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Anti-Logic and the Keynesian “Stimulus” – William L. Anderson – Mises Daily

Anti-Logic and the Keynesian “Stimulus” – William L. Anderson – Mises Daily.

American political culture always seems to be “celebrating” the anniversary of something, be it JFK’s assassination (we just passed the 50th anniversary of that sad event) or the signing of some (mostly bad) legislation. The latest political activity to be enshrined with an anniversary is the so-called stimulus, the $800 billion monstrosity passed five years ago ostensibly to “put America back to work.”

Not surprisingly, the New York Times has editorialized that any criticism of the spending bill — at least any criticism which says “too much” was spent — is a Republican “myth and falsehood.” Not only was the “Stimulus” a legitimate piece of legislation, sniffed the NYT, but it also:

prevented a second recession that could have turned into a depression. It created or saved an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years. (Where are the jobs, Mr. Boehner.) It raised the nation’s economic output by 2 to 3 percent from 2009 to 2011. It prevented a significant increase in poverty — without it, 5.3 million additional people would have become poor in 2010.

Like all examples of the Broken Window Fallacy, the spirited defense of this spending bill is based upon “accounting” methods that count the people hired through “stimulus” spending as “new jobs” but fail to note how others might have lost their own means of employment. Now, this was a bill that, among other things, had workers rolling sod into the grass median of I-68 (which is near my home) in an area where runoff collected from tons of salt thrown onto roads by state highway crews (our area receives a lot of snowfall). Not surprisingly, within a year, all of the new grass was dead.

I liken the “stimulus” to throwing a bit of lighter fluid onto a pile of soaking wet wood. The flames pop up for a few seconds, but then disappear as the effects from the fluid go away. (No, repeated douses of “stimulus” fluid do not ultimately gain traction and then lead to a miraculous economic recovery.)

If Beltway political culture permits any criticism of the Holy Stimulus, it is this: “the stimulus wasn’t big enough.” Intones the NYT: “The stimulus could have done more good had it been bigger and more carefully constructed.”

The rest of the editorial is a compilation of near-plagiarism from Paul Krugman’s columns and blog posts, and it reflects how Keynesian anti-wogic works. The “logical” narrative goes as follows:

  • “Enough” government spending during a recession will bring the economy to “full employment.”
  • The economy is not at full employment.
  • Therefore, there wasn’t enough government spending.

Should one question the Keynesian premises of this awful syllogism, the standard answer is: America had “full employment” during World War II. (Robert Higgs has thoroughly debunked this enduring myth.) But, then, so did Germany and the U.S.S.R., according to Keynesian standards, but no one envies what people there experienced!

The problem that occurs when one wishes to interpret the results of the Stimulus is not due to bad politics. To put it another way, Stimulus spending always will confer political benefits, given that the money is transferred from taxpayers to preferred political constituents. Those footing the bill include both present and future taxpayers, since they will have to pay later for the public debt incurred to pay for present stimulus spending.

I make this point because the stimulus always has been presented as a government action that improved general or overall economic conditions, as opposed to being a political wealth-transfer scheme. The NYT editorial drips with what only can be a religious faith in the whole system, as though politicians seeking votes are going to “carefully” construct a process that is aimed at making certain political constituencies better off — but at the expense of other constituencies.

In reality, the government-based stimulus is based upon bad economics or, to be more specific, one of bad economic logic. To a Keynesian, an economy is a homogeneous mass into which the government stirs new batches of currency. The more currency thrown into the mix, the better the economy operates. One only needs to read Krugman’s writings to see that belief in full bloom.

Austrian economists, on the other hand, recognize the relationships within the economy, including relationships of factors of production to one another, and how those factors can be directed to their highest-valued uses, according to consumer choices. The U.S. economy remains mired in the mix of low output and high unemployment not because governments are failing to spend enough money but rather because governments are blocking the free flow of both consumers’ andproducers’ goods and preventing the real economic relationships to take place and trying to force artificial relationships, instead. (Green energy and ethanol, anyone?)

