The Austrian School of Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 3rd, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published February 27th, 2012)

Because of the Unpredictable Human Element in all Economic Exchanges the Austrian School is more Laissez-Faire

Name some of the great inventions economists gave us.  The computer?  The Internet?  The cell phone?  The car?  The jumbo jet?  Television?  Air conditioning?  The automatic dishwasher?  No.  Amazingly, economists did not invent any of these brilliant inventions.  And economists didn’t predict any of these inventions.  Not a one.  Despite how brilliant they are.  Well, brilliant by their standard.  In their particular field.  For economists really aren’t that smart.  Their ‘expertise’ is in the realm of the social sciences.  The faux sciences where people try to quantify the unquantifiable.  Using mathematical equations to explain and predict human behavior.  Which is what economists do.  Especially Keynesian economists.  Who think they are smarter than people.  And markets.

But there is a school of economic thought that doesn’t believe we can quantify human activity.  The Austrian school.  Where Austrian economics began.  In Vienna.  Where the great Austrian economists gathered.  Carl Menger.  Ludwig von Mises.  And Friedrich Hayek.  To name a few.  Who understood that economics is the sum total of millions of people making individual human decisions.  Human being key.  And why we can’t reduce economics down to a set of mathematical equations.  Because you can’t quantify human behavior.  Contrary to what the Keynesians believe.  Which is why these two schools are at odds with each other.  With people even donning the personas of Keynes and Hayek to engage in economic debate.

Keynesian economics is more mainstream than the Austrian school.  Because it calls for the government to interfere with market forces.  To manipulate them.  To make markets produce different results from those they would have if left alone.  Something governments love to do.  Especially if it calls for taxing and spending.  Which Keynesian economics highly encourage.  To fix market ‘failures’.  And recessions.  By contrast, because of the unpredictable human element in all economic exchanges, the Austrian school is more laissez-faire.  They believe more in the separation of the government from things economic.  Economic exchanges are best left to the invisible hand.  What Adam Smith called the sum total of the millions of human decisions made by millions of people.  Who are maximizing their own economic well being.  And when we do we maximize the economic well being of the economy as a whole.  For the Austrian economist does not believe he or she is smarter than people.  Or markets.  Which is why an economist never gave us any brilliant invention.  Nor did their equations predict any inventor inventing a great invention.  And why economists have day jobs.  For if they were as brilliant and prophetic as they claim to be they could see into the future and know which stocks to buy to get rich so they could give up their day jobs.  When they’re able to do that we should start listening to them.  But not before.

Low Interest Rates cause Malinvestment and Speculation which puts Banks in Danger of Financial Collapse

Keynesian economics really took off with central banking.  And fractional reserve banking.  Monetary tools to control the money supply.  That in the Keynesian world was supposed to end business cycles and recessions as we knew them.  The Austrian school argues that using these monetary tools only distorts the business cycle.  And makes recessions worse.  Here’s how it works.  The central bank lowers interest rates by increasing the money supply (via open market transactions, lowering reserve requirements in fractional reserve banking or by printing money).  Lower interest rates encourage people to borrow money to buy houses, cars, kitchen appliances, home theater systems, etc.  This new economic activity encourages businesses to hire new workers to meet the new demand.  Ergo, recession over.  Simple math, right?  Only there’s a bit of a problem.  Some of our worst recessions have come during the era of Keynesian economics.  Including the worst recession of all time.  The Great Depression.  Which proves the Austrian point that the use of Keynesian policies to end recessions only makes recessions worse.  (Economists debate the causes of the Great Depression to this day.  Understanding the causes is not the point here.  The point is that it happened.  When recessions were supposed to be a thing of the past when using Keynesian policies.)

The problem is that these are not real economic expansions.  They’re artificial ones.  Created by cheap credit.  Which the central bank creates by forcing interest rates below actual market interest rates.  Which causes a whole host of problems.  In particular corrupting the banking system.  Banks offer interest rates to encourage people to save their money for future use (like retirement) instead of spending it in the here and now.  This is where savings (or investment capital) come from.  Banks pay depositors interest on their deposits.  And then loan out this money to others who need investment capital to start businesses.  To expand businesses.  To buy businesses.  Whatever.  They borrow money to invest so they can expand economic activity.  And make more profits.

But investment capital from savings is different from investment capital from an expansion of the money supply.  Because businesses will act as if the trend has shifted from consumption (spending now) to investment (spending later).  So they borrow to expand operations.  All because of the false signal of the artificially low interest rates.  They borrow money.  Over-invest.  And make bad investments.  Even speculate.  What Austrians call malinvestments.  But there was no shift from consumption to investment.  Savings haven’t increased.  In fact, with all those new loans on the books the banks see a shift in the other direction.  Because they have loaned out more money while the savings rate of their depositors did not change.  Which produced on their books a reduction in the net savings rate.  Leaving them more dangerously leveraged than before the credit expansion.  Also, those lower interest rates also decrease the interest rate on savings accounts.  Discouraging people from saving their money.  Which further reduces the savings rate of depositors.  Finally, those lower interest rates reduce the income stream on their loans.  Leaving them even more dangerously leveraged.  Putting them at risk of financial collapse should many of their loans go bad.

