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Bruce Berkowitz’s Bogus Bombast | David Stockman's Contra Corner

Bruce Berkowitz’s Bogus Bombast | David Stockman’s Contra Corner.

by  • March 5, 2014

Source: WSJ

Click to enlarge

The Fed’s serial bubble machine has not only bestowed massive speculative windfalls on the 1%, but it has also fostered a noxious culture of plunder and entitlement in the gambling casinos of Wall Street. After each thundering sell-off during the bust phase, crony capitalist gamblers have been gifted with ill-gotten windfalls during the Fed’s subsequent maniacal money printing spree.

Worse still, this trash-to-riches syndrome has unfolded so consistently since the late 1980s that there now exists a marauding gang of permanent vulture-speculators who impudently claim entitlement to any and all action by the state that might be needed to quickly reflate their gleanings from the bottom. The passel of hedge funds led by Elliot Capital which blackmailed the Obama White House into paying billions for the worthless debt of Delphi during the GM bailout is only one especially odious example.

In this context comes Bruce Berkowitz “scolding” and firing “salvos” at Washington from the front page of the Wall Street Journal. As it has happened, the usually craven denizens of the beltway have so far managed to ignore his petulant demands for a multi-billion payday on the worthless Fannie and Freddie preferred stock that his fund scooped up after the housing bust. Recall, these were the securities issued in 2008 at $25 per share to shore up the tottering housing finance agencies just before Hank Paulson’s bazooka sputtered.

Not inappropriately, when the Republican White House nationalized Freddie and Fannie in September 2008 these preferred shares plunged to 25 cents—-their true value all along. The fact is, the so-called GSEs do not “earn” profits; they merely book bloated accounting margins that reflect nothing more profound than the fact that Freddie and Fannie drastically underpay for renting Uncle Sam’s balance sheet. As finally became official when the U.S. Treasury threw them a $180 billion lifeline, the GSEs are now—and have always been—a branch office of the U.S. Treasury Department.

The only reason Freddie and Fannie are not prosecuted for filing fraudulent accounting statements, therefore, is the beltway fiction that they are “off-budget”. This convenient scam was first invented by Lyndon Johnson to magically shrink his “guns and butter” fiscal deficits, but it has since metastasized into a giant business fairy tale—namely, that behind the imposing brick façade of Fannie Mae there is a real company generating value-added services that are the source of its reported profits and current multi-billion pink sheet valuation. In fact, there is nothing behind those walls except a stamping machine that embosses the signature of the American taxpayer on every billion dollar package of securitized mortgages it guarantees and on all the bonds it issues to fund a giant portfolio of mortgages and securities from which it strips the interest.

If we wanted to have honest socialist mortgage finance, a handful of GS-14s could run Freddie and Fannie out of the U.S. Treasury building. Civil servants could emboss the taxpayers’ guarantee on every family’s home mortgage just as proficiently as the make-believe business executives who populate the GSEs today; and in the process we could dispense with the sheer waste involved in applying GAAP accounting to the operations of a mere government bureau.

In an alternative political universe not corrupted by crony capitalist mythology about the elixir of homeownership, of course, there would be no need for a Treasury Bureau of Home Mortgage Finance. The decision to own own or rent would be made by 115 million American households based on their best lights, not the inducements and favors of the state. Markets would clear the interest price of mortgage debt and set credit terms and maturities consistent with the risks involved. Undoubtedly, rates would be a few hundred basis points higher and 30-year fixed rates mortgages quite rare. And like in the seemingly prosperous precincts of Germany, the home-ownership rate might be 55% or any other number not selected by pandering politicians of the type who pinned the 70% disaster on the wall during the Clinton-Bush era.

At the end of the day, having 40 million renter-households and 25 million mortgage-free owner-households provide (in their capacity as taxpayers) trillions of subsidized credit to upwards of 50 million mortgage-encumbered households is absurd. Yet it could be dismissed as just another expression of the capricious and random shuffling of income among American citizens that is the tradecraft of the Washington puzzle palace.

Unfortunately, the reality is not so anodyne. In order to hide this random redistribution mischief, the Treasury Bureau of Home Mortgage Finance has been gussied-up to form the simulacrum of a profit-making enterprise—otherwise known as a GSE. In that posture, the GSEs have been repeatedly plundered by insiders like Franklin Rains, the 90 million dollar man who drove Fannie off the cliff; and by fast money stock speculators who managed to drive the combined market cap of Freddie and Fannie to the lunatic level of $140 billion during their hay-day at the turn of the century; and by the Wall Street dealers and so-called fund managers who inventory trillions of GSE debt securities in order to scalp profits from the economically pointless spread between regular treasury bonds and the GSE variant of the same thing.

All of these hundreds of billions were pocketed by adept cronies and speculators in the various debt, equity and preferred securities of the GSEs during the decades culminating in the 2008 financial crisis. Given the trauma of those events, Secretary Paulson’s desperate and ill-disguised nationalization of Freddie and Fannie should have put an end to the plunder.

