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Worthwhile Canadian Initiative: When Will Low Interest Rates End?

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative: When Will Low Interest Rates End?.

A recent piece in the Financial Post titled “How many times can economists cry wolf about interest rates” caught my interest because I – like many economists in Canada – have been expecting interest rates to eventually start to rise and yet they do not.  So when will Canadian interest rates start to go up?  My knowledge of money and banking and monetary economics is pretty rudimentary but I’m feeling adventurous in the New Year.

At its most basic level the demand for and supply of money sets the interest rate.  If money supply shifts right faster than money demand, then interest rates will fall.  So assuming money demand is strongly driven by growing transactions fueled by rising output, I suppose one answer is that rates will rise when the growth rate of the money supply is curtailed so that it grows less quickly relative to GDP.Take a look at Figure 1.  I used the monthly estimates of M2 for Canada constructed by Cherie Metcalf, Angela Redish and Ron Shearer for the period 1871 to 1967 and combined them with the monthly estimates of M2 for 1968 to the present from Statistics Canada (v41552796). I took the monthly average each year for the period 1871 to 2013 and used this annual average to estimate the annual growth rate for M2. Over the entire period 1871 to 2013, the average annual growth rate of M2 was 7.2 percent.  While growth in 2009 during the financial crisis was 13.52 percent, it has since ranged from 4.95 to 6.60 percent. This suggests that the recent growth rate of M2 has not been that high by historical standards.

However, money supply growth needs to be considered in the context of the growth of the economy and money demand.  Figure 2 presents a more interesting picture by taking the ratio of M2 to GDP for the period 1871 to 2013.  From a ratio of just under 0.2 in 1871, the M2 to GDP ratio has grown over time.  Recent years have seen it grow to the highest it has ever been.  Of course, the period from 1870 to 1930 reflects the growth and development of the modern Canadian financial intermediary sector and monetary sector and the rise in the ratio reflects this.  However, the period since 1935 represents the “modern Canadian banking era” in that the Bank of Canada has been in existence during that period.

Figure 3 presents a graph of the trend setting Bank of Canada interest rate and it shows a hump shaped pattern with the lowest interest rates in the period from 1935 to the mid 1950s and since 2009 and the highest rates in the period from the mid 1970s to the early 1990s. On the other hand, since the Second World War, the M2/GDP ratio has shown an approximately u-shaped pattern with lowest M2/GDP ratios in the mid to late 1960s.  If the two are juxtaposed as in Figure 3a and taking into account that there is probably a lag between a drop in M2/GDP and the subsequent rise in interest rates, it appears that the peak in interest rates occurs after the low point in the m2/GDP ratio in the late 1960s. If you take the first differences of the M2/GDP ratio and the Bank of Canada rate over the period 1935 to 2013 and plot them against each other (as in Figure 4) and fit a linear trend, you do get a slight inverse relationship.  That is, a higher money supply to GDP ratio is correlated with lower interest rates.  However, I admit this is a pretty noisy picture.  Moreover, this discussion focuses just on Canada and international economic and monetary conditions play a role in the Canadian economy. It would be interesting to see how the performance of Canada’s M2 to GDP ratio over time compares to other countries.

We have been expecting interest rates to rise for several years now because GDP has recovered somewhat from the 2009 financial crisis and the Canadian economy is growing.  As a result, one might expect a growing demand for money and credit to fuel rising interest rates.  However, money supply – as measured in this case by M2 – is still growing faster than GDP.  I think we will see interest rates start to increase provided first that GDP continues to expand and then the M2/GDP ratio starts to drop.  However, its not enough that this happens just in Canada – it would also need to happen on a global scale. I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon. For example, look at Japan.

 

Is This The End Of The Phony Recovery? : Personal Liberty™

Is This The End Of The Phony Recovery? : Personal Liberty™.

 

Is This The End Of The Phony Recovery?

PHOTOS.COM

While the mainstream media continue to push the meme that the economy is in (slow) recovery, some important facts point out that things are not as rosy as you are being told. In fact, most Americans feel the recessionnever ended.

An analysis of retail sales post-Christmas indicates that in-store retail sales decreased more than 3 percent over the same week last year. Retail brick-and-mortar shopper traffic decreased by 21.2 percent over thesame period in 2012. The lack of in-store sales didn’t translate to an increase in Web sales.

In September, homes sales dropped more than at any time in the last 40 months. New mortgage applications dropped 66 percent from an October 2012 peak, reaching a lownot seen in 13 years.

We are now seeing business and personal debt reaching levels not seen since 2007, right before the last crash. Household incomes have not improved at all and, in fact, have dropped. The unemployment numbers are completely cooked. The unemployment rate will drop again due to the ending of benefits to 1.3 million workers who will no longer be counted.

There are 107 million Americans on government assistance. About 50 million Americans get food stamps. The U.S. population has increased by 16 million people since 2006, but there are 1.5 million fewer Americans employed today. Workforce participation rates are the lowest in decades.

According to the consumer price index, the economy is growing at about 2.5 percent. But official inflation is also 2.5 percent. Real inflation is closer to 8 percent.

Yes, the stock market is hitting record highs. But that’s because the Federal Reserve is dumping $85 billion a month into the economy through QE to infinity to prop up the banksters and the market.

The Fed has inflated your dollar away to nothing. One dollar is now equal to 5 cents.

All so-called “growth” in the economy can be directly attributed to inflation. Inflation is not increasing prices, which is a symptom of inflation, but an increase in the money supply.

Inflation is a hidden tax on the wealth of the people.

Helicopter Ben Bernanke has succeeded in creating the illusion of a recovery. The illusion is about to end.

How the Paper Money Experiment Will End – Philipp Bagus – Mises Daily

How the Paper Money Experiment Will End – Philipp Bagus – Mises Daily.

A paper currency system contains the seeds of its own destruction. The temptation for the monopolist money producer to increase the money supply is almost irresistible. In such a system with a constantly increasing money supply and, as a consequence, constantly increasing prices, it does not make much sense to save in cash to purchase assets later. A better strategy, given this senario, is to go into debt to purchase assets and pay back the debts later with a devalued currency. Moreover, it makes sense to purchase assets that can later be pledged as collateral to obtain further bank loans. A paper money system leads to excessive debt.

This is especially true of players that can expect that they will be bailed out with newly produced money such as big businesses, banks, and the government.