Keynesian Economics is more about Power whereas the Austrian School is more about Economics

These artificially low interest rates fuel malinvestment and speculation.  Cheap credit has everyone, flush with borrowed funds, bidding up prices (real estate, construction, machinery, raw material, etc.).  This alters the natural order of things.  The automatic pricing mechanism of the free market.  And reallocates resources to these higher prices.  Away from where the market would have otherwise directed them.  Creating great shortages and high prices in some areas.  And great surpluses of stuff no one wants to buy at any price in other areas.  Sort of like those Soviet stores full of stuff no one wanted to buy while people stood in lines for hours to buy toilet paper and soap.  (But not quite that bad.)  Then comes the day when all those investments don’t produce any returns.  Which leaves these businesses, investors and speculators with a lot of debt with no income stream to pay for it.  They drove up prices.  Created great asset bubbles.  Overbuilt their capacity.  Bought assets at such high prices that they’ll never realize a gain from them.  They know what’s coming next.  And in some darkened office someone pours a glass of scotch and murmurs, “My God, what have we done?”

The central bank may try to delay this day of reckoning.  By keeping interest rates low.  But that only allows asset bubbles to get bigger.  Making the inevitable correction more painful.  But eventually the central bank has to step in and raise interest rates.  Because all of that ‘bidding up of prices’ finally makes its way down to the consumer level.  And sparks off some nasty inflation.  So rates go up.  Credit becomes more expensive.  Often leaving businesses and speculators to try and refinance bad debt at higher rates.  Debt that has no income stream to pay for it.  Either forcing business to cut costs elsewhere.  Or file bankruptcy.  Which ripples through the banking system.  Causing a lot of those highly leveraged banks to fail with them.  Thus making the resulting recession far more painful and more long-lasting than necessary.  Thanks to Keynesian economics.  At least, according to the Austrian school.  And much of the last century of history.

The Austrian school believes the market should determine interest rates.  Not central bankers.  They’re not big fans of fractional reserve banking, either.  Which only empowers central bankers to cause all of their mischief.  Which is why Keynesians don’t like Austrians.  Because Keynesians, and politicians, like that power.  For they believe that they are smarter than the people making economic exchanges.  Smarter than the market.  And they just love having control over all of that money.  Which comes in pretty handy when playing politics.  Which is ultimately the goal of Keynesian economics.  Whereas the Austrian school is more about economics.

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Jimmy Carter, Malaise, Ronald Reagan, Austrian Economics, Morning in America, Barack Obama, Keynesian Economics and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 4th, 2012

History 101

It was Morning in America again because Ronald Reagan reduced the Misery Index by 42.7%

Ronald Reagan was a supply-sider when it came to economics.  Of the Austrian school variety.  In fact, one of his campaign promises was to bring back the gold standard.  A very Austrian thing.  The Austrian school predates the Keynesian school.  When the focus was on the stages of production.  Not on consumer spending.  These policies served the nation well.  They (and the gold standard) exploded American ingenuity and economic activity in the 19th century.  Making the U.S. the number one economy in the world.  Surpassing the nation that held the top spot for a century or more.  Perhaps the last great empire.  Great Britain.

Following the stagflation and misery (misery index = inflation rate + unemployment rate) of the Seventies Reagan promised to cut taxes and governmental regulations.  To make it easier for businesses to create economic activity.  Easier to create jobs.  And he did.  Among other things.  Such as rebuilding the military that the Carter administration severely weakened during the Seventies (it was so bad that the Soviet Union put together a first-strike nuclear option.  Because they thought they could win a nuclear war with Jimmy Carter as president).  During the 1980 campaign Reagan asked the people if they were better off after 4 years of Jimmy Carter.  The answer was no.  Four years later, though, they were.  Here’s why.  (Note:  We used so many sources that we didn’t source them here to save space.  The inflation rate and unemployment rates are for August of the respective years.  The dollar amounts are annual totals with some estimates added to take them to the end of 2012.  The debt and GDP are not adjusted for inflation as they are only 4 years apart.  Gas prices and median income are adjusted for inflation.  There may be some error in these numbers.  But overall we believe the information they provide fairly states the economic results of the presidents’ policies.  (This note applies to both tables.))