But it hasn’t because there is no end to the zero cost-of-goods carry trades by which speculators scoop-up and fund financial assets—busted and not—during the Fed’s money printing marathons. Likewise, there is no end to crony capitalist marauders like Berkowitz, who have the temerity to demand make-wholes from the state, and K-Street hirelings—lawyers, accountants and consultants— who are skilled at the manufacture of specious public policy rationalizations for outright thievery.

So now comes the patented crony capitalist rush. The worthless Freddie and Fannie preferreds have lately erupted from $0.25 per share to $12, meaning that some speculators have already garnered a paper return of 48X. And why did this revival miracle transpire? Quite simply because Berkowitz’s Fairholme Capital and his posse of punters—-John Paulson, Perry Capital and Pershing Square, among others—have taken turns bidding up the paper.

Meanwhile, their deplorable plan to do the American people a favor and swap these bogus securities for those of a new tax-payer underwritten, mortgage guarantee stamping machine, has but one objective—that is, to put a statutory floor under the current $12 per share price and enable them to dicker with Capitol Hill staffs for an ultimate take-out at par($25) under the guise of “privatization”. The larceny intended here is not modest: the payday for Berkowitz and his hedge fund posse would amount to $35 billion on toxic paper which was purchased for rounding errors.

To be sure, Berkowitz and his sharpies blather that Freddie and Fannie have now returned $200 billion to the US Treasury, thereby repaying the original $180 billion drawdown, with some change to spare. But what hay wagon do they think even the clueless officialdom of Washington rides upon? Roughly $50 billion of that was for writing-up a “tax asset” that had earlier been written-down, owing to the fact that absent nationalization the GSEs had no prospect of booking even accounting income in the future. And the remaining $150 billion represents dividends paid to the Treasury since 2009 based on using Uncle Sam’s credit card to issue the bonds and guarantees which fund the assets from which these so-called GSE dividends are scalped.

In other words, the Berkowitz Gang wants to be paid a king’s ransom for ownership shares in what amounts to a bureau of the US Treasury. And yet these con men pound the table demanding to “wake up the (GSE) boards” so that they will execute their “fiduciary responsibility”. Indeed, so shameless are Wall Street’s princes of plunder that Berkowitz told a skeptical CNBC questioner last fall “we’ve helped before with AIG”, and that he now merely seeks a “win-win” to “help with jobs, help with the economy, help with the dream of homeownership”!

That gibberish is the measure of the crony capitalist deformation that has infested the nation’s financial markets and system of political governance. The obvious thing for Washington to do is close the doors at Fannie and Freddie and allow their $5 trillion portfolio to run-off in the manner of any liquidation. And if it must subsidize home mortgage credit, just bring back the metal filing cabinets in the Treasury Building where the so-called “secondary mortgage market” was birthed in 1938. Yet what it dare not do is succumb to the bogus bombast of the punters and sharpies who troll the financial wreckage inexorably created by the Fed’s serial bubble machine.

If it does, the people will find their pitchforks and torches—–one of these days.

Bruce Berkowitz’s Bogus Bombast | David Stockman’s Contra Corner

Bruce Berkowitz’s Bogus Bombast | David Stockman’s Contra Corner.

by  • March 5, 2014

Source: WSJ

Click to enlarge

The Fed’s serial bubble machine has not only bestowed massive speculative windfalls on the 1%, but it has also fostered a noxious culture of plunder and entitlement in the gambling casinos of Wall Street. After each thundering sell-off during the bust phase, crony capitalist gamblers have been gifted with ill-gotten windfalls during the Fed’s subsequent maniacal money printing spree.

Worse still, this trash-to-riches syndrome has unfolded so consistently since the late 1980s that there now exists a marauding gang of permanent vulture-speculators who impudently claim entitlement to any and all action by the state that might be needed to quickly reflate their gleanings from the bottom. The passel of hedge funds led by Elliot Capital which blackmailed the Obama White House into paying billions for the worthless debt of Delphi during the GM bailout is only one especially odious example.

In this context comes Bruce Berkowitz “scolding” and firing “salvos” at Washington from the front page of the Wall Street Journal. As it has happened, the usually craven denizens of the beltway have so far managed to ignore his petulant demands for a multi-billion payday on the worthless Fannie and Freddie preferred stock that his fund scooped up after the housing bust. Recall, these were the securities issued in 2008 at $25 per share to shore up the tottering housing finance agencies just before Hank Paulson’s bazooka sputtered.

Not inappropriately, when the Republican White House nationalized Freddie and Fannie in September 2008 these preferred shares plunged to 25 cents—-their true value all along. The fact is, the so-called GSEs do not “earn” profits; they merely book bloated accounting margins that reflect nothing more profound than the fact that Freddie and Fannie drastically underpay for renting Uncle Sam’s balance sheet. As finally became official when the U.S. Treasury threw them a $180 billion lifeline, the GSEs are now—and have always been—a branch office of the U.S. Treasury Department.

