deposit money in a regular checking account, the bank doesn’t hold onto this money.  Banks only keep a small percentage of the money you deposit on hand in their reserves, lending the majority of the money you (or the Fed for that matter) deposit to others who lend it to still others and so on, in the process substantially increasing the money supply.  This is known as fractional reserve banking.  If everyone in America or even a decent percentage of Americans tried to take their money out of the bank on a given day, millions would be unable to access their cash.  Effectively, even with FDIC Insurance, all of the banks are insolvent as they do not hold anywhere near 100% of the money you deposit in their vaults, nor does the FDIC have the funds to cover all deposits.  The hypothetical that the Fed could potentially print up money for the FDIC to distribute is beyond the scope of this post.

4. The government’s debt is merely an insidious tax like inflation.  Government debt can only be paid down by taxing the people.  This tax can occur through direct confiscation by government, or indirectly when holders of our government’s debt demand a higher rate of interest, which in turn signals to markets that our economy is not generating sufficient revenues to pay down the debt, which leads to a perception of economic weakness and thus an increased cost of borrowing for everyone in the economy.  If the government prints money to pay down debt (which in and of itself should cause our debt holders to flood the markets with our debt and thus raise interest rates on everyone), this will represent a tax on the people as well.

5. Deflation, or a decrease in the money supply is the only antidote to inflation.  If the money supply is decreased, each dollar in your pocket becomes worth more.  The concomitant fall in prices will correct the artificial initial rise in prices from government printing of money.  In the process, since decreasing the money supply increases the cost of money, unsustainable enterprises with heavy debt loads will be put out of business, cleansing the economy by freeing up unproductive resources.  Where debtors benefit from an increase in the money supply because they can pay down their borrowings with cheaper dollars, creditors will benefit from a decrease in the money supply because they are paid back with more valuable dollars, which is one of the reasons why government prefers to inflate as it can lessen its own debt load and that of many of its constituents.

6. Deflation in prices while a symptom of deflation of the money supply is also the natural result of increases in productivity, as goods produced more cheaply in greater quantities (in the absence of money printing) will lead to falling prices which benefits consumers.  The so-called “paradox of thrift” that the MSM uses to vilify deflation in prices is wrongheaded, as people will spend on all sorts of products knowing that over time they will fall in price, as we have witnessed with numerous electronics over the years.  Even during a depression, when asset prices fall to certain levels there will always be buyers.  And if people are paying off their debt and/or saving in a time of falling prices in lieu of spending, this will be good for the economy because increasing the pool of real savings lowers the interest rate and allows businesses and individuals to borrow funds for investment at lower cost, legitimately stimulating the economy.

7. Despite the wishes of President Obama, all taxes are passed on to consumers as companies raise their prices to compensate for the increased cost of doing business.

8. Government cannot create wealth.  All it can do is take money from some people and redistribute it to others.  Every dollar the government uses must be taken from the private economy. Printing money to pay for things as we noted merely devalues your dollars, effectively taxing you.  Government financing through debt represents a claim on your wealth, a tax which as noted may be paid directly or indirectly.  Thus, while federal, state and local taxes may appear on a historical basis relatively low, the tax rate is deceptively masked by excluding government bilking through inflation and debt.  Government is a wealth killer, not a wealth creator.

9. The real estate problem in our economy centers on the fact that people owe more money on their mortgages than they are able to pay down.  The only fix to this problem is for people to either generate more income to service their mortgages, or default.  Any intervention to keep people in homes they can’t afford will merely perpetuate market imbalances, propping up the value of real estate and preventing qualified buyers from purchasing homes at fair prices.  There will be no true recovery in the mortgage-backed securities  market until the forces of supply and demand sort out this mess.

10. Our economic crisis at the most basic level occurred because too much money and credit were pumped into the economy, given that again the interest rate was set artificially low not by supply and demand in the market but by government fiat.  The recession signals that we must fix the distortions and malinvestments resulting from the centrally planned interest rate. The healthy path to recovery is to allow prices to fall (aided by debt repayment), liquidate failed enterprises (encouraging reallocation of land, labor and capital to more productive and profitable lines of business) and encourage saving to increase the pool of loanable funds for economic expansion. Any actions to the contrary (i.e. more or less all government policies being implemented or bandied about) will merely prolong the pain.

Note that this is by no means a comprehensive study of the above subjects, but rather a cursory look at essentials that the American public must grasp before we can ever expect to return to prosperity.

The Recession of 1920 – Causes, Responses and Insights

January 11, 2010 Leave a comment

In my study of political economy, one of the most overlooked yet fascinating historical episodes I have come across is the Recession of 1920-21. A handful of free-market economists have tackled this crisis, and I decided to throw in my lot with them and pursue the subject further myself.