We are now in a situation that looks like a dead end for the paper money system. After the last cycle, governments have bailed out malinvestments in the private sector and boosted their public welfare spending. Deficits and debts skyrocketed. Central banks printed money to buy public debts (or accept them as collateral in loans to the banking system) in unprecedented amounts. Interest rates were cut close to zero. Deficits remain large. No substantial real growth is in sight. At the same time banking systems and other financial players sit on large piles of public debt. A public default would immediately trigger the bankruptcy of the banking sector. Raising interest rates to more realistic levels or selling the assets purchased by the central bank would put into jeopardy the solvency of the banking sector, highly indebted companies, and the government. It looks like even the slowing down of money printing (now called “QE tapering”) could trigger a bankruptcy spiral. A drastic reduction of government spending and deficits does not seem very likely either, given the incentives for politicians in democracies.

So will money printing be a constant with interest rates close to zero until people lose their confidence in the paper currencies? Can the paper money system be maintained or will we necessarily get a hyperinflation sooner or later?

There are at least seven possibilities:

1. Inflate. Governments and central banks can simply proceed on the path of inflation and print all the money necessary to bail out the banking system, governments, and other over-indebted agents. This will further increase moral hazard. This option ultimately leads into hyperinflation, thereby eradicating debts. Debtors profit, savers lose. The paper wealth that people have saved over their life time will not be able to assure such a high standard of living as envisioned.

2. Default on Entitlements. Governments can improve their financial positions by simply not fulfilling their promises. Governments may, for instance, drastically cut public pensions, social security and unemployment benefits to eliminate deficits and pay down accumulated debts. Many entitlements, that people have planned upon, will prove to be worthless.

3. Repudiate Debt. Governments can also default outright on their debts. This leads to losses for banks and insurance companies that have invested the savings of their clients in government bonds. The people see the value of their mutual funds, investment funds, and insurance plummet thereby revealing the already-occurred losses. The default of the government could lead to the collapse of the banking system. The bankruptcy spiral of overindebted agents would be an economic Armageddon. Therefore, politicians until now have done everything to prevent this option from happening.

4. Financial Repression. Another way to get out of the debt trap is financial repression. Financial repression is a way of channeling more funds to the government thereby facilitating public debt liquidation. Financial repression may consist of legislation making investment alternatives less attractive or more directly in regulation inducing investors to buy government bonds. Together with real growth and spending cuts, financial repression may work to actually reduce government debt loads.

5. Pay Off Debt. The problem of overindebtedness can also be solved through fiscal measures. The idea is to eliminate debts of governments and recapitalize banks through taxation. By reducing overindebtedness, the need for the central bank to keep interest low and to continue printing money is alleviated. The currency could be put on a sounder base again. To achieve this purpose, the government expropriates wealth on a massive scale to pay back government debts. The government simply increases existing tax rates or may employ one-time confiscatory expropriations of wealth. It uses these receipts to pay down its debts and recapitalize banks. Indeed the IMF has recently proposed a one-time 10-percent wealth tax in Europe in order to reduce the high levels of public debts. Large scale cuts in spending could also be employed to pay off debts. After WWII, the US managed to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio from 130 percent in 1946 to 80 percent in 1952. However, it seems unlikely that such a debt reduction through spending cuts could work again. This time the US does not stand at the end of a successful war. Government spending was cut in half from $118 billion in 1945 to $58 billion in 1947, mostly through cuts in military spending. Similar spending cuts today do not seem likely without leading to massive political resistance and bankruptcies of overindebted agents depending on government spending.

6. Currency Reform. There is the option of a full-fledged currency reform including a (partial) default on government debt. This option is also very attractive if one wants to eliminate overindebtedness without engaging in a strong price inflation. It is like pressing the reset button and continuing with a paper money regime. Such a reform worked in Germany after the WWII (after the last war financial repression was not an option) when the old paper money, the Reichsmark, was substituted by a new paper money, the Deutsche Mark. In this case, savers who hold large amounts of the old currency are heavily expropriated, but debt loads for many people will decline.

7. Bail-in. There could be a bail-in amounting to a half-way currency reform. In a bail-in, such as occurred in Cyprus, bank creditors (savers) are converted into bank shareholders. Bank debts decrease and equity increases. The money supply is reduced. A bail-in recapitalizes the banking system, and eliminates bad debts at the same time. Equity may increase so much, that a partial default on government bonds would not threaten the stability of the banking system. Savers will suffer losses. For instance, people that invested in life insurances that in turn bought bank liabilities or government bonds will assume losses. As a result the overindebtedness of banks and governments is reduced.

Any of the seven options, or combinations of two or more options, may lie ahead. In any case they will reveal the losses incurred in and end the wealth illusion. Basically, taxpayers, savers, or currency users are exploited to reduce debts and put the currency on a more stable basis. A one-time wealth tax, a currency reform or a bail-in are not very popular policy options as they make losses brutally apparent at once. The first option of inflation is much more popular with governments as it hides the costs of the bail out of overindebted agents. However, there is the danger that the inflation at some point gets out of control. And the monopolist money producer does not want to spoil his privilege by a monetary meltdown. Before it gets to the point of a runaway inflation, governments will increasingly ponder the other options as these alternatives could enable a reset of the system.

Note: The views expressed in Daily Articles on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

Comment on this article. When commenting, please post a concise, civil, and informative comment.
Philipp Bagus is an associate professor at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. He is an associate scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and was awarded the 2011 O.P. Alford III Prize in Libertarian Scholarship. He is the author of The Tragedy of the Euro and coauthor of Deep Freeze: Iceland’s Economic CollapseThe Tragedy of the Euro has so far been translated and published in GermanFrenchSlovakPolishItalianRomanianFinnishSpanishPortugueseBritish EnglishDutchBrazilian PortugueseBulgarian, and Chinese. See his website. Send him mail. Follow him on Twitter @PhilippBagus See Philipp Bagus’s article archives.

 

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.

 

The Mythical Merits of Paper Money

The Mythical Merits of Paper Money.

One economic myth is that paper money is wealth. The proponents of big government oppose honest money for a very specific reason. Inflation, the creation of new money, is used to finance government programs not generally endorsed by the producing members of society. It is a deceptive tool whereby a “tax” is levied without the people as a whole being aware of it. Since the recipients of the newly created money, as well as the politicians, whose only concern is the next election, benefit from this practice, it’s in their interest to perpetuate it.