The only reason Freddie and Fannie are not prosecuted for filing fraudulent accounting statements, therefore, is the beltway fiction that they are “off-budget”. This convenient scam was first invented by Lyndon Johnson to magically shrink his “guns and butter” fiscal deficits, but it has since metastasized into a giant business fairy tale—namely, that behind the imposing brick façade of Fannie Mae there is a real company generating value-added services that are the source of its reported profits and current multi-billion pink sheet valuation. In fact, there is nothing behind those walls except a stamping machine that embosses the signature of the American taxpayer on every billion dollar package of securitized mortgages it guarantees and on all the bonds it issues to fund a giant portfolio of mortgages and securities from which it strips the interest.

If we wanted to have honest socialist mortgage finance, a handful of GS-14s could run Freddie and Fannie out of the U.S. Treasury building. Civil servants could emboss the taxpayers’ guarantee on every family’s home mortgage just as proficiently as the make-believe business executives who populate the GSEs today; and in the process we could dispense with the sheer waste involved in applying GAAP accounting to the operations of a mere government bureau.

In an alternative political universe not corrupted by crony capitalist mythology about the elixir of homeownership, of course, there would be no need for a Treasury Bureau of Home Mortgage Finance. The decision to own own or rent would be made by 115 million American households based on their best lights, not the inducements and favors of the state. Markets would clear the interest price of mortgage debt and set credit terms and maturities consistent with the risks involved. Undoubtedly, rates would be a few hundred basis points higher and 30-year fixed rates mortgages quite rare. And like in the seemingly prosperous precincts of Germany, the home-ownership rate might be 55% or any other number not selected by pandering politicians of the type who pinned the 70% disaster on the wall during the Clinton-Bush era.

At the end of the day, having 40 million renter-households and 25 million mortgage-free owner-households provide (in their capacity as taxpayers) trillions of subsidized credit to upwards of 50 million mortgage-encumbered households is absurd. Yet it could be dismissed as just another expression of the capricious and random shuffling of income among American citizens that is the tradecraft of the Washington puzzle palace.

Unfortunately, the reality is not so anodyne. In order to hide this random redistribution mischief, the Treasury Bureau of Home Mortgage Finance has been gussied-up to form the simulacrum of a profit-making enterprise—otherwise known as a GSE. In that posture, the GSEs have been repeatedly plundered by insiders like Franklin Rains, the 90 million dollar man who drove Fannie off the cliff; and by fast money stock speculators who managed to drive the combined market cap of Freddie and Fannie to the lunatic level of $140 billion during their hay-day at the turn of the century; and by the Wall Street dealers and so-called fund managers who inventory trillions of GSE debt securities in order to scalp profits from the economically pointless spread between regular treasury bonds and the GSE variant of the same thing.

All of these hundreds of billions were pocketed by adept cronies and speculators in the various debt, equity and preferred securities of the GSEs during the decades culminating in the 2008 financial crisis. Given the trauma of those events, Secretary Paulson’s desperate and ill-disguised nationalization of Freddie and Fannie should have put an end to the plunder.

But it hasn’t because there is no end to the zero cost-of-goods carry trades by which speculators scoop-up and fund financial assets—busted and not—during the Fed’s money printing marathons. Likewise, there is no end to crony capitalist marauders like Berkowitz, who have the temerity to demand make-wholes from the state, and K-Street hirelings—lawyers, accountants and consultants— who are skilled at the manufacture of specious public policy rationalizations for outright thievery.

So now comes the patented crony capitalist rush. The worthless Freddie and Fannie preferreds have lately erupted from $0.25 per share to $12, meaning that some speculators have already garnered a paper return of 48X. And why did this revival miracle transpire? Quite simply because Berkowitz’s Fairholme Capital and his posse of punters—-John Paulson, Perry Capital and Pershing Square, among others—have taken turns bidding up the paper.

Meanwhile, their deplorable plan to do the American people a favor and swap these bogus securities for those of a new tax-payer underwritten, mortgage guarantee stamping machine, has but one objective—that is, to put a statutory floor under the current $12 per share price and enable them to dicker with Capitol Hill staffs for an ultimate take-out at par($25) under the guise of “privatization”. The larceny intended here is not modest: the payday for Berkowitz and his hedge fund posse would amount to $35 billion on toxic paper which was purchased for rounding errors.

To be sure, Berkowitz and his sharpies blather that Freddie and Fannie have now returned $200 billion to the US Treasury, thereby repaying the original $180 billion drawdown, with some change to spare. But what hay wagon do they think even the clueless officialdom of Washington rides upon? Roughly $50 billion of that was for writing-up a “tax asset” that had earlier been written-down, owing to the fact that absent nationalization the GSEs had no prospect of booking even accounting income in the future. And the remaining $150 billion represents dividends paid to the Treasury since 2009 based on using Uncle Sam’s credit card to issue the bonds and guarantees which fund the assets from which these so-called GSE dividends are scalped.