Below is the abstract for my critique of the acutely sharp downturn (so you know what you’re getting into) and the embedded paper in Scribd format. Scribd however is a bit screwy in its formatting of the paper, failing to capture various diagrams for example, so I strongly suggest instead reading the Word doc downloadable HERE.

Enjoy!

Abstract: Many attribute our current recession to the evils of unbridled capitalism. In response, our leaders have embarked on the typical Keynesian recession prescriptions in order to stimulate the economy and lead the nation out of the economic doldrums. Unbeknownst to most Americans however, prior to the Great Depression, policymakers used different tools to help guide the country out of recessions. Herein we examine the causes, responses and insights gleaned from the Recession of 1920-21, the last downturn in which leaders relied on the age-old policy of laissez-faire, combined with massive reduction in government and encouragement of deflation.

From FDR to Obama – the Destruction of Our Rights

May 26, 2009 1 comment


Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a “Second Bill of Rights” during his State of the Union Address in 1944. He noted that while “under the protection of certain inalienable rights…our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness….true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” He argued that we “cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.” Under the auspices of “economic security and independence,” FDR laid out the following list of rights for the American people:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

During and after FDR’s presidency, many programs were taken up to establish these so-called rights. The US government implemented a minimum wage with the hopes of providing people with a baseline level of income to be able to pay for life’s necessities, and created unemployment insurance so that people would have sufficient money to purchase goods when they lost their jobs. They created agricultural subsidies to protect farmers. They implemented all sorts of regulations and restrictions to stop (certain) companies from dominating their competitors. They created HUD and devised the CRA to force lenders to finance housing for those who were less well off, to ensure the “American dream of home ownership.” They provided healthcare for the old and poor. They created Social Security to allow the old to receive checks after they were retired. They expanded public education and pushed for everyone to receive a college degree. They empowered the Federal Reserve to flatten the business cycle and protect against recessions.

Today, King Obama looks to be finishing off the dirty work of the progressives of the last century. He is pushing for “fair” credit card charges, universal healthcare, onerous governmental control of business under the guise of environmental protection, government control of college loans and empathetic justices who understand the concerns of everyone who is not white, male or wealthy.

Essential to the justification for this platform is FDR’s argument that there be equality in the pursuit of happiness, and that “individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” What those like FDR and Obama mean is that there is not equality as an outcome of the pursuit of happiness, i.e. equality of condition. By economic security and independence, FDR and the King mean that people need safeguards so that they can keep their jobs, pay for products and be comfortable in retirement.

All of the ends that these progressives seek seem admirable, but the means to achieve them end up making it impossible for the ends to be obtained. Nobody wants to see masses of unemployed, sickly or uneducated people. But the government policies implemented to protect against these problems – to guarantee the “rights” listed above – end up leaving people unemployed, unhealthy and uneducated. They impoverish the citizens by destroying the inalienable rights that even FDR admits allowed the US to gain its strength as the world superpower.

It was not economic security or independence that allowed our country to thrive, but a system in which people voluntarily traded and had the opportunity to innovate and take entrepreneurial risks. Failure, not economic security, had to be a motivator because there was no safeguard against it; no notion of being too-big-to-fail. If you failed, you simply had to pick up and try again. The Federal Reserve in attempting to protect against failure ends up leaving the people economically insecure by decreasing their purchasing power and savings through inflating the money supply, and by incentivizing people to allocate resources improperly through the manipulation of money and credit which leads to the painful boom and bust cycle. The moral hazard created by providing safeguards against failing, be it in business or in one’s own life ends up weakening the people.

Economic security and independence come as a result of our rights to life, liberty and property, not the other way around. The best thing the government can do to ensure these rights, the rights that lead us to maximum wealth, the fullest employment for those who seek it, the best and cheapest medical care and the most practical and affordable education is simply to protect its citizens from attacks on their individual rights. Individual rights, not entitlements. Entitlements beget more entitlements. Entitlements breed laziness in the citizenry. Entitlements cause people to take things for granted. Freedom is the one thing that cannot be taken for granted. As Reagan put it, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

If you disagree with this in principle, then look at the results of the governments’ policies, those policies representing the antithesis of freedom. The US populace is probably dumber than it has been at any other time in history, even though a greater number of people are graduating from public high schools and attending colleges than ever before. Our economy teeters on the brink of collapse. Our government is larger, more intrusive and more corrupt than it has ever been. It is also effectively bankrupt minus its monopoly power to print money; interesting that it can have this monopoly power while also protecting people from “unfair business competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.”