For this reason, misconceptions are promulgated about the “merits” of paper money and the “demerits” of gold. Some of the myths are promoted deliberately, but many times they are a result of convenient rationalizations and ignorance.

Paper money is not wealth. Wealth comes from production. There’s no other way to create it.

Paper money managers and proponents of government intervention believe that money itself — especially if created out of thin air — is wealth. A close corollary of this myth — which they also believe — is that money supply growth is required for economic growth.

Paper money is not wealth. Wealth comes from production. There’s no other way to create it. Capital comes from production in excess of consumption. This excess is either reinvested, saved, or loaned to others to be used to further produce and invest. Duplicating paper money units creates no wealth whatsoever, it distorts the economy, and it steals wealth from savers. It acts as capital in the early stages of inflation only because it staels real wealth from those who hold dollars or have loaned them to someone.

Instead of economic growth being dependent on money growth as the paper money advocates claim, great economic harm comes from central banks creating new money out of thin air. This leads to the sort of economic stagnation and economic decline that we are experiencing today. Inflation — increasing the supply of paper money — is the cause of malinvestment and the business cycle, and literally destroys the capital needed for economic growth and stability. The formation of capital through savings is discouraged or eliminated by a paper money system. Instead of paper money producing economic growth, it accomplished the opposite. If money growth were necessary for economic growth, the 1970’s would have been a great decade. During this period of time the Federal Reserve nearly tripled the total money supply but the economy grew only 37 percent.

Although the supply under a gold standard would in all probability increase at the rate of two to three percent per year, this growth is not a requirement for gold to function as a sound currency. This natural or market increase in the money supply easily accommodates population growth and economic growth as long as prices are freely adjusting.

If population or economic growth presents a need for “more” purchasing media, prices merely adjust downward if the money supply is not growing. In the latter part of the nineteenth century this occurred. Wholesale prices dropped 47 percent from 1879 to 1900 and economic growth averaged nearly four percent per year. Obviously, although prices were decreasing, there was no depression. While an increase in the supply of money is never needed to produce economic growth, under a gold standard there might be honest money growth (i.e. not money created out of thin air by the politicians and bankers for the benefit of special interests) and this would serve to smooth out price adjustments.

The myth that paper money is wealth has another corollary: the myth that there’s “not enough gold” for reestablishing a gold standard. But this is merely a device used by paper money advocates to confuse the uninformed, and should carry no weight in the debate of gold versus paper. Hans Sennholz explains this clearly in his essay “No Shortage of Gold”:

On the other hand, if the supply of goods increases while that of money remains unchanged, a tendency toward enhancement of the purchasing power of money results. This fact is probably the most popular reason advanced today for policies of monetary expansion. “Our expanding national economy,” economic and monetary authorities proclaim, “requires an ever-growing supply of money and credit in order to assure economic stability.”

No one can seriously maintain that present expansionary policies have brought about economic stability. During the last forty years of almost continuous monetary expansion, whatever else it may have achieved, did not facilitate economic stability. Rather it gave our age it’s economic characteristic — unprecedented instability.

Ludwig von Mises, in his book A Critique of Interventionism (1929), clearly denounces the belief that government can create wealth by printing paper money. He explains:

By its very nature, a government decree that “it be” cannot create anything that has not been created before. Only the naive inflationists could believe that government can create anything; its orders cannot even evict anything from the world of reality, but they can evict from the world of the permissible. Government cannot make man richer, but it can make man poorer.

This is a powerful political and economic message, and yet it seems that so few understand it. Unfortunately, the poorer the people get, the moe economic problems we have, the more inflation we endure, and the higher the interest rates go, since more people demand government intervention. This trend has to be changed if we expect to preserve our freedoms and our standard of living.

Fact: Paper money is not wealth, it steals wealth.

A second myth is that “easy” money causes low interest rates. This myth is based on the erroneous assumption, itself a myth about government, that government officials — the Federal Reserve Board, the Congress, or the Treasury — can actually set interest rates. In reality the market determined interest rates. Governments can dictate rates, but if these rates are contrary to the market, government will not achieve the intended goal. For instance, if a usury law establishes a ten percent interest rate and the market rate if fifteen percent, no funds will be available except those allocated through government force and the creation of new money.

One reason this myth is so persistent is that in the early stages of inflation, an “easy” monetary policy temporarily lowers interest rates below market levels. Before the people are aware of the depreciation of their currency and do not yet anticipate higher prices, the law of supply and demand serves to lower “cost” of money and interest rates fall. But when the people become aware of the depreciation of the dollar’s value and anticipate future loss of purchasing power, this prompts higher interest rates due to inflationary expectations.

This expectation of future inflation and higher risk is determined subjectively by all borrowers and lenders and not by an objective calculation of money supply increases. These increases in the money supply certainly are important and contribute to the setting of the interest rates, but they are not the entire story. Interest rates vary from day to day, week to week, and year to year. There is no close correlation between money supply figures and interest rates.

Crises and panics can occur for political as well as financial reasons; and interest rates can be pushed higher than monetarist theory says they “should be.” In the early stage of inflation, rates may be lower than they “should be,” and in the latter stages frequently are higher than they “should be,” if by “should be” one means commensurate with money supply growth. Nevertheless, wrong ideas die slowly. “Easy” money, that is, inflation of the paper money supply, is still thought of as an absolute method by which the monetary authorities can achieve low interest rates.

This is not to say the Federal Reserve is helpless in manipulating interest rates. If it alters the discount rate and injects new money into the market, the immediate reaction can be that of lowering rates. But a gold-backed dollar, even if only partially backed, is a different sort, and at the time of the ’30s and the ’40s rates were at historic lows.

If the demand for lower interest rates is great enough and not accompanied by a call for sound currency — gold — the politicians will be “forced” to accommodate the demand by means of massive inflation of the money supply with strict credit controls and credit allocation. This would solve nothing, would serve to worsen economic conditions, and real interest rates in the markets would eventually soar. There is no substitute for sound money, and the sooner we realize this the better.

“Easy” money causes hard times.

Regards,

Ron Paul
for The Daily Reckoning

Excerpted with permission from Dr. Paul’s FREE Foundation work

Ed. Note: People blindly trust that “easy money” will bring about growth. They assume that those in power know what they’re doing and that, in the end, the U.S. is simply far to great to fall into the traps that have snared so many other countries throughout history. Of course, you know better. But this is only half the story. The other half is detailed every day in The Daily Reckoning email edition. To get the full analysis, sign up for the FREE Daily Reckoning email edition, right here.