In other words, the Berkowitz Gang wants to be paid a king’s ransom for ownership shares in what amounts to a bureau of the US Treasury. And yet these con men pound the table demanding to “wake up the (GSE) boards” so that they will execute their “fiduciary responsibility”. Indeed, so shameless are Wall Street’s princes of plunder that Berkowitz told a skeptical CNBC questioner last fall “we’ve helped before with AIG”, and that he now merely seeks a “win-win” to “help with jobs, help with the economy, help with the dream of homeownership”!

That gibberish is the measure of the crony capitalist deformation that has infested the nation’s financial markets and system of political governance. The obvious thing for Washington to do is close the doors at Fannie and Freddie and allow their $5 trillion portfolio to run-off in the manner of any liquidation. And if it must subsidize home mortgage credit, just bring back the metal filing cabinets in the Treasury Building where the so-called “secondary mortgage market” was birthed in 1938. Yet what it dare not do is succumb to the bogus bombast of the punters and sharpies who troll the financial wreckage inexorably created by the Fed’s serial bubble machine.

If it does, the people will find their pitchforks and torches—–one of these days.

Tracking “Bubble Finance” Risks in a Single Chart | CYNICONOMICS

Tracking “Bubble Finance” Risks in a Single Chart | CYNICONOMICS.

In his 712-page tour de force, The Great Deformation, David Stockman dissects America’s descent into the present era of “bubble finance.” He describes the housing bubble’s early stages as follows:

The American savings deficit was transparent after the turn of the century, but the Fed flat-out didn’t care. … Greenspan and his monetary central planners had a glib answer: do not be troubled, they admonished, the Chinese have volunteered to handle America’s savings function on an outsourced basis.

So instead of addressing the growing deformations of the American economy after the dot-com crash, the Fed chose to repeat the same failed trick; that is, it once again cranked up the printing presses with the intent of driving down interest rates and thereby reviving speculative carry trades in stocks and other risk assets.

Needless to say, it succeeded wildly in this wrong-headed game plan: by pushing interest rates down to the lunatic 1 percent level during 2003-2004, the Fed sent a powerful message to Wall Street that the Greenspan Put was alive and well, and that the carry trades now offered the plumpest spreads in modern history. Under the Fed’s renewed exercise in bubble finance, asset prices could be expected to rumble upward, whereas overnight funding costs would remain at rock bottom.

That is exactly what happened and the equity bubble was quickly reborn. After hitting bottom at about 840 in February 2003, the S&P 500 took off like a rocket in response to virtually free (1 percent) money available to fund leveraged speculation. One year later the index was up 36 percent, and from there it continued to steadily rise in response to reported GDP and profit growth, albeit “growth” that would eventually be revealed as largely an artifact of the housing and consumer credit boom which flowed from the very same money-printing policies which were reflating the equity markets.

In hindsight, it’s hard to refute Stockman’s perspective on the Fed’s role in the housing bubble. But that won’t stop some from trying, and especially the many academic economists beholden to the Fed. Research papers have stealthily danced around the Fed’s culpability for our crappy economy, as we discussed here.

More importantly, if Stockman is right about bubble finance, there’s more mayhem to come. Consider that denying failure and persisting with the same strategy are two sides of the same coin. Just as investors avoid the pain of admitting mistakes by holding onto losing positions, Fed officials who claim to have done little wrong are also more committed than ever to propping up asset markets with cheap money.

For those concerned about another policy failure, a key question is:  “As of today, where do we stand with respect to bubbles and bubble finance?”

We’ll compare two indicators that may help with an answer:

 

  1. Stock valuation indicator: To eliminate the problem that price-to-earnings (P/E) multiples tend to skyrocket when earnings shrink in a recession, we use price-to-peak-earnings (P/PE). This is the S&P 500 (SPY) index divided by the highest earnings result from any prior 12 month period. (See here for further discussion.)
  2. Monetary policy indicator: We use the difference between Fed policy rates (the discount rate until 1954 and fed funds rate thereafter) and inflation, averaged over the prior two years. By taking a two-year average, we capture lags in the economic effects of rate changes (commonly estimated at up to 24 months), while also smoothing out anomalies.

Here’s the data:

visualizing stock valuation 1

The chart shows that it wasn’t until the Fed’s battle with the Internet bust – described above by Stockman – that policy rates were first lowered below inflation at the same time that stocks were “fully valued” (which we defined as a P/PE above 17). The Fed had never before allowed the policy/valuation mix to drift into the chart’s bolded, upper-left quadrant.

Today, we’re well into our second experiment with that quadrant, which is a precarious place to be. It doesn’t take much analysis to see that strong policy stimulus despite an elevated price multiple is a recipe for bubbles.

In other words, the chart suggests another reason to expect the next bear market to be severe, as we discussed in “P/E Multiples, Deleveraging and the Big Experiment: Sizing Up the Next Bear Market” and again in “Bubble or Not, U.S. Stocks Are Priced to Deliver Dismal Long-Term Returns .”