Other examples of government failures abound. Amtrak is a money-loser, as is essentially all public transportation. If public transportation is not a money-loser, then I would venture to guess that it still isn’t as cheap or efficient as private alternatives. The US postal service is nowhere near as effective as FedEx. The DMV is a joke. The purchasing power of our dollar has decreased by over 95% since being under full control of the Federal Reserve, and we have had more frequent recessions than prior to the Fed’s creation. In countries with nationalized healthcare, we see that the price of better-quality, private healthcare increases, while public healthcare services leave people waiting sometimes for months on end for essential medical procedures. People flee to the US if their lives are in danger with good reason. If King Obama gets his way, they will have nowhere to flee anymore. Ironically, when it comes to almost every sector of our economy, while economists would have you believe that government corrects market failures, it appears that we would be far better if markets corrected government failures.

In the final analysis, there is not one good or service that the government provides that is cheaper and better than the equivalent one in the private sector, with the caveat that in terms of defense, only the government can coordinate the forces necessary to effectively protect us. And even then, the government outsources weapons development and certain tactical supports to private defense companies. And even then, the government screws up at times in the way it carries out its wars.

I want to reiterate that only the market can provide the people with the best goods and services at the best prices. This is the same for credit as it is for housing as it is for healthcare. If you take the market out of the equation and try to centrally plan, in the end you impoverish society and leave a nation to anarchy and revolution. Through a dictatorship, which is what the Second Bill of Rights effectively creates (a tyrannical government), you create the unemployed and the hungry that FDR speaks of.

With the burgeoning deficits at the state and national levels, the impending tsunami of inflation and the undermining of the rule of law and protection of life, liberty and property by our leaders, it looks as if in their quest to grant us the Second Bill of Rights, they have also destroyed the rights granted to us by an authority higher than that of our politicians, our natural ones.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

March 19, 2009 1 comment


What we are seeing right now are the kinds of last ditch efforts that reveal how truly inept and desperate our leaders are. First there is the AIG bonus fiasco, a case study in the bumbling incompetence of the representatives in charge of containing the financial fallout (ironically the very people that preempted it). Then there is the move to quantitative easing — a seemingly sophisticated way of getting around the fact that the state is effectively socializing the government debt market and literally printing a trillion dollars out of thin air (as is the government’s wont). The implications of these two bamboozles are very telling.

In the case of AIG, first let me go on record as saying that AIG was a poorly run company that strayed from its business of insuring, and became a large hedge fund. When times were good, the illusory value created for shareholders in churning out CDS contracts and getting involved with all sorts of other derivatives made it seem as if this company was rock solid. But once the laws of economics came into play as we have seen time and time again, the straw men were revealed; malinvestments were proved to be malinvestments.

As such, the fact that anybody in this company who was responsible for running it into the ground should receive any bonus money is appalling. Adding insult to injury however, once they made the deal with the devil and accepted a government bailout (really a bailout of their counterparties who would have been decimated were AIG to have gone under as they should have), the situation has turned into a political and ethical hellstorm for the American public. Taxpayers paying bonuses for employees that destroyed the company the taxpayers are backstopping; politicians who conveniently forgot that their bailout legislation insured that these bonuses would be paid, only to turn around now and work to pass bills to tax bonuses at 90%.

First, contracts should be honored, and if a company wants to pay inane amounts for failure, then so be it; BUT that company should be allowed to fail for its disastrous business practices. Further, on principle, I am against this knee-jerk reaction to kill the greedy businessmen. On the other hand, the fact that we are all paying for private incompetence is an outrage. Again, we wouldn’t be talking about this if we had allowed the company to go belly up. Be outraged at the government for bailing AIG out, not AIG for being a garbage company.

Just think about the little game the politicians are playing — nationalize a failed company with taxpayer money, then tax bonuses to get taxpayers’ money back. Seems a bit screwy doesn’t it? Our dollars are sloshing around in all different directions. As you can see from this mess, the government isn’t exactly the most competent or honest steward. They are also capitalizing on the populist backlash against “corporate greed” to cover their own blunders for a measly $165 million, chump change compared to all the cash they have thrown around. Even if you hate Wall Street, when it comes to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd versus guys like Martin Sullivan and Angelo Mozilo (call him a derivative of his Wall Street brethren), it seems like a push to me. Then again, Mozilo was gracious enough to help Dodd get a good mortgage. Advantage incompetent/corrupt businessmen.