Simply put, the stimulus could work only if it were directing factors of production from lower-valued uses to higher-valued uses as determined ultimately by consumer choice. If that actually were the case, then the government would not have to force consumers to use stimulus-funded ethanol and electricity created by wind power.

Austrians arrive at their position through logic, but logic that is based in what we already know about human action. Unlike Keynesian “logic,” the premises of Austrian economics are sound, so the conclusions derived from them also are sound. No wonder the Austrian position is banned from the NYT editorial page!

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

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William Anderson, an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute, teaches economics at Frostburg State University. Send him mail. See William L. Anderson’s article archives.

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China Spurs Market Rout Blamed on Fed, Goldman Sachs AM Says – Bloomberg

China Spurs Market Rout Blamed on Fed, Goldman Sachs AM Says – Bloomberg.

By Benjamin Purvis and Candice Zachariahs  Feb 7, 2014 12:56 AM ET

China’s policy shifts are a bigger driver of the selloff in emerging markets than the Federal Reserve’s decision to dial back stimulus, according to Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

Volatility will rise toward its long-term average and that means an increase in risk premiums, said Philip Moffitt, head of fixed income in Sydney for Asia and the Pacific at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which had $991 billion of assets under supervision worldwide as of September. The risks for different emerging economies will become more idiosyncratic and Mexico presents a buying opportunity following the rout, he said.

Markets from Turkey to South Africa and Argentina were roiled during the past month as investors sold off emerging-economy currencies, stocks and bonds, prompting emergency measures from governments and central banks. The bout of risk aversion follows the Fed’s decision to scale back asset purchases and China’s pledge to rein in leverage and give market forces a more decisive role in allocating resources.

“The selloff in emerging markets has much more to do with China than with Fed tapering,” Moffitt said yesterday in an interview in Sydney. “China’s such a big source of global demand, in particular for other emerging markets, uncertainty’s going to stay high and risk premiums should be expanding.”

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Philip Moffitt, head of fixed income in Sydney for Asia and the Pacific at Goldman… Read More

Credit Boom

The worst isn’t over for emerging markets, Mark Mobius, who oversees more than $50 billion in developing nations as an executive chairman at Templeton Emerging Markets Group, said in an interview. Prices can decline further or take time to stabilize, he said.

China’s policy makers have attempted to rein in the unprecedented credit boom they unleashed in 2008-2009 amid the global financial crisis. Money market rates in China have surged, the cost of insuring against credit default by banks has increased and payment difficulties are emerging in the country’s $6 trillion shadow-banking industry.

“They’re looking to create a market that prices credit risk, rather than having prices imposed,” Moffitt said. “In the absence of a strong mechanism for pricing credit risk, there’s likely to be a lot of uncertainty and volatility.”

The world’s second-largest economy is predicted to expand by 7.4 percent this year, the slowest pace since 1990, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey.

Diverging Outlooks

The slowdown in China comes as the U.S. economy is showing signs of a pickup, allowing the Fed to trim its monthly bond purchases to $65 billion from $85 billion. U.S. growth is expected to accelerate to 2.8 percent in 2014 from 1.9 percent last year, according to a another Bloomberg poll.

Moffitt said investing in Mexico would be his top trade at the moment because the country’s fundamental outlook is strong even though it has been affected by the global selloff.

“There’s been outflow from emerging-market assets and when you get that kind of flow people sell what they can sell, often high-quality assets,” he said. “It will benefit from the strong U.S. growth we’re expecting and there’s the prospect for rate cuts, so Mexico stands out to us on both value and fundamentals.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Benjamin Purvis in Sydney at bpurvis@bloomberg.net; Candice Zachariahs in Sydney at czachariahs2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katrina Nicholas at knicholas2@bloomberg.net; Garfield Reynolds at greynolds1@bloomberg.net

Davos 2014: Larry Summers attacks George Osborne’s austerity programme | Business | theguardian.com

Davos 2014: Larry Summers attacks George Osborne’s austerity programme | Business | theguardian.com.