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“Really? There’s no gold in Fort Knox?”

Byron King

Posted Oct 1, 2013.

Stay tuned for a scene right out of the hit TV show, The Walking Dead. Although, instead of human zombies, expect to see a growing army of zombie dollars. Byron King explains…

Ron PaulDr. Ron Paul is a former Republican member of Congress from Texas and perhaps the only voice in Washington still advocating “limited” government in the Jeffersonian tradition. He has delivered several stunning addresses before Congress, including: “Sorry, Mr. Franklin, We Are All Democrats Now” and “We’ve Been Neo-Conned.” Ron Paul is also the author of The Revolution: A Manifesto,End The FedLiberty Defined, and The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System.

Guest Post: Paul Krugman’s Fallacies | Zero Hedge

Guest Post: Paul Krugman’s Fallacies | Zero Hedge.

Submitted by Pater Tenebrarum of Acting-Man blog,

Krugman, Summers and the First Keynesian

Paul Krugman has used the occasion of Larry Summers’ speech at the IMF to lay out his economic views, or let us rather say, his economic fallacies. As we already mentioned, the fact that Krugman liked Summers’ speech proves ipso facto that it was a bunch of arrant nonsense. Krugman has subsequently proved us right beyond a shadow of doubt. A great many long refuted Keynesian shibboleths keep being resurrected in Krugman’s fantasy-land, where economic laws are magically suspended, virtue becomes vice and bubbles and the expropriation of savers the best ways to grow the economy. It is important to keep in mind in this context that most of what Keynes wrote in the General Theory wasn’t original – it was mainly a rehashing of the underconsumption and inflationist fallacies propagated by his less famous predecessors. As Henry Hazlitt remarked in his detailed refutation of Keynes (“The Failure of the New Economics”):

“I have analyzed Keynes’s General Theory in the following pages theorem by theorem, chapter by chapter, and sometimes even sentence by sentence, to what to some readers may appear a tedious length, and I have been unable to find in it a single important doctrine that is both true and original. What is original in the book is not true; and what is true is not original. In fact, as we shall find, even much that is fallacious in the book is not original, but can be found in a score of previous writers.”

If one looks back at the history of economic thought, the earliest proponent of what we know as Keynesian errors today was probably John Law, the infamous Scotsman who almost single-handedly managed to ruin the economy of France (in fact, all of Europe was thrown into a depression lasting decades as a result of Law’s monetary experiment). He was convinced that what the economy lacked was ‘spending’ and so endeavored to provide it with the necessary means – in spades. The result was a giant asset bubble and crack-up boom that left the economy in utter ruins when it ended.

Although Law’s scheme involved speculation in the shares of what turned out to be a company that was worth much less than advertised, at the heart of the operation was a monetary scheme based on his previously developed theories. The plan involved the printing of oodles of unbacked paper money which Law thought would spur a revival of France’s moribund economy and concurrently fix the government’s tattered finances. As is almost always the case with inflationary schemes, it appeared to work initially. In fact, it seemed to work almost too well (if Tonto had been around, he would have noticed that something was wrong). The world’s first ‘millionaires’ were created, for a brief time at least (most of them ended up as paupers, similar to Law himself).

The problem with all such schemes is essentially that scarce resources end up being invested unwisely, as inflation makes it appear as though they were more plentiful than they really are. Once the inevitable collapse comes, these unwise investments are unmasked and it become obvious to all that capital has been squandered.


john-law

John Law – the world’s first Keynesian

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)


John Law 50 Livres Tournois_500x345

One of the ultimately worthless paper promises issued by Law’s Banque Générale

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)


The ‘Logic’ of Nonsense

What we noted above regarding ‘wise’ and ‘unwise’ investment is an important point to keep in mind when considering Krugman’s rehashing of Keynesian fallacies. Krugman writes:

“Larry’s formulation of our current economic situation is the same as my own. Although he doesn’t use the words “liquidity trap”, he works from the understanding that we are an economy in which monetary policy is de facto constrained by the zero lower bound (even if you think central banks could be doing more), and that this corresponds to a situation in which the “natural” rate of interest – the rate at which desired savings and desired investment would be equal at full employment – is negative.

And as he also notes, in this situation the normal rules of economic policy don’t apply. As I like to put it, virtue becomes vice and prudence becomes folly. Saving hurts the economy – it even hurts investment, thanks to the paradox of thrift. Fixating on debt and deficits deepens the depression. And so on down the line.”

(emphasis added)

We already discussed that the idea that the natural interest rate can become negative is a fallacy (see “Meet Larry Summers, Social Engineer” for more color on this). To briefly summarize, for the natural rate to go negative, time preferences would have to go negative too, as interest rates are merely the ratio between present and future goods. However, a situation in which human beings value attaining the same satisfaction in a more remote future more highly than attaining it in a nearer future is simply unthinkable (capitalistic saving, i.e., abstaining from present consumption, always aims at obtaining more goods and/or services in the future).

All this ‘liquidity trap’ and ‘paradox of thrift’ stuff makes no sense whatsoever. Savings are not ‘lost’ to the economy, they are thesine qua non without which capital accumulation and production are not possible. Virtue doesn’t become vice in an economic downturn and economic laws don’t change. As William Andersonpoints out in a recent article, the problem with this thinking is that it ignores capital theory. Attempts to revive the economy with deficit spending and inflation will never stimulate all factors of production simultaneously and to the same extent. The moment one considers the heterogeneity of capital it becomes clear that such interventions must lead to distortions which result in the boom-bust cycle (the housing bubble that expired in 2007/8 provides us with an excellent recent example for this).

Krugman elaborates further, once again invoking space aliens in the process:

“This is the kind of environment in which Keynes’s hypothetical policy of burying currency in coalmines and letting the private sector dig it up – or my version, which involves faking a threat from nonexistent space aliens – becomes a good thing; spending is good, and while productive spending is best, unproductive spending is still better than nothing.”