Worse still, we haven’t even contemplated the Fed’s preoccupations as we head into Janet Yellen’s reign. The next time you puzzle over the transparency of the forward guidance or the timing of the taper or the transparency of the guidance for the timing of the taper (you get the idea), we suggest coming back to the data above.

In the bigger picture, interest rates alone are enough to show that we’re back in the danger zone.

Bonus chart

While the policy/valuation mix reached the chart’s bolded quadrant for the first time in 2003, you may wonder about close calls. Eliminating the bubble finance era, we find two:

visualizing stock valuation 2

The first occurred in late 1958 and 1959, and Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin met the challenge with aggressive increases in both interest rates and stock market margin requirements. Stockman discussed these policies in The Great Deformation, stressing that Martin responded to financial excess only four months after the end of a recession. Martin’s actions helped to slow lending growth while preventing asset bubbles.

The second close call occurred in 1972, when Fed Chairman Arthur Burns held the discount rate steady at a five-year low of 4.5%. Alongside President Nixon’s blunders, Burns’ dovish approach soon spawned double-digit inflation, a painful recession and a severe bear market.

Overall, four past chairmen faced a policy/valuation mix that was either headed toward or inside the bolded “danger zone” in our charts. Martin tightened preemptively and escaped unscathed. Burns and Greenspan will forever be seen to have lost the plot. The history books aren’t yet written for Ben Bernanke, but we don’t like his chances.

KEEPING IT REAL Washington’s Blog

KEEPING IT REAL Washington’s Blog.

“One only needs to reflect on the dramatic decline in the value of the dollar that has taken place since the Fed was established in 1913. The goods and services you could buy for $1.00 in 1913 now cost nearly $21.00. Another way to look at this is from the perspective of the purchasing power of the dollar itself. It has fallen to less than $0.05 of its 1913 value. We might say that the government and its banking cartel have together stolen $0.95 of every dollar as they have pursued a relentlessly inflationary policy.”  Ron Paul – End the Fed

The BLS reported the CPI this morning. They tell me that inflation is well contained and has only risen by 1.2% in the past twelve months. Our beloved Federal Reserve chairman is worried inflation is too low. It is fascinating that the only people worried about inflation being too low are Ivy League educated economists and bankers whose wealth depends upon the middle class sinking further into poverty. As a person who lives in the real world, I can honestly say I like it when the things I need to buy cost less today than they did last year. When did inflation become a good thing for the average American? Our country was somehow able to grow from a fledgling new country to a world power in just over a century while experiencing mild deflation, except during times of war. The fallacy that inflation is beneficial to the common man has been peddled by bankers since 1971 when Nixon and his cronies closed the gold window and unleashed the inflationary boogeyman in the form of feckless politicians, captured Keynesian academics, and greedy soulless bankers.

It is no coincidence inflation accelerated the moment politicians, academics and bankers were unleashed to spend your money at will in order to obtain votes, Nobel prizes in economics, and ill-gotten obscene levels of wealth. David Stockman described Nixon’s dreadful sellout of the American people in his brilliant new book:

“Nixon’s estimable free market advisors who gathered at the Camp David weekend were to an astonishing degree clueless as to the consequences of their recommendation to close the gold window and float the dollar. In their wildest imaginations they did not foresee that this would unhinge the monetary and financial nervous system of capitalism. They had no premonition at all that it would pave the way for a forty-year storm of financialization and a debt-besotted symbiosis between central bankers possessed by delusions of grandeur and private gamblers intoxicated with visions of delirious wealth.” –David Stockman – The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America

The USD has lost 83% of its purchasing power since 1971. The moment Nixon began playing politics with the USD and bullied the Federal Reserve Chairman into pumping up the money supply prior to the 1972 election, the inflation genie got out of the bottle and led to the miserable stagflation of the 1970′s. It took extreme measures by Paul Volcker to get it back under control in the early 1980′s. Since Volcker we’ve had nothing but academics and toadies who have chosen to change the definition of inflation in order to mislead the average American regarding how badly they are getting screwed. Every refinement, tweak, adjustment, or revision to the calculation of CPI has been designed to produce a lower figure. Why control inflation when you can just change the calculation to suit your purposes?

Over the proceeding decades, the BLS has sliced and diced the CPI in such a way that they can make it say whatever TPTB want it to say. They need to keep the mushrooms (you) in the dark regarding your standard of living deteriorating, while the beneficiaries of inflation (bankers, politicians) see their standard of living soaring. They have made hedonistic “adjustments”, quality “adjustments”, substitution “adjustments” and geometric weighting “adjustments”, all with the sole purpose to reduce the level reported to the American people on a monthly basis.

CPI was supposed to measure a common basket of goods and services that Americans needed to purchase in order to live their lives. If the price for this basket rose, you had inflation. If the price for this basket fell, you had deflation. The politicians, academics, bankers and government bureaucrats decided if the price of steak went up by 10%, you would switch to chicken, therefore the price of steak did not go up by 10%. They decided if the price of a new car went up 5%, but you now had heated seats, the price didn’t really go up 5%. They now want to change to a chained CPI, which will further depress the reported figure. CPI no longer represents the increase in price of goods and services you need to live your day to day life.

