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Great Depression Deja Vu – “A Chicken In Every Pot And A Maserati In Every Garage” | Zero Hedge

Great Depression Deja Vu – “A Chicken In Every Pot And A Maserati In Every Garage” | Zero Hedge.

In 1928, just as income inequality was surging, stocks were soaring and monetary distortions were rearing their ugly head, the now infamous words “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” were integral to Herbert Hoover’s 1928 presidential run and a “vote for prosperity,” all before the market’s epic collapse. Fast forward 86 years and income inequality is at those same heady levelsstocks are at recorderer highs, the President is promising to hike the minimum wage to a “living wage” capable of filling every house with McChicken sandwiches and now… to top it all off – Maserati unveils their (apparent) “everyone should own a Maserati” commercial. It would seem that chart analogs are not the only reminder of the pre-crash era exuberance and its recovery mirage and massive monetary distortions.

Income inequality – check

The last time the top 10% of the US income distribution had such a large proportion of the entire nation’s income was the 1920s – a period that culminated in the Great Depression and a collapse in that exuberance.

“Wealth effect” – check

 

Monetary distrortions – check

Today there is a tremendous amount of monetary distortion, on par with the 1929 stock market and certainly the peak of 2007, and many others,” warns Universa’s Mark Spitznagel.

and “a Maserati in every garage”

It’s a great looking car and emotionally imploring but… did they really just suggest (subliminally of course) that such luxury is to be had by all?

Perhaps a gentle reminder of the reality for 99.99% of Americans…compared to the Maserati buyer…

As Mark Spitznagel warned:

The reality is, when distortion is created, the only way out is to let the natural homeostasis take over. The purge that occurs after massive distortion is painful, but ultimately, it’s far better and healthier for the system.

While that may sound rather heartless, it’s actually the best and least destructive in the long run.

Look what happened in the 1930s, when the actions of the government prolonged what should have been a quick purge. Instead, the government prevented the natural rebuilding process from working, which made matters so much worse.

“The ‘Recovery’ Is A Mirage” Mark Spitznagel Warns, “With As Much Monetary Distortion As In 1929” | Zero Hedge

“The ‘Recovery’ Is A Mirage” Mark Spitznagel Warns, “With As Much Monetary Distortion As In 1929” | Zero Hedge.

Today there is a tremendous amount of monetary distortion, on par with the 1929 stock market and certainly the peak of 2007, and many others,” warns Universa’s Mark Spitznagel.

At these levels, he suggests (as The Dao of Capital author previously told Maria B, “subsequent large stock market losses and even crashes become perfectly expected events.”

Post-Bernanke it will be more of the same, he adds, and investors need to know how to navigate such a world full of “monetary distortions in the economy and the creation of malinvestments.” The reality is, Spitznagel concludes that the ‘recovery is a Fed distortion-driven mirage‘ and the only way out is to let the natural homeostasis take over – “the purge that occurs after massive distortion is painful, but ultimately, it’s far better and healthier for the system.”

Via Investments & Wealth Monitor:

On the “recovery” in the United States…

Spitznagel: The somewhat improved economic activity that we’re seeing is based on a mirage—that is, the illusion created by artificial zero-interest rates.

When central banks lower interest rates in hopes of stimulating the economy, that intervention is not the same as a natural move in interest rates.

genuine drop in interest rates is in response to an increase in savings, as consumers defer consumption now in order to consume later. In a high-savings environment, entrepreneurs put their capital to work to become more roundabout,1 layering their tools and intermediate stages of production to become increasingly productive. The time to make these investments is when consumers are saving, so that entrepreneurs can be in an even better position to make the products that consumers want, when they want them.

In an artificial rate environment, however, that’s not what’s happening. Instead of consumers saving now to spend later, they are spending now.

But because interest rates are artificially lower, entrepreneurs are being fooled into investing in something now that they will have to back out of later—building up what the Austrians call “malinvestment.” Therefore, the illusion is unsustainable, by definition. The Fed can’t keep interest rates low forever.

From an investor perspective, people are trying to extract as much as they can right now. Consider the naïve dividend investment argument: “I can’t afford to be in cash right now.” Investment managers have to provide returns today.

Whenever investors sell a low dividend-paying stock to buy a higher-dividend stock, some piece of progress is sapped from our economy. (The cash needed to pay that higher dividend isn’t going to capital investment in the company.)