It is simply incorrect that ‘unproductive spending is better than nothing’. Recall what we said above about ‘wise and unwise investment’. Deploying scarce resources in unproductive fashion is not ‘better than nothing’, it will simply consume capital and destroy wealth. Krugman continues along these lines, seemingly eager to enlist everyone in his plan to waste as much capital as possible:

“Larry also indirectly states an important corollary: this isn’t just true of public spending. Private spending that is wholly or partially wasteful is also a good thing, unless it somehow stores up trouble for the future. That last bit is an important qualification. But suppose that U.S. corporations, which are currently sitting on a huge hoard of cash, were somehow to become convinced that it would be a great idea to fit out all their employees as cyborgs, with Google Glass and smart wristwatches everywhere. And suppose that three years later they realized that there wasn’t really much payoff to all that spending. Nonetheless, the resulting investment boom would have given us several years of much higher employment, with no real waste, since the resources employed would otherwise have been idle.

OK, this is still mostly standard, although a lot of people hate, just hate, this kind of logic – they want economics to be a morality play, and they don’t care how many people have to suffer in the process.”

(emphasis added)

So ‘wasteful spending is a good thing unless it stores up trouble for the future’ – Krugman says that this is an ‘important qualification’, only to proceed to show us in the next breath that he actually does not feel constrained by any such ‘qualification’ at all. Presumably he put that filler sentence in there so that when people in the future take a look at what he recommended in the past, he can claim to have ‘qualified’ his demand for wasteful spending (recall his vocal demand for a housing bubble before housing bubbles turned out to be uncool, which continues to cause him well-deserved embarrassment). When the latest scheme to ‘rescue’ the economy by inflation and deficit spending fails, he will be able to dig up this ‘important qualification’ (as if there could be anywasteful spending that doesn’t store up trouble for the future).

The idea that ‘idle resources’ need to be pressed into service is also due to Krugman having no inkling of capital theory. In the Keynesian view of the world, capital is a self-replicating homogeneous blob, some portions of which are currently accidentally ‘idled’ and only need to be prodded back into action with the help of  government spending. This is not so. Capital is not only heterogeneous, much of it is highly specific and inconvertible. What appears to be unnecessarily ‘idle’ are simply the remnants of previous malinvestments. It may no longer make economic sense to employ the capital concerned. Workers who used to be employed in lines of production the products of which are no longer in demand may be holding out, hoping for the sector to ‘come back’ rather than accepting a lower wage in a different occupation.

As an example, consider the housing sector that was at the center of the previous boom. If building companies have invested in enough machinery to erect two million houses per year, but I has turned out that there is only demand for 400,000 houses, it wouldn’t make sense to employ the superfluous machinery and construct two million houses per year anyway. People that were employed in construction may need to retrain or move and be willing to accept less remunerative work. It is certain that e.g. far fewer roofers are needed today than during the building boom. Renewed credit expansion is likely to affect different sectors of the economy, but if it leads to another artificial boom in the same sector, it will merely prolong the life of malinvested capital and delay the necessary adjustments. Krugman argues along Keynesian lines that  ‘stuff the government has dropped into coal mines should be dug up’, but neglects that this activity doesn’t come without costs (or rather, erroneously argues that the costs don’t matter).

Krugman avers that this ‘logic’ is hated because people are informed by a warped sense of morality. The problem has nothing to do with morals though, the problem is that there is simply no ‘logic’ discernible. Krugman offers the most illogical ideas and then proceeds to call them ‘logic’ as if that could somehow dignify them and mitigate the fact that they are offending common sense.

More Bubbles Please

Believe it or not, it gets still more absurd. Not only does Krugman conclude that it is supposedly advisable to engage in unproductive spending because it is ‘better than nothing’, he also believes that Summers’ speech contains an unspoken demand for more bubbles. And why not? After all, he has already concluded that ‘prudence is folly’, so why not throw prudence overboard, lock, stock and barrel? Never mind that this is what policy makers are already doing, so there hardly seems a great need to egg them on. According to Krugman:

“We now know that the economic expansion of 2003-2007 was driven by a bubble. You can say the same about the latter part of the 90s expansion; and you can in fact say the same about the later years of the Reagan expansion, which was driven at that point by runaway thrift institutions and a large bubble in commercial real estate.

So you might be tempted to say that monetary policy has consistently been too loose. After all, haven’t low interest rates been encouraging repeated bubbles? But as Larry emphasizes, there’s a big problem with the claim that monetary policy has been too loose: where’s the inflation? Where has the overheated economy been visible?

So how can you reconcile repeated bubbles with an economy showing no sign of inflationary pressures?Summers’ answer is that we may be an economy that needs bubbles just to achieve something near full employment – that in the absence of bubbles the economy has a negative natural rate of interest.”

(emphasis added)

The seemingly insoluble questions Krugman grapples with are not as difficult as he makes them out to be. The problem is that what he calls ‘inflation’ is only one of its many possible effects. Wherethe effects of inflation on prices first appear is a matter of the specific historical circumstances. Given strongly rising economic productivity, a huge expansion in international trade (and let us not forget, the transformation of the former communist command economies into market economies), it should be no great surprise that the effects of the huge credit expansion and money supply inflation of recent decades showed up in asset prices rather than consumer prices (incidentally, a very similar thing happened during the boom of he 1920s, during which economists also ignored a major credit and money supply expansion because consumer prices were tame due to strong increases in productivity).

This does not mean that other negative effects of these inflationary credit bubbles didn’t put in an appearance. They all caused a distortion of relative prices and were thus all marked by massive capital malinvestment. Successive credit expansions ledtemporarily to higher employment even as capital was misallocted, but a steadily worsening underlying structural situation has become evident as these booms have inevitably turned into busts. So what solution does Krugman have to offer? He evidently thinks coercion and theft are the best way forward:

“Of course, the underlying problem in all of this is simply that real interest rates are too high. But, you say, they’re negative – zero nominal rates minus at least some expected inflation. To which the answer is, so? If the market wants a strongly negative real interest rate, we’ll have persistent problems until we find a way to deliver such a rate.

One way to get there would be to reconstruct our whole monetary system – say, eliminate paper money and pay negative interest rates on deposits. Another way would be to take advantage of the next boom – whether it’s a bubble or driven by expansionary fiscal policy – to push inflation substantially higher, and keep it there. Or maybe, possibly, we could go theKrugman 1998/Abe 2013 route of pushing up inflation through the sheer power of self-fulfilling expectations.”

(emphasis added)

Or putting it differently: do what John Law did and destroy what’s left of the economy. The elimination of paper money (i.e., cash), would force people  (whether they like it or not) to keep their money in what are essentially insolvent fractionally reserved banks that have proved beyond a shadow of doubt that they cannot be trusted. This poses no problem for Krugman, because it would make it easier to steal people’s savings via the imposition of ‘negative interest rates’ (i.e., a regular penalty to be deducted from their hard earned money).