Larry Summers and George Osborne

Larry Summers, Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda and George Osborne. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

George Osborne‘s handling of the economy was strongly attacked byLarry Summers as the former US Treasury secretary poured criticism on the UK’s austerity programme, its welfare cuts for poor people and its strategy for preventing a housing bubble.

Summers, a long-running critic of the coalition government, said the chancellor was wrong to blame the eurozone crisis for the weakness of business investment and that governments should be spending more on infrastructure to tackle the threat of “secular stagnation”.

“I see less need to impose cuts on people who are vulnerable in the US context than the chancellor sees in the European context”, Summers said in a session on the future of monetary policy at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Making it clear that he believed Britain would have done better to follow the US approach in which tackling the budget deficit has been seen as less important than restoring growth, Summers said: “It’s several years since the US exceeded its peak GDP before the crisis – that still hasn’t happened in the UK.”

The chancellor put up a staunch defence of his approach, noting Britain was creating jobs, had sound economic policies and a new system for controlling the City that was the envy of the world. Osborne said businesses had been sitting on their cash while the euro was going through “a near-death experience” but predicted that investment spending was now about to start to rising.

The chancellor responded to Summers’s charge that Britain, unlike the US, had failed to raise national output above its pre-recession levels by saying that the UK had suffered a deeper slump and was more dependent on the financial sector for its growth.

“We did have a much bigger fall in GDP [than in the US], and the impact of the crisis was even harder because our banking sector was a larger share of the economy than in America.

“The great recession in the UK had an even greater effect – and we were one of the worse effected of any of the western economies.”

But Summers, the man once a front-runner to succeed Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve responded to Osborne’s claim that the Bank of England had tools to rein in the property market by pointedly rubbishing the initiative.

“I worry about macro-prudential complacency”, Summers said, a reference to the notion that central banks can head off problems before they arise by actions to restrain the animal spirits of lenders.

Noting that policymakers had failed to spot the stock market crash of 1987 and the sub-prime mortgage crisis, Summers said he was unclear about how macro-prudential policies would work and said tougher measures were needed to make markets safe from “ignorance and error”.

Osborne said he agreed with the need for more infrastructure spending, but added there was no “free lunch”. Governments needed to take tough decisions elsewhere in your budgets, in areas such as welfare spending.

“Without a credible fiscal policy, as many other countries learned in this crisis, you don’t have a credible monetary policy and your market rates go up.

“So while infrastructure spending is needed, you need to make hard choices as finance minister as how to pay for it.”

Summers rejected Osborne’s argument that high borrowing costs in troubled eurozone countries were the result of governments over-spending and losing the trust of financial markets.

He said high borrowing costs were due to the specific nature of the eurozone currency – the fixed exchange rate and the inability of individual countries to tailor their economic policies to their own needs.

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Two Powder Kegs Ready to Blow: China & India

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Two Powder Kegs Ready to Blow: China & India.

China and India are both powder kegs awaiting a spark for the same reason: systemic corruption.

The conventional view of China and India sports not one but two pair of rose-colored glasses: Chindia (even the portmanteau word is chirpy) is the world’s engine of growth, and this rapid economic growth is chipping away at structural political and social problems.

Nice, especially from a distance. But on the ground, China and India (not Chindia–there is no such entity) are both powder kegs awaiting a spark for the same reason: systemic corruption in every nook and cranny of both nations. The conventional rose-colored view is that corruption will inevitably decline with modernization and economic growth.

This is simply wrong on multiple levels: as the opportunities for crony/neofeudal skimming increase, so does corruption. As the scale of the economy increases, so does the scale of corruption.

China’s “princelings” (offspring and family of the inner political circle and top apparatchiks of the Communist Party) are billionaires, not mere millionaires. A recent expose of offshore accounts held by various Chinese billionaires estimated the wealth skimmed and transferred our of China at between $1 trillion and $4 trillion: China’s Epic Offshore Wealth Revealed: How Chinese Oligarchs Quietly Parked Up To $4 Trillion In The Caribbean.