Even the composition of the index doesn’t match the true cost picture for the average American. Somehow they bury the energy component within multiple categories and have the gall to argue that energy costs only comprise 9.6% of the average American expense budget. Tell that to the suburban two worker family that drives 30,000 miles per year and has to heat and cool a 2,000 square foot home. I doubt that too many families only spend 7% of their money on medical care. Housing accounts for 41% of the CPI calculation, but it is again a made up calculation called owner’s equivalent rent. Only an Ivy League economist could explain the calculation. The fact that home prices have risen by 12%, rents have risen by 4% and mortgage rates have risen from 3.25% to 4.5% in the last year somehow results in a 2.4% annual rate of inflation for housing.

If you have the feeling your standard of living has been falling for the last few decades even though your owners tell you the economy is expanding, inflation is contained, unemployment is falling, the stock market is rising, and consumer spending is growing, then you might be smarter than a 5th grader. The financial elite ruling class are counting on the dreadful public education system, along with their mainstream corporate media propaganda arms, to keep the techno-distracted math challenged masses from understanding how the financialization of the country has resulted in their demise.

Being a skeptical sort, I decided to verify the accuracy of the CPI propaganda issued by the Bureau of Lies and Scams. The combination of the internet and memories from my youth provide a powerful and accurate assessment about the truthfulness of our government. I decided to create a chart of goods and services that average Americans have spent their hard earned wages on for decades. In a matter of minutes I was able to obtain prices from 1971 for various items common to most people. I was eight years old in 1971, being raised in a middle class one earner household on the salary of a truck driver. The chart below provides the proof the government CPI data is a bad joke and the American people are the butt of that joke.

Category 1971 2013 % Change
Average Price of New Car $3,470 $31,252 800.6%
Average Price of New Home $26,000 $245,800 845.4%
Gallon of Gasoline $0.36 $3.50 872.2%
Natural Gas $0.35 $4.00 1042.9%
Loaf of Bread $0.20 $2.20 1000.0%
Sirloin Steak per pound $1.19 $7.00 488.2%
Dozen Eggs $0.25 $1.90 660.0%
Box of cereal 12 oz $0.36 $3.50 872.2%
Pack of Cigarettes $0.32 $6.00 1775.0%
College Tuition – Private $1,832 $30,094 1542.7%
Monthly Rent $150 $1,073 615.3%
Baseball ticket – Phila $2 $23 1050.0%
Movie ticket $1.50 $9.00 500.0%
Maximum Social Security Tax $406 $8,950 2104.4%
Median Household Income $9,028 $51,017 465.1%
Median wage per worker $6,497 $27,519 323.6%
Average Hourly Earnings $3.60 $20.31 464.2%
CPI 40.5 232.0 472.8%
Consumer Credit Outstanding (tril.) $0.14 $3.07 2092.9%
Mortgage Debt Outstanding (tril.) $0.51 $13.18 2484.3%

The BLS tells me the CPI has risen by 473% since 1971. The very same agency also tells me average hourly earnings have risen by 464% since 1971. This means the average worker is earning less than they did in 1971 in real terms. The median wage per worker has lagged CPI dramatically, as the averages have been skewed by those making outrageous compensation in the financial world. Median household income has barely kept pace with inflation even though households were forced to send both parents into the workforce, with the expected consequences of higher divorce rates and children left to fend for themselves or be raised by strangers.

By the government’s own measures, the average American’s standard of living has fallen since 1971. But, we also know the government has been manipulating the CPI figure lower since the mid-1980′s. After examining the true cost increases for housing, transportation, energy, food, education and entertainment, you would have to be brain dead or an Ivy League economist to believe inflation since 1971 has only been 473%. If home prices and car prices are 800% higher, while the energy needed to power and heat them are 900% to 1,000% higher, and the cost of food is 500% to 1,000% higher, how could the CPI only be 473% higher?

There are far more people going to college today than in 1971. With college tuition 1,500% higher, how can this not be reflected in the CPI? It certainly isn’t because the education is better. Statistics show the uneducated poor are more likely to smoke. Lucky for them, cigarette prices have risen at a rate of 4 times CPI due to the government taxing the crap out of them to fund their various taxpayer boondoggles. Inflation always hurts the poor and enriches the peddlers of debt.

My dad would take me to the brand new Veterans Stadium (built for $50 million in 1971) to see the Phillies in the early 1970′s. He paid $2.00 for a general admission seat and kids got in for 50 cents. We would buy a bag of soft pretzels outside the stadium and bring them into the park. We’d get a hot dog and soda for another $1. The entire outing to see a baseball game was about $5. Today, if I wanted to bring my family of five to a Phillies game at Citizen Bank Park (built for $458 million and paid for by the taxpayer) the lowest cost for the outing would be about $200. In 1971, you could spend a vacation week at the Jersey shore for $200. Now it gets you 3 hours of watching spoiled millionaires playing a child’s game while sitting with a bunch of foul mouthed drunks.