Krugman then expresses his advance surprise at why anyone would be outraged by this combination of abject economic nonsense and outright theft. After all, it would amount to nothing but the good old ‘euthanasia of the rentier’ once recommended by Keynes:

Any such suggestions are, of course, met with outrage. How dare anyone suggest that virtuous individuals, people who are prudent and save for the future, face expropriation? How can you suggest steadily eroding their savings either through inflation or through negative interest rates? It’s tyranny!

But in a liquidity trap saving may be a personal virtue, but it’s a social vice. And in an economy facing secular stagnation, this isn’t just a temporary state of affairs, it’s the norm. Assuring people that they can get a positive rate of return on safe assets means promising them something the market doesn’t want to deliver – it’s like farm price supports, except for rentiers.

(emphasis added)

What Krugman proposes here is indeed tyranny. The ‘liquidity trap’ is a figment of the Keynesian imagination anyway – no such thing exists. A positive rate of return on savings doesn’t need to be ‘promised’ by anyone, it would be the natural state of affairs in a free market economy. Krugman then jumps to yet another conclusion, namely that in light of the above, the size and growth rate of the public debt would of course no longer matter at all:

“Oh, and one last point. If we’re going to have persistently negative real interest rates along with at least somewhat positive overall economic growth, the panic over public debt looks even more foolish than people like me have been saying: servicing the debt in the sense of stabilizing the ratio of debt to GDP has no cost, in fact negative cost.

I could go on, but by now I hope you’ve gotten the point.”

(emphasis added)

Well, we can at least be grateful that he didn’t ‘go on’.


Federal Debt

Too much debt? No problem, just impose negative interest rates! – click to enlarge.


Summary and Conclusion:

According to Paul Krugman, saving is evil and savers should therefore be forcibly deprived of positive interest returns.This echoes the ‘euthanasia of the rentier’ demanded by Keynes, who is the most prominent source of the erroneous underconsumption theory Krugman is propagating. Similar to John Law and scores of inflationists since then, he believes that economic growth is driven by ‘spending’ and consumption. This is putting the cart before the horse. We don’t deny that inflation and deficit spending can create a temporary illusory sense of prosperity by diverting scarce resources from wealth-generating toward wealth-consuming activities. It should however be obvious that this can only lead to severe long term economic problems.

In fact, the last credit boom, in which policy makers fully implemented what Krugman and other Keynesians proposed, has done enormous structural damage. Not even the biggest spending spree and money supply expansion of the entire post WW2 era has been able to divert enough wealth into bubble activities to create a full-blown pseudo-‘recovery’ so far. Krugman’s conclusion seems to be that more of the same is needed. In other words, we are supposed to repeat what clearly hasn’t worked before, only on a much greater scale.

Finally it should be pointed out that the idea that economic laws are somehow ‘different’ in periods of economic contraction is a cop-out mainly designed to prevent people from asking an obvious question: if deficit spending and inflation are so great, why not always pursue them?

Have We Reached ‘Peak Gold’? | Zero Hedge

Have We Reached ‘Peak Gold’? | Zero Hedge.

Led by countries such as Russia and China, central banks have recently become net buyers of gold. Meanwhile, ETF gold outflows have been a temporary source of supply this year, but obviously this cannot persist. It’s also unreasonable to assume that recycling will make up a significantly greater piece of supply without the price of gold increasing substantiallyWith the grade of current producing gold mines being 32.6% higher than undeveloped deposits, it makes the supply scenario even more clear. Not only is the current yearly mine supply difficult to sustain, but future mines coming online will be challenged by grade and margins to be economical at today’s prices. Mathematically, unless we have high-grade, high ounce deposits that are being fast tracked online, it will be very difficult to find a way to get supply to match demand. Have we reached peak gold?

 

(click image for large legible version)

 

Guest Post: Bubbles And Central Banks – Is There A Connection? | Zero Hedge

Guest Post: Bubbles And Central Banks – Is There A Connection? | Zero Hedge.

Submitted by Dr. Frank Shostak, via The Cobden Centre blog,

According to the popular way of thinking, bubbles are an important cause of economic recessions. The main question posed by experts is how one knows when a bubble is forming. It is held that if the central bankers knew the answer to this question they might be able to prevent bubble formations and thus prevent recessions.

On this, at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland on January 27, 2010, Nobel Laureate in Economics Robert Shiller argued that bubbles could be diagnosed using the same methodology psychologists use to diagnose mental illness. Shiller is of the view that a bubble is a form of psychological malfunction. Hence the solution could be to prepare a checklist similar to what psychologists do to determine if someone is suffering from, say, depression. The key identifying points of a typical bubble according to Shiller, are,

  1. Sharp increase in the price of an asset.
  2. Great public excitement about these price increases.
  3. An accompanying media frenzy.
  4. Stories of people earning a lot of money, causing envy among people who aren’t.
  5. Growing interest in the asset class among the general public.
  6. New era “theories” to justify unprecedented price increases.
  7. A decline in lending standards.

What Shiller outlines here are various factors that he holds are observed during the formation of bubbles. To describe a thing is, however, not always sufficient to understand the key factors that caused its emergence. In order to understand the causes one needs to establish a proper definition of the object in question. The purpose of a definition is to present the essence, the distinguishing characteristic of the object we are trying to identify. A definition is meant to tell us what the fundamentals or the origins of a particular entity are. On this, the seven points outlined by Shiller tell us nothing about the origins of a typical bubble. They tell us nothing as to why bubbles are bad for economic growth. All that these points do is to provide a possible description of a bubble. To describe an event, however, is not the same thing as to explain it. Without an understanding of the causes of an event it is not possible to counter its emergence.

Defining bubbles

Now if a price of an asset is the amount of money paid for the asset it follows that for a given amount of a given asset an increase in the price can only come about as a result of an increase in the flow of money to this asset.

The greater the expansion of money is, the higher the increase in the price of an asset is going to be, all other things being equal. We can also say that the greater the expansion of the monetary balloon is, the higher the prices of assets are going to be, all other things being equal. The emergence of a bubble or a monetary balloon need not be always associated with rising prices – for instance if the rate of growth of goods corresponds to the rate of growth of money supply no change in prices will take place.