As I mentioned, the reason we keep dropping truckloads of money into AIG is because of AIG’s counterparties. This is the real game being played. For all of the populist backlash against the banks by politicians, Wall Street has been a part of Washington since the days of Alexander Hamilton. The whole financial system has been socialized since 1913. The Federal Reserve is the government’s bank that controls the fate of all of the other banks on the street. I don’t even know if I would really call its conduits private institutions because their policies are to a large extent determined by their lender, the Fed. But of course, the Fed is a private bank based on its charter too.

All in all through my incoherent rambling, what I am trying to get across is that we are witnessing the crack-up of this system, and the quantitative easing measures to buy a trillion dollars in treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to bring down yields on all sorts of debt (and also to effectively screw my double-inverse short position in long treasuries temporarily, boy that’s a mouthful) reflect the utter panic at the prospect of the socialized financial system going under.

Basically, the government needs to keep yields low to service its own debt and to bail out other debtors, such as for example most Americans. Foreign countries no longer want to purchase more treasuries given the massive supply and the lack of yield (due to the previous flight to the “safety” of our nation’s debt). So after the Treasury creates all this debt to finance the deficits that we’ll never be able to pay back, the Federal Reserve comes in and buys the treasuries, effectively pumping in a trillion bones or clams or whatever you call them to the market. It is the highest stakes shell game ever played. And also the most dangerous.

Since all the government can do at this point besides letting the chips fall and the system collapse (which will happen anyway in this author’s humble opinion) is to inflate (in fact that’s all the Fed does anyway), they are inflating like crazy. They have never lost the battle to falling prices before, and I don’t see them losing the battle this time given the pertinacity of the Depression scholar, the eminent Mr. Bernanke. He will probably get his rising prices sooner or later. Markets certainly think so given the massive run-up in gold, oil and decline in the dollar relative to other currencies. And of course when inflation does hit, the yields on government debt will have to rise anyway. I wonder if Bernanke and Co. thought that through?


But more fundamental than all of this is just the sheer desperation that these actions show: government officials going in ad hoc to side-step contracts by taxing at 90% those receiving TARP money over 250K…or something like that, the minutiae pales in comparison to the principle; government officials going into the debt market and buying treasuries it creates with another one of its entities (flooding the world with dollars) since nobody else wants to hold our junk bonds as we are totally insolvent as a nation to begin with. And then just look at the simply embarrassing, amateur actions of the Obama administration: going after Rush Limbaugh and Jim Cramer (a pretty socialistic guy himself)…giving Gordon Brown a set of DVDs during his visit to the US…attacking the very businessmen who are the only ones that are going to be able to help our economy rebuild…focusing on NCAA picks, Twittering, Facebooking and Lenoing instead of doing his job. What exactly is President Obama thinking?

Americans really need to understand the dire nature of the situation. These guys (and gals) in power on the whole are simply second-rate actors. They are in Washington for self-interested reasons, not with the longterm well-being of their constituents at heart. Companies lobby (basically bribing) politicians to get ahead through patents, monopolies, regulations and other ways to insure that they can win because of a playing field that is not level. The politicians are more than happy to oblige because they will be rewarded upon leaving office with lavish jobs or other support from their business friends. So long as the nation doesn’t implode in their faces, or if it does, so long as they can deflect their failures on others and act sympathetic, they can stay in power forever (see Barney Frank). It is all one big joke. The sooner we accept that these people are not to be taken seriously — that they are a bunch of crooks and frauds who work in the public sector to gain advantages because they couldn’t make it in private life, the sooner we can get the government off our back and out of our lives.

When I imagine the founding father’s thinking about who they wanted to represent the people, I see a group of largely retired folk who had been fairly successful in life and thus had no reason to govern to benefit themselves; they were to serve as competent and honest stewards and largely maintain the status quo (i.e. the Constitution) because they felt it was their duty and valued the sacrifices made to build a country guided by the rule of law and the belief in preserving the life, liberty and property of the people. The government was never intended to be the intrusive, insolvent ignoramous of an institution that it is today. America, wake up and take this country back from these pathetic excuses for representatives!

Spending Is Not Stimulus President Obama

February 6, 2009 2 comments


Today amid cheers, President Obama showed his true colors when it comes to his plan to deal with the recession (soon to be a depression). Valiantly fighting off all takers on his stimulus, Mr. Obama exclaimed:

Then there’s the argument, well, this is full of pet projects. When was the last time that we saw a bill of this magnitude move out with no earmarks in it? Not one. (Applause.) And when you start asking, well, what is it exactly that is such a problem that you’re seeing, where’s all this waste and spending? Well, you know, you want to replace the federal fleet with hybrid cars. Well, why wouldn’t we want to do that? (Laughter.) That creates jobs for people who make those cars. It saves the federal government energy. It saves the taxpayers energy. (Applause.)