Even the top number is a gross underestimate, as $4 trillion only accounts for the skim of the top layer; beneath that 1/10th of 1% is the rest of the top 1%, tens of thousands of lower-level political functionaries who skimmed billions of dollars forcing peasants off their land and selling development rights to crony developers–to name but one common skim of many.

A more realistic estimate might be $6 trillion–half of China’s gross domestic product (GDP). Consider the ramifications of the many models of systemic corruption at the top: How a PLA General Built a Web of Corruption to Amass a Fortune.

I know from confidential on-the-ground sources that a significant percentage of the entire top political layer of 3rd, 4th and 5th tier cities have left China for well-padded nests in the West: Australia and Canada are popular choices, as the right to immigrate can be purchased–just bring in the requisite sum of cash looted from peasants. (The U.S. also grants special immigration status to those bringing in major capital and declaring their intent to hire Americans: easy enough with looted millions.)

(Sidebar on how even the lowly functionary skimmer can get huge sums out of China: take a “vacation” to Macau. Buy $1 million in casino chips with your looted yuan. Lose $50,000 at the tables and then go cash in your remaining chips in U.S. dollars. Deposit the dollars in a Hong Kong or other Asian bank and then transfer the cash to L.A. or Vancouver to buy a house for cash. Repeat as necessary.)

All this systemic corruption is accepted as long as the conveyor belt of wealth is moving: that the previous political Plutocracy skimmed their $4 trillion and absconded with their ill-gotten gains is OK to their replacements, as long as there is another $6 trillion to be skimmed.

The problem is there isn’t another $6 trillion to be skimmed. It has taken an enormous credit bubble of $23 trillion (The $23 Trillion Credit Bubble In China Is Starting To Collapse – What Next?) plus the monumental credit expansion of the shadow banking system in China to enable the skimming of $6 trillion by the political/financial Plutocracy.

This $23 trillion credit bubble is roughly twice the size of China’s entire GDP ($12 trillion). That this credit bubble is generating less return in the real economy is obvious–diminishing returns have set in with a vengeance.

The revolution never starts with the oppressed peasantry–it starts with the bourgeois who bought the fantasy of another $6 trillion to be skimmed and credit bubbles/ real estate valuations that never go down. The leadership in China has managed to create a propaganda bubble of epic proportions: Chinese leaders are supposed to have a long-term view that puts the West to shame.

Alas, the secret view of China’s leadership is considerably shorter-term: U.S. dollars in Swiss bank accounts, real estate in Vancouver, San Francisco, New York City, London, Geneva, etc. and whatever other assets can be scooped up with looted billions.

Corruption isn’t just abstract: Much of China’s building boom will not last a generation, much less a long-term timeline. This toppled tower is an apt metaphor for China’s financialized crony-capitalist credit bubble and its shoddy corruption-riddled construction:

Nine held over Shanghai building collapse
The Chinese authorities are holding nine people in connection with the collapse of a 13-storey block of flats, raising fresh questions about corruption and shoddy practices in China’s construction industry.

China’s Towers and U.S. McMansions: When Things Fall Apart (Literally) (April 14, 2010).

India’s system is different, but equally corrupt. Combine feudalism and religious tradition with a helping of modern crony capitalism and neofeudal looting, add a dash of post-Imperial flavoring and voila, corruption on every level.

The sad irony of this pervasive, systemic corruption that enriches the Plutocracy is that the average Indian and Chinese citizen is basically honest. Non-Elites will tolerate the corruption at the top as long as they believe their own prosperity is advancing. Once it becomes clear that their prosperity has been hijacked by the Plutocracy, tolerance of oppression, corruption and the vast inequalities of wealth being skimmed by the well-connected few will wear thin.

The spark that ignites the powder keg cannot be predicted or suppressed. Don’t look to the disenfranchised peasantry as the source, though they are ready enough to cast off the Powers That Be; look to those who believed the gilded promises issued by the looters and discovered that the fruits of their labor and their hopes is disillusionment on a scale as vast as the skim looted from their nation by their self-serving leadership.

World Bank Raises Growth Forecasts as Richest Nations Strengthen – Bloomberg

World Bank Raises Growth Forecasts as Richest Nations Strengthen – Bloomberg.