We suggest that what matters is not whether the emergence of a bubble is associated with price rises but rather with the fact that the emergence of a bubble gives rise to non-productive activities that divert real wealth from wealth generators. The expansion of the money supply, or the monetary balloon, in similarity to a counterfeiter, enables the diversion of real wealth from wealth generating activities to non productive activities.

As the monetary pumping strengthens, the pace of the diversion follows suit. We label various non-productive activities that emerge on the back of the expanding monetary balloon as bubble activities – they were formed by the monetary bubble. Also note that these activities cannot exist without the expansion of money supply that diverts to them real wealth from wealth generating activities.

From this we can infer that the subject matter of bubbles is the expansion of money supply. The key outcome of this expansion is the emergence of non wealth generating activities.

It follows that a bubble is not about strong asset price increases but about the expansion of money supply. In fact, as we have seen, bubbles – i.e. an increase in money supply – can take place without a corresponding increase in prices. Once we have established that an expansion in money supply is what bubbles are all about, we can further infer that the key damage that bubbles generate is by setting non-productive activities, which we have labelled as bubble activities. Furthermore, once it is established that formation of bubbles is about the expansion in money supply, obviously it is the central bank and the fractional reserve banking that are responsible for the formation of bubbles. As a rule, it is the central bank’s monetary pumping that sets in motion an expansion in the monetary balloon.

Hence to prevent the emergence of bubbles one needs to arrest the monetary pumping by the central bank and to curtail the commercial banks’ ability to engage in fractional reserve banking – i.e. in lending out of “thin air”. Once the pace of monetary expansion slows down in response to a tighter central bank stance or in response to commercial banks slowing down on the expansion of lending out of “thin air” this sets in motion the bursting of the bubbles. Remember that a bubble activity cannot fund itself independently of the monetary expansion that diverts to them real wealth from wealth generating activities. (Again bubble activities are non-wealth generating activities).

The so-called economic recession associated with the burst of bubble activities is in fact good news for wealth generators since now more wealth is left at their disposal. (An economic bust, which weakens bubble activities, lays the foundation for a genuine economic growth). Note again that it is the expansion in the monetary balloon that gives rise to bubble activities and not a psychological disposition of individuals in the market place.

Psychology and economics

Psychology was smuggled into economics on the grounds that economics and psychology are inter-related disciplines. However, there is a distinct difference between economics and psychology. Psychology deals with the content of ends. Economics, however, starts with the premise that people are pursuing purposeful conduct. It doesn’t deal with the particular content of various ends.

According to Rothbard,

A man’s ends may be “egoistic” or “altruistic”, “refined” or “vulgar”. They may emphasize the enjoyment of “material goods” and comforts, or they may stress the ascetic life. Economics is not concerned with their content, and its laws apply regardless of the nature of these ends.[1]

Whereas,

Psychology and ethics deal with the content of human ends; they ask, why does the man choose such and such ends, or what ends should men value?[2]

Therefore, economics deals with any given end and with the formal implications of the fact that men have ends and utilize means to attain these ends. Consequently, economics is a separate discipline from psychology. By introducing psychology into economics one obliterates the generality of the theory, and renders it useless. The use of psychology is counterproductive as far as economic analyses are concerned.

Summary and conclusions

Contrary to Shiller, in order to establish that a bubble is forming we don’t need to apply the same methodology employed by psychologists. What we require is the establishment of a correct definition of what bubbles are all about. Once it is done, one discovers that bubbles have nothing to do with some kind psychological malfunction of individuals – they are the result of loose monetary policies of the central bank.

Furthermore, once we observe an increase in the rate of growth of money supply we can confidently say that this sets the platform for bubble activities – for an economic boom.

Conversely, once we observe a decline in the rate of growth of money supply we can confidently say that this lays the foundations for the burst of bubble activities – an economic bust.

 

Is Hyperinflation Just Around the Corner? | The Exchange – Yahoo Finance

Is Hyperinflation Just Around the Corner? | The Exchange – Yahoo Finance.

By Laurence Kotlikoff

In his parting act, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has decided to continue printing some $85 billion per month (6 percent of GDP per year) and spend those dollars on government bonds and, in the process, keep interest rates low, stimulate investment, and reduce unemployment.

Trouble is, interest rates have generally been rising, investment remains very low, and unemployment remains very high.

Bernanke’s dangerous policy hasn’t worked and should be ended. Since 2007 the Fed has increased the economy’s basic supply of money (the monetary base) by a factor of four! That’s enough to sustain, over a relatively short period of time, a four-fold increase in prices. Having prices rise that much over even three years would spell hyperinflation.

The Treasury dance

And while Bernanke says this is all to keep down interest rates, there is a darker subtext here. When the Treasury prints bonds and sells them to the public for cash and the Fed prints cash and uses it to buy the newly printed bonds back from the public, the Treasury ends up with the extra cash, the public ends up with the same cash it had initially, and the Fed ends up with the new bonds.

Yes, the Treasury pays interest and principal to the Fed on the bonds, but the Fed hands that interest and principal back to the Treasury as profits earned by a government corporation, namely the Fed. So, the outcome of this shell game is no different from having the Treasury simply print money and spend it as it likes.

The fact that the Fed and Treasury dance this financial pas de deux shows how much they want to keep the public in the dark about what they are doing. And what they are doing, these days, is printing, out of thin air, 29 cents of every $1 being spent by the federal government.

QE an unsustainable practice

I have heard one financial guru after another discuss Quantitative Easing and its impact on interest rates and the stock market, but I’ve heard no one make clear that close to 30 percent of federal spending is now being financed via the printing press.

That’s an unsustainable practice. It will come to an end once Wall Street starts to understand exactly how much money is being printed and that it’s not being printed simply to stimulate the economy, but rather to pay for the spending of a government that is completely broke — with long-term expenditures obligations that exceed its long-term tax revenues by $205 trillion!

This present value fiscal gap is based on the Congressional Budget Office’s just-released long-term Alternative Fiscal Scenario projection. Closing this fiscal gap would require a 57 percent immediate and permanent hike in all federal taxes — starting today!

Prices will rise

When Wall Street wises up to our true fiscal condition (and some, like Bill Gross, already have), it will dump long-term bonds like hot potatoes. This will lead interest rates to jump and make people and banks very reluctant to hold money earning no return. In trying to swap their money for goods and services, the public will drive up prices.