So then you get the argument, well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is? (Laughter and applause.) That’s the whole point. No, seriously. (Laughter.) That’s the point. (Applause.)

Now I understand that President Obama was speaking in front of a group of Democrats, trying to rally his comrades, but this type of message should outrage American citizens. Mr. Obama promised the people change, yet he makes the argument that since there are always earmarks in bills, the government should get a free pass for porking up its latest monstrosity. Apologies to the already suffering American people that have to pay for this.

When it comes to buying a new fleet of green cars, the true politician in Obama comes out, spinning this ridiculous confiscation of private money as job creation. If this creates jobs, why doesn’t the government buy every taxpayer a Prius? Why not throw in some solar panels for every taxpayer too?

Because this money has to come from somewhere of course. This is a textbook example of the broken window fallacy in action. Basically, Obama will be taking taxpayers’ money and transferring it to the auto sector. All of the taxpayers are going to be subsidizing one particular industry. One interest gains at the cost of all others. This is what American democracy has become. It is not about the public good; it is about the good of a specific set of interests.

As to Mr. Obama’s final point that spending bills and stimulus are synonymous, one has to wonder how much longer this country will be able to stay afloat. Can Mr. Obama explain how taking $800 billion or most likely more money out of the private sector, and using some of it for pork, some for income redistribution and the rest for “shovel-ready” projects is stimulative? Can Paul Krugman or Larry Summers point to a situation in which wealth taken from the hands of the people has ever been used more productively by the government?

Government spending has NEVER — not once pushed an economy out of a recession or depression. Even amongst those who acknowledge that the New Deal failed to bring us out of the Depression, most argue that it was only World War II that got the economy back rolling. Yet even this is false, another example of the broken window fallacy that somehow you can mobilize all resources under a command economy, and by allowing the government to channel them towards specific uses (in the case of war, towards bombs and fighter planes) leave yourself better off. As Robert Higgs shows, our productivity did not recover until after the war, when productive forces were released into the free market.

The government cannot plan our economy and allocate resources profitably. Let me repeat this: THE GOVERNMENT CANNOT PLAN OUR ECONOMY AND ALLOCATE RESOURCES PROFITABLY. Not in the Soviet Union, not in Nazi Germany, not in Cuba, not in the United States.

Even if I leave out the moral issue that people should have the right to choose how they use their money, productively or unproductively, and grant that somehow, some way, President Obama can spend the money as the people would, it is a proven fact that we are going to have to issue hundreds of billions of dollars in Treasuries to fund this. As George Melloan notes in the Wall Street Journal today, this will inevitably prove inflationary. Our friends in China and Japan, already strapped for cash given their own economic problems will not be able to subsidize our profligacy much longer. They might even sell some of their existing Treasury holdings to raise cash. As has been noted repeatedly, Ben Bernanke may have to come in and buy Treasuries issued by his own government. Quite a queer concept.

To carry out this plan, helicopter Ben will have to print up more dollars and thus we will see inflation in prices. You can also bet that with the collapse in demand for treasuries abroad, and the government’s inflationary actions, interest rates will rise for all of us. We will suffer from stagflation, and the government will have no way to pay for all of its entitlements without printing more money, generating more inflation and higher and higher interest rates. We will be crushed under our own debt.

While the proper solution to all of this would be to allow ourselves as a nation to deleverage, paying off our debts and liquidating the bad assets, and forcing the government to reduce its spending and cut taxes, instead the President and the congress are sealing our fate to depression. The above steps would be the true stimulus. What the President proposes is no stimulus. As the Wall Street Journal quips, “The spending portion of the stimulus, in short, isn’t really about the economy. It’s about promoting long-time Democratic policy goals, such as subsidizing health care for the middle class and promoting alternative energy. The “stimulus” is merely the mother of all political excuses to pack as much of this spending agenda as possible into a single bill when Mr. Obama is at his political zenith.”

One has to wonder if the reason Mr. Obama keeps telling us that things are going to get worse is intentional, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps he knows the true history of the Depression, that the more the government intervened the worse things got. He knows that this crisis will allow him to cement his place as President for at least eight years. As is the government’s wont, it will exploit any situation to gain more power.

Every single citizen must realize that in allowing our representatives to pass this bill, we are dooming our children and our children’s children to pay for our mistakes, sacrificing our property without just compensation and allowing our representatives to further imperil our economy. This is taxation without representation. This is immorality. This is the death knell of a once great nation.