I also found it fascinating that the most regressive tax on earth, the Social Security tax, which hammers the poor and middle class while leaving the rich virtually unscathed has gone up by 2,100% since 1971. The rate in 1971 was 5.2% and the maximum salary level was $7,800. Today, the rate is 7.65% and the maximum level is $113,700. This increased cost for every middle class American is not factored into the inflation figures. Why would the government need to increase the maximum taxable wages by 1,500% when wages have gone up by less than 500%? The hard working truck driver bears the full impact, while Jamie Dimon not so much.

So now that I’ve proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the prices of everything we need to live have far outpaced our wages and the patently false drivel published by the BLS and parroted by the MSM, what are the implications? Well that is an easy one and is summed up by the last two entries in the chart. The average American has been lured into $16 trillion of debt over the last forty years in a pathetic attempt to keep up with the Joneses. Consumer credit (credit cards, auto loans, student loans) has gone up by 2,100% and mortgage debt has gone up by 2,500%. The American people have been sold a false lifestyle dream built on easy credit by evil bankers and Madison Avenue PR maggots.

There are those who would blame the people who have chosen to live far beyond their means. They have a point. The American people certainly haven’t shown a penchant for delayed gratification, saving for the future, or consuming less than they produce. But it takes two to tango and the lead in this dance of debt has been and continues to be the Federal Reserve and their Wall Street bank owners. It’s always reasonable to ask – Who benefits? – when trying to figure out why something has happened over time. Did the American people benefit by increasing the debt owed to Wall Street banks from $650 billion in 1971 to $16.25 trillion today? I don’t think so, based upon the visible deterioration I am witnessing in my suburban paradise.

The financialization of America; where Wall Street con artists,shysters and swindlers rake in billions for shuffling paper and making risky casino bets; mega-corporations ship blue collar middle class jobs to Asia in an all out effort to increase quarterly profits; politicians spend future generations into the poor house in order to get re-elected; and the Federal Reserve purposefully creates monetary inflation to prop up the corrupt system; has systematically destroyed the working middle class and created generations of debt slaves. The American people have been foolish, infantile, and easily duped. But it is clear to me who the real culprits in our long downward spiral have been. Lord Acton stated the obvious, many years ago:

“The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks.”  John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton

Krugman Blowing Bubbles – Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada

Krugman Blowing Bubbles – Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada.

Sunday, December 15th, 2013 by  posted in CapitalismEconomicsHistory.

krugman

The perennial question of modern economics is simple: how are market downturns best combated? It’s a good question, if you are trying to deduce truth in matters. It also makes for good fodder to appease career-granting benefactors, i.e. the government. It was not always this way however. Economists, if true to their craft, do not make for barrels of optimism. They are supposed to be a splash of cold water on wishful thinkers.

The unholy alliance between the state and the economic profession would never last if dismal science practitioners were gadflies who swatted down every harebrained scheme that festered in the dreams of central planners. This was one of the problems encountered by classical economists. Being market-friendly, it was tough appealing to monarchs or government leaders who wanted a quick fix to economic doldrums. No head of the public wants to tell his citizens, “Sorry, I cannot help you today. You must help yourself.”

Eventually John Maynard Keynes would come along and give the economic vocation the crony justification it needed to become respectable in the eyes of the state. His The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was a how-to guide for pols looking to spend other people’s money. At last they had an excuse: to boost unemployment by paying laid-off workers to dig holes aimlessly.

Our friend Paul Krugman is Keynes’s most vocal disciple, and never tires of reinvoking his intellectual master’s teachings of mo’ money, mo’ debt, and no mo’ problems. In a recentinterview with the forever exhausted-looking Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider, Kruggy is perplexed by the Federal Reserve’s inability to inflate out of the ongoing economic slowdown. He snakes out a position between naysayer Larry Summers, who thinks the economy can only grow with artificial bubbles, and someone who is more optimistic about the future. On necessary bubbles, Krugman tells us:

“If we look at the evidence…and it kind of looks like…we need bubbles to grow. We’ve had one bubble after another. Long-term rise in debt, with no inflation…the economy is looking like it’s just barely managing to keep its above water with all those bubbles so…that’s the observation.”

Krugman blames the news status quo on slowing technological innovation and lower population growth. As for the United States, the Nobel Laureate is convinced the trade deficit is largely at fault. Lastly, he concedes that no one really knows why the economy must be goosed by a shot of exuberance.

That’s all true, if you forget the fact that some folks do actually understand why Krugman and his like-minded colleagues are scratching their heads over bubbles.

That the past few decades have witnessed financial bubble after financial bubble is not proof positive of a great need for them. Krugman’s assumption is that had the Fed not interfered in the marketplace to boost particular assets, the whole economy would have imploded. It’s a false assumption, but totally in line with Keynesian theory.