As prices start to rise and fingers start pointing at the Fed for fueling the inflation, QE will be brought to an abrupt halt. At that point, Congress will have to come up with an extra 6 percent of GDP on a permanent basis either via huge tax hikes or huge spending cuts. Another option is simply to borrow the 6 percent. But this would raise the deficit, defined as the increase in Treasury bonds held by the public, from 4 to 10 percent of annual GDP if we take 2013 as the example. A 10 percent of GDP deficit would raise even more eyebrows on Wall Street and put further upward pressure on interest rates.

What are we waiting for?

But why haven’t prices started rising already if there is so much money floating around? This year’s inflation rate is running at just 1.5 percent. There are three answers.

First, three quarters of the newly created money hasn’t made its way into the blood stream of the economy – into M1 – the money supply held by the public. Instead, the Fed is paying the banks interest not to lend out the money, but to hold it within the Fed in what are called excess reserves.

Since 2007, the Monetary Base – the amount of money the Fed’s printed – has risen by $2.7 trillion and excess reserves have risen by $2.1 trillion. Normally excess reserves would be close to zero. Hence, the banks are sitting on $2.1 trillion they can lend to the private sector at a moment’s notice. I.e., we’re looking at a gi-normous reservoir filling up with trillions of dollars whose dam can break at any time. Once interest rates rise, these excess reserves will be lent out.

The fed says they can keep the excess reserves from getting lose by paying higher interest on reserves. But this entails poring yet more money into the reservoir. And if interest rates go sufficiently high, the Fed will call this practice quits.

As excess reserves are released to the economic wild, we’ll see M1, which was $1.4 trillion in 2007, rise from its current value of $2.6 trillion to $5.7 trillion. Since prices, other things being equal, are supposed to be proportional to M1, having M1 rise by 219 percent means that prices will rise by 219 percent.

But, and this is point two, other things aren’t equal. As interest rates and prices take off, money will become a hot potato. I.e., its velocity will rise. Having money move more rapidly through the economy – having faster money – is like having more money. Today, money has the slows; its velocity – the ratio GDP to M1 — is 6.6. Everybody’s happy to hold it because they aren’t losing much or any interest. But back in 2007, M1 was a warm potato with a velocity of 10.4.

If banks fully lend out their reserves and the velocity of money returns to 10.4, we’ll have enough M1, measured in effective units (adjusted for speed of circulation), to support a nominal GDP that’s 3.5 times larger than is now the case. I.e., we’ll have the wherewithal for almost a quadrupling of prices. But were prices to start moving rapidly higher, M1 would switch from being a warm to a hot potato. I.e., velocity would rise above 10.4, leading to yet faster money and higher inflation.

No easy exit

I hope you’re getting the point. Having addicted Congress and the Administration to the printing press, there is no easy exit strategy. Continuing on the current QE path spells even great risk of hyperinflation. But calling it quits requires much higher taxes, much lower spending, or much more net borrowing (with requisite future repayment) from the public. Yet weaning Uncle Sam from the printing press now is critical before his real need for a fix – paying for the Baby Boomers’ retirement benefits – kicks in.

The one caveat to this doom and gloom scenario is point three – increased domestic and global demand for dollars. The Great Recession put the fear of God into savers worldwide. And the fact that U.S. price level has risen since 2007 by only 15 percent whereas M1 has risen by 88 percent reflects a massive expansion of domestic and foreign demand for “safe” dollars. This is evidenced by the velocity of money falling from 10.4 to 6.6. People are now much more eager to hold and hold onto dollars than they were six years ago.

If this increased demand for dollars persists, let alone grows, inflation may remain low for quite a while. But our ability to get Americans and foreigners to hand over real goods and services in exchange for very few green pieces of paper is hardly guaranteed once everyone starts to understand the incredible rate at which Uncle Sam is printing and spending this paper. Once everyone gets it into their heads that prices are taking off, individual beliefs will become collective reality. This brings me to my bottom line: The more money the Fed prints, the more it risks everyone starting to expect and, consequently produce, hyperinflation.

Laurence Kotlikoff is Professor of Economics at Boston University and co-author of The Clash of Generation and author of Jimmy Stewart Is Dead.

 

 

This one chart shows you who’s really in control

This one chart shows you who’s really in control.

November 7, 2013
Bangkok, Thailand

Check out this chart below. It’s a graph of total US tax revenue as a percentage of the money supply, since 1900.

For example, in 1928, at the peak of the Roaring 20s, US money supply (M2) was $46.4 billion. That same year, the US government took in $3.9 billion in tax revenue.

So in 1928, tax revenue was 8.4% of the money supply.

In contrast, at the height of World War II in 1944, US tax revenue had increased to $42.4 billion. But money supply had also grown substantially, to $106.8 billion.

So in 1944, tax revenue was 39.74% of money supply.

11072013Chart1 This one chart shows you whos really in control

You can see from this chart that over the last 113 years, tax revenue as a percentage of the nation’s money supply has swung wildly, from as little as 3.65% to over 40%.

But something interesting happened in the 1970s.

1971 was a bifurcation point, and this model went from chaotic to stable. Since 1971, in fact, US tax revenue as a percentage of money supply has been almost a constant, steady 20%.

You can see this graphically below as we zoom in on the period from 1971 through 2013– the trend line is very flat.

11072013Chart2 This one chart shows you whos really in control

What does this mean? Remember– 1971 was the year that Richard Nixon severed the dollar’s convertibility to gold once and for all.

And in doing so, he handed unchecked, unrestrained, total control of the money supply to the Federal Reserve.

That’s what makes this data so interesting.

Prior to 1971, there was ZERO correlation between US tax revenue and money supply. Yet almost immediately after they handed the last bit of monetary control to the Federal Reserve, suddenly a very tight correlation emerged.

Furthermore, since 1971, marginal tax rates and tax brackets have been all over the board.

In the 70s, for example, the highest marginal tax was a whopping 70%. In the 80s it dropped to 28%.

And yet, the entire time, total US tax revenue has remained very tightly correlated to the money supply.

The conclusion is simple: People think they’re living in some kind of democratic republic. But the politicians they elect have zero control.

It doesn’t matter who you elect, what the politicians do, or how high/low they set tax rates. They could tax the rich. They could destroy the middle class. It doesn’t matter.

The fiscal revenues in the Land of the Free rest exclusively in the hands of a tiny banking elite. Everything else is just an illusion to conceal the truth… and make people think that they’re in control.

by Simon Black

Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

 

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