This is the exact opposite of entrepreneurial thinking that advances the economy. Consider the example of Henry Ford, who didn’t care about paying dividends today. He wanted to plow as much capital as possible back into making production more efficient for the benefit of the consumer who would pay less for a higher-quality product.

In summary, a major message of my recent book, The Dao of Capital, is recognizing the distortions that come from central bank intervention. Because of the Fed’s actions, interest rates are no longer a real piece of economic information. If you treat them like they are, you will simply do the wrong thing.

After all, when the government tries to manipulate things, the inverse of what was intended usually happens. On that point, history is entirely on my side.

On The Government & Federal Reserve’s “Interventions”…

Spitznagel: The reality is, when distortion is created, the only way out is to let the natural homeostasis take over. The purge that occurs after massive distortion is painful, but ultimately, it’s far better and healthier for the system. While that may sound rather heartless, it’s actually the best and least destructive in the long run.

Look what happened in the 1930s, when the actions of the government prolonged what should have been a quick purge. Instead, the government prevented the natural rebuilding process from working, which made matters so much worse.

I draw a parallel to forest wildfires. Fire suppression prevents small, naturally occurring wildfires from error-correcting the inappropriate growth, and thus prevents the system from seeking its natural homeostatic balance—its natural temporal structure of production, if you will. Instead, everything is allowed to grow at once, as if more resources exist than actually do, and the forest actually gradually consumes itself. When fire inevitably does break out, it is catastrophic. This is a perfect analogy for the market process. We simply do not understand the great homeostasis at work in markets that are allowed to correct their mistakes.

Suppression that makes the cure that much worse than the initial ill, until exponentially more damage is done, calls to mind the wry observation made by the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises: “If a man has been hurt by being run over by an automobile, it is no remedy to let the car go back over him in the [opposite] direction.”

As the Mises protégé Murray Rothbard would say, the catharsis needed to return to homeostatic balance “is the ‘recovery’ process,” and, “far from being an evil scourge, is the necessary and beneficial return” to healthier growth and “optimum efficiency.”

It is unfair to call the Austrians heartless because of these views. The Keynesians are the ones who got us into this mess in the first place—just like those who advocated for the suppression of natural forest fires are the ones who created the tinder box that puts the forest at risk.

On The Yellen Fed… (hint – no change)

Spitznagel: Post-Bernanke it will be more of the same. Therefore, investors need to know how to navigate a distorted world—and post-Bernanke the world is likely to get even more distorted—until the markets, ultimately and inevitably, flush out that distortion. This is why I rely on the Austrian school so much.

Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT) shows us what is really happening behind the curtain, so to speak, from monetary distortions in the economy and the creation of malinvestment. When the economy is subject to top-down intervention from the government and especially the central bank, investors need to read the signs in order to protect themselves—as well as still find a way to own productive assets.

People can avoid becoming trapped into chasing immediate returns along with the rest of the ill-fated crowd.

A far better approach is to wait for the return to homeostasis that will prevail even in the midst of pervasive distortion. In that way, investors can embrace roundabout investing by avoiding the distortion and, thus, have all the more resources later for opportunistic investing.

On investing (for retail inevstors)…

Another option for investors is a very simplistic, “mom-and-pop” strategy that starts with recognizing when you are in a distorted environment. For this I use what I call the Misesian stationarity index, which describes the amount of distortion in the economy.

This simple, back-of-the-envelope strategy would be to buy when the index is low and sell when it is high. In other words, people should stay out of the market when it is distorted and thus preserve their capital to deploy after the inevitable purge and correction, when productive assets become bargain-priced. Such an approach has resulted historically in an annualized 2-percent outperformance of stocks. Logically it makes sense, and when you look at it empirically, it’s incontrovertible.

Yet, admittedly, in the world of investing, sitting with one’s arms folded and not taking advantage of a rising market pumped up with distortion, is difficult—even though avoiding the enticement leads to better intermediate means for positional advantage to be exploited later.

It is difficult to do and may even feel anticlimactic. Nonetheless, the disciplined Misesian approach is healthier for one’s portfolio.

On the worst case scenario…

the Fed keeps winning and the illusion continues. The equity markets keep ripping along.

On extreme monetary distrortion and the Q-Ratio…

In simplest terms, the equity Q ratio is the total corporate equity in the United States divided by the replacement cost. Another way to think about it is the appraised value of existing capital in the United States divided by what it would cost to replace or accumulate all that capital.