From the stagflation in the late 1970s to the stock market crash of 1987, forward to the failure of Long Term Capital Management in 1998, the popping of the dot-com bubble years later, and finally culminating in the housing crisis of 2007-2008, Krugman and Summers appear to have a point. All of these cases of faux prosperity were caused by the Fed’s meddling with the money supply, pushing interest rates down below their natural level. The headache after each instance was cured with the hair of the dog – meaning more inflation, more stimulus, and more central bank liquidity. The roller coaster ride of money printing has left the economy distorted and unable to find true balance again.

For the life of him, Krugman can’t seem to find any evidence of market stability without the animal spirits being thrown a liquidity bone. And yet, his go-to example of angelic prosperity – the 1950s – has all the markings of a relatively calm period of prosperity absent of central bank interference. As former Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman points out, the heads of the Federal Reserve following World War II were less-than-enthusiastic about ginning up growth via the printing press. This was when William McChesney Martin was at the helm and President Eisenhower was reluctant to keep up the hog wild spending of his predecessor. In an interview with the American Mises Institute, Stockman comments:

Although central banking does cause moral hazards and lends itself to abuses, there have been periods in which monetary and fiscal discipline have been employed. Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin, for example, really did take the punch bowl away when the party got started because he took monetary discipline seriously. Fiscal discipline under Eisenhower and the gold standard behind Bretton Woods helped put off the day of reckoning for quite a long time.

After wartime price controls were relaxed in the late 1940s, capitalists and private investors were freed of government burden and began investing in the country yet again. Washington’s budget was cut significantly, including hundreds of billions removed from the Pentagon’s death machine expenditures. Stockman brings attention to the data: “Between 1954 and 1963, real GDP growth averaged 3.4 percent while annual CPI inflation remained subdued at 1.4 percent.”

So yes, this was the non-bubble prosperity Krugman is looking for. As Justin Raimondowrites, “[E]ight years of relative fiscal sanity under the Eisenhower presidency ushered in the greatest economic expansion in modern times.” What’s funny is that Krugman is one of the biggest cheerleaders of post-war prosperity and continually advocates going back to the Ike-era. But he wrongly attributes the golden times to pro-union labor policies and high rates of taxation.

Regardless, the takeaway from the decade of General Motors, Elvis, decent manners, and the Red threat is bubbles are not necessary for economic growth. By trying to stimulate demand, the Fed only mucks up economic calculation and capital accumulation.

Krugman’s solutions for the bubble-addicted economy are no better than his own understanding of economic theory. Widespread unemployment can be cured, in his opinion, by weaker purchasing power, a stronger welfare state, and continual government spending. In other words, by top-down central planning that attempts to tweak society “just so.” All these efforts are nothing but a shell game that take money from some and give it to another. Basically, Krugman is King Solomon with a sword, cutting everyone into parts he sees most fit.

Saying we need continuous financial bubbles to keep full employment is such a flawed conception of economics, it belongs on an island of misfit philosophies. Krugman’s incessant promotion of statism is doing more harm to the economy than good. As an opinion-molder, he is perpetuating the economic malaise of the last few years. More bubbles won’t help the recovery, just harm it more. In the middle of a grease fire, Krugman calls for more pig fat. And the rest of us are the ones left burnt.

James E. Miller is editor-in-chief of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada. Send him mail

 

David Stockman Explains The Keynesian State-Wreck Ahead – Sundown In America | Zero Hedge

David Stockman Explains The Keynesian State-Wreck Ahead – Sundown In America | Zero Hedge. (FULL ARTICLE)

David Stockman, author of The Great Deformation, summarizes the last quarter century thus: What has been growing is the wealth of the rich, the remit of the state, the girth of Wall Street, the debt burden of the people, the prosperity of the beltway and the sway of the three great branches of government – that is, the warfare state, the welfare state and the central bank… What is flailing is the vast expanse of the Main Street economy where the great majority have experienced stagnant living standards, rising job insecurityfailure to accumulate material savings, rapidly approach old age and the certainty of a Hobbesian future where, inexorably, taxes will rise and social benefits will be cut… He calls this condition “Sundown in America”.

  SUNDOWN IN AMERICA: THE KEYNESIAN STATE-WRECK AHEAD

Remarks of David A. Stockman at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University, September  26, 2013

The median U.S. household income in 2012 was $51,000, but that’s nothing to crow about. That same figure was first reached way back in 1989— meaning that the living standard of Main Street America has gone nowhere for the last quarter century. Since there was no prior span in U.S. history when real household incomes remained dead-in-the-water for 25 years, it cannot be gainsaid that the great American prosperity machine has stalled out….

TRYING TO STAY SANE IN AN INSANE WORLD – PART 2 « The Burning Platform

TRYING TO STAY SANE IN AN INSANE WORLD – PART 2 « The Burning Platform.

David Stockman: “The American Empire And The End Of Sound Money” | Zero Hedge

David Stockman: “The American Empire And The End Of Sound Money” | Zero Hedge.

 

The Entire Economy Is a Ponzi Scheme | Zero Hedge

The Entire Economy Is a Ponzi Scheme | Zero Hedge.

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