The World Bank raised its global growth forecasts as the easing of austerity policies in advanced economies supports their recovery, boosting prospects for developing markets’ exports.

The Washington-based lender sees the world economy expanding 3.2 percent this year, compared with a June projection of 3 percent and up from 2.4 percent in 2013. The forecast for the richest nations was raised to 2.2 percent from 2 percent. Part of the increase reflects improvement in the 18-country euro area, with the U.S. ahead of developed peers, growing twice as fast as Japan.

The report by the institution that’s trying to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 indicates a near-doubling of the growth in world trade this year from 2012, as developed economies lift export-reliant emerging nations. At the same time, the withdrawal of monetary stimulus in the U.S. may raise market interest rates, hurting poorer countries as investors return to assets such as Treasuries, according to the bank.

“This strengthening of output among high-income countries marks a significant shift from recent years when developing countriesalone pulled the global economy forward,” the bank said yesterday in its Global Economic Prospects report published twice a year. Import demand from the richest nations “should help compensate for the inevitable tightening of global financial conditions that will arise as monetary policy in high-income economies is normalized.”

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Produce is sold at a market in Kolkata. Growth in developing countries will accelerate… Read More

Fed Tapering

The bank’s forecasts hinge on the orderly unwinding of Federal Reserve stimulus, which is starting this month with the trimming of monthly bond purchases to $75 billion from $85 billion. If investors react abruptly in coming months, as they did in May when the central bank mentioned the possibility of tapering, capital inflows to developing economies could drop again, according to the report.

“To date, the gradual withdrawal of quantitative easing has gone smoothly,” Andrew Burns, the report’s lead author, said in a statement. “If interest rates rise too rapidly, capital flows to developing countries could fall by 50 percent or more for several months — potentially provoking a crisis in some of the more vulnerable economies.”

The bank sees a global expansion of 3.4 percent in 2015, compared with 3.3 percent predicted in June.

In the U.S., where growth is seen accelerating to 2.8 percent this year, unchanged from the outlook in June, the recent budget compromise in Congress will ease spending cuts previously in place and boost confidence from households and businesses, the bank said.

Japan’s Outlook

The bank held its forecast this year for Japan at 1.4 percent, while cautioning that the reforms of the economy promised by the government “have disappointed thus far, raising doubts about whether the improvement in economic performance can be sustained over the medium to longer term.”

It raised its prediction for the euro region to 1.1 percent for this year from 0.9 percent in June as the monetary union comes out of it debt crisis, propelled by Germany and showing improvement in fragile economies including Spain and Italy.

“The euro area is where the U.S. was a year and a half or two years ago, where growth is starting to go positive but it’s still hesitant,” Burns, also the bank’s manager of global macroeconomics, said in a phone interview. “We’re not going to be totally convinced until this gathers a little more steam.”

The bank estimates that investors withdrew $64 billion from developing-country mutual funds between June and August, with the impact most pronounced on middle-income countries includingBrazilIndia and Turkey. Not all economies were hit the same way, as China or Mexico were less affected because of stronger economic fundamentals, the bank said.

Developing World

The 2014 forecast for developing markets was cut to 5.3 percent from 5.6 percent.

The bank lowered its forecast for China this year to 7.7 percent from 8 percent, saying the world’s second-largest economy is shifting “to slower but more sustainable consumption-led growth.”

It cut projections for Brazil to 2.4 percent from 4 percent, for Mexico to 3.4 percent from 3.9 percent and for India to 6.2 percent from 6.5 percent.

Growth in developing countries will accelerate “modestly” between 2013 an 2016, at a pace about 2.2 percentage points below that of the years preceding the global crisis, according to the bank’s report.

“The slower growth is not cause for concern,” according to the report. “More than two-thirds of the slowdown reflects a decline in the cyclical component of growth and less than one-third is due to slower potential growth.”

Still, not all countries are well placed to respond to capital outflows and higher interest rates, according to the bank, which urged policy makers to prepare now for such an outcome.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sandrine Rastello in Washington atsrastello@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net

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