This ratio has tremendous meaning from an Austrian standpoint, as it reflects what the markets are saying about the state of distortion in the economy.

This aptly illustrates Mises’s concept of “stationarity.” (In a stationary economy, in the aggregate, balance is achieved between the return and replacement costs.) The farther the ratio moves above “1,” the more monetary distortion there is in the economy. For this reason, and as a tip of the hat to the man who gave us the Austrian business cycle theory, I call this ratio the Misesian stationarity index, or MS index for short. When the MS index is high, subsequent large stock market losses and even crashes become perfectly expected events.

Today there is a tremendous amount of monetary distortion, on par with the 1929 stock market and certainly the peak of 2007, and many others (except the 2000 peak, which got a bit more ahead of itself). And all were caused by monetary distortion. As the Austrians show us, the business cycle is a Fed-induced phenomenon.

Happy 100th Birthday, Federal Reserve — Now, Please Go Away | Institutional Investor

Happy 100th Birthday, Federal Reserve — Now, Please Go Away | Institutional Investor.

Submitted by Mark Spitznagel

Happy 100th Birthday, Federal Reserve – Now, Please Go Away

Nearly 100 years ago, on December 23, 1913, the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law, giving the U.S. exactly what it didn’t need: a central bank. Many people simply assume that modern nations must have a central bank, just as they must have international airports and high-speed Internet. Yet Americans had gone without one since the 1836 expiration of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, which Andrew Jackson famously refused to renew. Not to be a party pooper, but as this dubious anniversary is observed, we should ask ourselves, Has the Fed been friend or foe to growth and prosperity?

According to the standard historical narrative, America learned a painful lesson in the Panic of 1907, that a “lender of last resort” was necessary, lest the financial sector be in thrall to the mercies of private capitalists like J.P. Morgan. A central bank — the Federal Reserve — was supposed to provide an elastic currency that would expand and contract with the needs of trade and that could rescue solvent but illiquid firms by providing liquidity when other institutions couldn’t or wouldn’t. If that’s the case, then the Fed has obviously failed in its mission of preventing crippling financial panics. The early years of the Great Depression — commencing with a stock market crash that arrived 15 years after the Fed opened its doors — saw far more turmoil than anything in the pre-Fed days, with some 4,000 commercial banks failing in 1933 alone.

A typical defense acknowledges that the Fed botched its job during the Great Depression, but once the wise regulations of the New Deal were put into place, and academic economists realized just what had gone wrong during the 1930s, it was relatively smooth sailing from that point forward. It would be silly, these apologists argue, to question the advantage of central banking now that we have learned so many painful lessons from experience, which Fed officials take into account when making policy decisions.

What about the excruciating pain of the recent past, dubbed the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009? In the five years from 2008 to 2012, almost 500 banks failed. What would history need to look like for people to agree that the Fed has not done its job?

But wait! The Fed is necessary to the promotion of stable economic growth — or so the conventional wisdom says. The idea is that without a central bank, the economy would be plagued by wildly oscillating business cycles. The only hope is a countercyclical policy of raising interest rates to cool an overheating boom, and then slashing rates to turn up the flame during a bust.

In actuality, the Fed’s modus operandi has been to trick capitalists into doing things that are not aligned with economic reality. For example, the Fed creates the illusion, through artificially low interest rates, that there are both higher savings and higher consumption, and thus all assets should be worth more (making their holders invest and spend more — can you say bubble?). The perpetuation of this trickery only delays the market’s eventual, and often precipitate, return to reality.

Many economists now recognize that the massive housing bubble of the early and mid-2000s was caused by the artificially low interest rate approach of Alan Greenspan’s Fed, enacted in response to the dot-com crash (itself the ostensible result of artificially low rates). At the time, this was viewed as textbook pro-growth monetary policy: The economy (allegedly) needed a shot in the arm to get consumers and businesses spending again, especially after the 9/11 attacks.

It appears those textbooks are wrong. Economists George Selgin, William Lastrapes, and Lawrence White analyzed the Fed’s record and found that even focusing on the post–World War II era, it is not clear that the Fed has provided more economic stability when compared with the pre-Fed regime, which was characterized by the national banking system. The authors concluded that “the need for a systematic exploration of alternatives to the established monetary system is as pressing today as it was a century ago.”