Reagan entered office with some horrendous numbers.  The Carter administration was printing so much money that inflation was at 12.9% in 1980.  Added to the unemployment rate that brought the misery index to 20.6%.  A huge number.  To be fair Carter tapped Paul Volcker to be Fed Chairman and he began the policy of reigning in inflation.  But Carter did this far too late.  The only way to cure high inflation is with a nasty recession.  Which Volcker gave Ronald Reagan.  But it worked.  By 1984 inflation fell 8.8 points or 66.7%.  Even with this nasty recession the unemployment rate fell 0.2 points or 2.6%.  Which shaved 8.8 points off of the miserable index.  Or reducing it by 42.7%.  This is why it was morning in America again.  The Left to this day say “yeah, but at what cost?” and point to the record deficits of the Reagan administration.  Saying this is the price of tax cuts.  But they’re wrong.  Yes, the debt went up.  But it wasn’t because of the tax cuts.  Because those tax cuts stimulated economic activity.  GDP rose 12.6% by 1984.  And tax receipts even increased with those lower tax rates.  Because of the higher GDP.  By 1984 Reagan’s policies increased tax revenue by 28.9%.  And on a personal level the median income even increased 0.4%.  And this following a very bad recession a few years earlier.  Finally, gas prices fell 22.2%.  And the way Americans feel about rising gas prices this was truly morning in America again.

To Top off the General Malaise of the Obama Economy Gas Prices Soared while Median Income Fell

Barack Obama is a Keynesian through and through.  A believer in pure demand-side economics.  To that end his administration focused everything on increasing consumer spending.  Tax and spend policies.  Income redistribution.  Deficit spending.  Anything to make America ‘more fair.’  Raising taxes on the rich so the poor can spend more money.  With the Keynesian multiplier they believe this is the path to economic prosperity.  Just doing everything within their power to put more spending money into the hands of poorer people.  Increasing government regulation, fees and fines as well as taxes to bring more money in Washington so they can redistribute it.  Or spend it directly on things like roads and bridges.  Or solar power companies.  Even paying people to dig a hole and fill it back in.  Because these people will take their wages and spend them.  Creating economic activity.

So President Obama put Keynesian economics to work.  Beginning with a $787 billion stimulus bill.  Investments into green energy and the jobs of the future.  Like a Department of Energy loan of $528 million to the now bankrupt Solyndra.  Which was only one of many loans.  The bailout of the UAW pension fund (aka the auto bailout).  The government poured $528 million into GM.  And President Obama touted the Chevy Volt, boasting that GM would sell a million each year bringing his green goals to fruition (GM is struggling to sell 10,000 Volts a year).  A lot of malinvestment as the Austrians would say.  But a Keynesian sees any government expenditure as a good investment.  Because if all the people who receive this government money spends at least 80% of it (while saving only 20%) the Keynesian multiplier will be five.  Meaning that the net gain in GDP will be five times whatever the government spends.  So how has that worked for the president?  Well, here are his numbers:

The government spent so much money that the federal debt increased by $5.4 trillion.  Trillion with a ‘T’.  That’s over a trillion dollar deficit each of the president’s 4 years in office.  And his last year isn’t even a whole year.  Unprecedented until President Obama.  And what did all of that federal spending get us after about 4 years?  An unemployment rate 2.1 points higher.  Or 33.9% higher than when he took office.  Inflation fell but it did nothing to spur GDP growth which grew at an anemic 3.1%.  Which is less than a percentage point a year.  Which is why the Great Recession lingers still.  Meanwhile the Chinese are having a bad year with a GDP growth of 7.8%.  So all of that spending didn’t help at all.  In fact, it made things worse.  The economic activity is so bad that even tax receipts fell 2.2% after four years of President Obama.  Which has many in his party saying that we need to raise tax rates.  Contrary to what Ronald Reagan did.  And to top off the general malaise of the Obama economy gas prices soared 107.6% under his presidency.  While the median income fell 7.3%.  One has to look hard to find any positive news from the Obama economy.  And there is one.  Inflation did fall.  But even that really isn’t good.  As it may be an indicator of a looming deflationary spiral.  Giving America a lost decade.  Like Japan’s Lost Decade.

The Flaw in Keynesian Thinking is that it Ignores the Layers of Economic Activity above the Consumer Level

So there you have an Austrian and a Keynesian.  Both entered office during bad economic times.  Although things were much worse when President Reagan took office than when President Obama took office.  The misery index was 20.6% in 1980.  It was only 11.6% in 2008.  About half as bad for President Obama than it was for President Reagan.  It came down 16.4% under Obama.  But it came down 42.7% under Reagan.  Which is why it isn’t morning in America under President Obama.  Reagan increased tax receipts by 28.9 % by the end of his first term.  They fell 2.2% under Obama.  Adjusted for inflation Reagan averaged annual deficits of $348 billion.  That’s billion with a ‘B’.  Obama averaged $1.324 trillion.  That’s trillion with a ‘T’.  Or 280% higher than Ronald Reagan.  Gas prices fell 22.2% under Reagan.  They rose 107.6% under Obama.  Median income barely rose 0.4% under Reagan.  But it fell 7.3% under Obama.  In short there is nothing in the Obama economic record that is better than the Reagan economic record.