In other sectors, we don’t normally defer to a committee of a dozen experts to set prices. Yet this is what the Fed does with its Open Market Committee, which routinely sets a target for the federal funds rate as well as other objectives. If we all agree that central planning and price-fixing don’t work for computers and oil, why would we expect them to bring us stability in money and banking?op09

On this, the 100th birthday of the Fed, it’s time to ask ourselves: Wouldn’t we be better off without a central bank?

 

 

Does the Fed Favor Any Group in Particular? Mark Spitznagel vs. Paul Krugman

Does the Fed Favor Any Group in Particular? Mark Spitznagel vs. Paul Krugman.

Kicking off this Economic Farce Royale… we have Mark Spitznagel explaining why the Fed is the root of all evil… or at least the source of the so-call “wealth gap”. We’ve sprinkled our own comments throughout to keep it lively and (God help us) not too serious.

OK. Round one, *ding, ding*…


Mark Spitznagel

Amajor issue is the growing disparity between rich and poor, the 1% versus the 99%. While the president’s solutions differ from Republicans, they both ignore a principal source of this growing disparity.

The source is not runaway entrepreneurial capitalism, which rewards those who best serve the consumer in product and price. (Would we really want it any other way?) There is another force that has turned a natural divide into a chasm… dun, dun, dun… the Federal Reserve. The relentless expansion of credit by the Fed creates artificial disparities based on political privilege and economic power.

[Go figure…]

David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher, pointed out that when money is inserted into the economy (from a government printing press or, as in Hume’s time, the importation of gold and silver), it is not distributed evenly but “confined to the coffers of a few persons, who immediately seek to employ it to advantage.”

[Well, yeah…]

In the 20th century, the economists of the Austrian school built upon this fact as their central monetary tenet. Ludwig von Mises and his students showed that an increase in money supply is beneficial to those who get it first and is detrimental to those who get it last. Monetary inflation is a process, not a static effect. To think of it only in terms of aggregate price levels (I’m looking at you Ben Bernanke) is to ignore this pernicious process and the imbalance and economic dislocation that it creates.

As Mises protégé Murray Rothbard explained, monetary inflation is akin to counterfeiting, which necessitates that some benefit and others don’t. After all, if everyone counterfeited in proportion to their wealth, there would be no real economic benefit to anyone. Similarly, the expansion of credit is uneven in the economy, which results in wealth redistribution. To borrow a visual from another Mises student, Friedrich von Hayek, the Fed’s money creation does not flow evenly like water into a tank, but rather oozes like honey into a saucer, dolloping one area first and only then very slowly dribbling to the rest.

The Fed doesn’t expand the money supply by uniformly dropping cash from helicopters over the hapless masses. Rather, it directs capital transfers to the largest banks (whether by overpaying them for their financial assets or by lending to them on the cheap), minimizes their borrowing costs, and lowers their reserve requirements. All of these actions result in immediate handouts to the financial elite first, with the hope that they will subsequently unleash this fresh capital onto the unsuspecting markets, raising demand and prices wherever they do.

The Fed, having gone on an unprecedented credit expansion spree, has benefited the recipients who were first in line at the trough: banks (imagine borrowing for free and then buying up assets that you know the Fed is aggressively buying with you) and those favored entities and individuals deemed most creditworthy. Flush with capital, these recipients have proceeded to bid up the prices of assets and resources, while everyone else has watched their purchasing power decline.

At some point, of course, the honey flow stops—but not before much malinvestment. Such malinvestment is precisely what we saw in the historic 1990s equity and subsequent real-estate bubbles (and what we’re likely seeing again today in overheated credit and equity markets), culminating in painful liquidation.

The Fed is transferring immense wealth from the middle class to the most affluent, from the least privileged to the most privileged. This coercive redistribution has been a far more egregious source of disparity than the president’s presumption of tax unfairness (if there is anything unfair about approximately half of a population paying zero income taxes) or deregulation.

Pitting economic classes against each other is a divisive tactic that benefits no one. Yet if there is any upside, it is perhaps a closer examination of the true causes of the problem. Before we start down the path of arguing about the merits of redistributing wealth to benefit the many, why not first stop redistributing it to the most privileged?

Ooh… Them fightin’ words. OK, we turn to *ahem* America’s leading economist, nobel laureate and pointy head, Paul Krugman. He’ll now take himself too seriously and give us his academic rebuttal. We took a few editorial liberties so you wouldn’t fall asleep…

Round two, *ding, ding*…


Paul KrugmanI’ll be the first to admit that these past few years have been lean times in many respects — but they’ve been boom years for agonizingly dumb, pound-your-head-on-the-table economic fallacies. The latest fad — illustrated by what Mark Spitznagel just wrote above [ouch] — is that expansionary monetary policy is a giveaway to banks and plutocrats generally.

Indeed, his screed actually claims that the whole 1 versus 99 thing should really be about reining in or maybe abolishing the Fed. (Hah… Could you imagine that!) Unfortunately, and I’m sorry for this backhanded compliment, some pretty smart people have bought into at least some version of this dumb story.

What’s wrong with the idea that running the printing presses is a giveaway to plutocrats? Let me count the ways!

First, the situation is utterly the reverse of what Spitznagel claimed. Quantitative easing isn’t being imposed on an unwitting populace by financiers and rentiers; it’s being undertaken, to the extent that it is, over howls of protest from the financial industry. I mean, c’mon! Where are the editorials demanding that the Fed raise its inflation target, right?!

[Crickets…]

Uhh… Beyond that, let’s talk about the economics.

The deliberately misleading… er I mean, naive, version of Fed policy Spitznagel made is that Ben Bernanke is “giving money” to the banks. What it actually does, of course, is buy stuff from the banks, usually short-term government debt but nowadays sometimes other stuff with money that didn’t exist before. But, seriously, it’s not a gift.

To claim that it’s a gift you have to claim that the prices the Fed is paying are artificially high, or equivalently that interest rates are being pushed artificially low. And you do in fact see assertions to that effect all the time. But if you think about it for even a minute, that claim is truly bizarre.

I mean, what is the un-artificial, or if you prefer, “natural” rate of interest? As it turns out, there is actually a standard definition of the natural rate of interest and it’s basically defined on a PPE basis (that’s for proof of the pudding is in the eating). Roughly, the natural rate of interest is something, kind of like the rate that would lead to stable inflation at more or less full employment.

[Uh-huh…]

And we have low inflation with high unemployment, strongly suggesting that the natural rate of interest is below current levels, and that the key problem is the zero lower bound which keeps us from getting there. Under these circumstances, expansionary Fed policy isn’t some kind of giveway to the banks, it’s just a giveaway to the banks that the economy needs.

Furthermore, Fed efforts to do this probably tend on average to hurt, not help, bankers. Yes, I just wrote that with a straight face. Banks are largely in the business of borrowing short and lending long; anything that compresses the spread between short rates and long rates is likely to be bad for their profits. And the things the Fed is trying to do are in fact largely about compressing that spread, either by persuading investors that it will keep short rates at zero for a longer time or by going out and buying long-term assets. These are actions you would expect to make bankers angry, not happy — and that’s what has actually happened.

How, exactly, does expansionary monetary policy hurt the 99 percent? Think of all the people living on fixed incomes, we’re told. But who are these people? I know the picture: retirees living on the interest on their bank account and their fixed pension check — and there are no doubt some people fitting that description. But there aren’t many of them, which makes it ok.

No, the real victims of expansionary monetary policies are the very people who the current mythology says are pushing these policies. And that, I guess, explains why we’re hearing the opposite.

The typical retired American these days relies largely on Social Security — which is indexed against inflation. He or she may get some interest income from bank deposits, but not much: ordinary Americans have fewer financial assets than the elite can easily imagine. And as for pensions: yes, some people have defined-benefit pension plans that aren’t indexed for inflation. But that’s a dwindling minority — which again means it’s perfectly ok — and I assume the effect of, say, 1 or 2 percent higher inflation isn’t going to be enormous even for this minority.

What’s the takeaway? That unless you’re going to go stumping for policy on capitol hill (in which case, there’s no hope for you) you should focus on actionable steps you can take to increase your wealth… instead of engaging in groupthink. As for the policy debate…well, it’s always good for a laugh.

Regards,

The Daily Reckoning

Ed. Note: Whether you’re on a fixed income or not, there are ways you can safeguard and even grow your wealth, regardless of where you stand on the issue debated above. Today’s Daily Reckoning email edition gave readers a chance to get in on a one-time live event that will help them do just that. Didn’t see that offer? Not to worry… The Daily Reckoning will be back tomorrow with another opportunity for you to take advantage of. Be sure you don’t miss that one too. Sign up for the FREE Daily Reckoning email edition, right here.

 

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