And why is this?  Because Obama’s policies are Keynesian.  While Reagan’s policies were Austrian.  Reagan focused on the stages of production to improve economic activity.  Cutting taxes.  Reducing regulatory compliance costs.  Creating a business-friendly environment.  A system that rewarded success.  Whereas Obama focused on consumer spending.  Tax, borrow and print (i.e., quantitative easing).  So the government could spend.  Putting more money into the pockets of consumers.  Which stimulated only the last stage in the stages of production.  So while some consumers had more money it was still a business-unfriendly environment.  Where tax, regulatory and environmental policies (as well as the uncertainty of Obamacare) hindered business growth everywhere upstream from retail sales.  From raw material extraction to industrial processing to construction to manufactured goods.  Where these Obama’s policies punish success.  For the bigger you get the more you pay in taxes and regulatory compliance costs.

The greatest flaw with Keynesian economics is that it looks at aggregate supply and demand.  With a focus on consumer spending.  And ignores the layers of economic activity that happens before the consumer level.  The Austrian school understands this.  As did the British when she became one of the greatest empires of all times.  As did America during the 19th century.  No nation became an economic superpower using Keynesian economics.  Japan grew to be a great economic power during the Fifties and Sixties.  Then went Keynesian in the Eighties and suffered their Lost Decade in the Nineties.  Some Keynesians like to point to China as an example of the success of Keynesian economics.  But they still have a fairly restrictive police state.  And their economic policies are hauntingly similar to Japan’s.  Some have even posited that it is very possible that China could suffer the same fate as Japan.  And suffer a deflationary spiral.  Resulting in a lost decade for China.  Which is very plausible considering the Chinese practice state-capitalism where the state partners closely with businesses.  Which is what the Japanese did in the Eighties.  And it hasn’t been great for them since.  As it hasn’t been great in America economically since the current administration.

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The Chicago School of Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 5th, 2012

Economics 101

Monetarists believe in Laissez-Faire Capitalism and Fiat Money

Keynesian economics supports hands-on government management of the economy.  Using fiscal and monetary policy to move the aggregate demand curve at will to end business cycles.  The boom bust cycles between inflation and recession.  Leaving only the inflationary boom times.   Using tax and spend fiscal policies.  Or simply printing money for government expenditures.  For in Keynesian economics consumption is key.  The more of it the better.  And when people stop buying things the government should step in and pick up the consumption slack.

The Austrian school is a more hands-off approach.  The markets should be free.  Laissez-faire capitalism.  And the business cycle should remain.  For it is a necessary part of the economy.  Part of the automatic pricing mechanism that adjusts supply to meet demand.  When people demand more prices go up.  Encouraging businesses to expand production to sell at these higher prices (inflationary expansion).  Then when supply exceeds demand businesses have excessive inventory that they can’t sell anymore at those higher prices.  So they cut their prices to sell off this excessive supply (deflationary recession).  Also, that hands-off approach means no playing with monetary policy.  Austrians prefer a gold standard to prevent central bank mischief that results in inflation.

The Chicago school of economics takes a little from each of these schools.  Like the Austrians they believe that government should take a hands-off approach in the economy.  Markets should be free with minimum government intervention.  But unlike Austrians, they hate gold.  And blame the gold standard for causing the Great Depression.  Instead, they believe in the flexibility of fiat money.  As do the Keynesians.  But with a strict monetary policy to minimize inflation (which is why proponents of this school were also called monetarists).  Unlike the Keynesians.  For monetarists believe only a government’s monetary policy can cause runaway inflation.

(This is a gross simplification of these three schools.  A more detailed and comprehensive study would be a bit overwhelming as well as extremely boring.  But you get the gist.  At least, for the point of this discussion.)

We used Gold and Silver for Money because it was Durable, Portable, Divisible, Fungible, Scarce, Etc.

At the heart of the difference between these schools is money.  So a refresher course on money is in order.  Money stores wealth temporarily.  When we create something of value (a good or a service) we can use that value to trade for something we want.  We used to barter with other creative people who made value of their own.  But as the economy got more complex it took more and more time to find people to trade with.  You had to find someone who had what you wanted who also wanted what you had.  If you baked bread and wanted shoes you had to find a shoemaker who wanted bread.  Not impossible.  But it took a lot of time to find these people to trade with.

Then someone had a brilliant idea.  They figured they could trade their good or service NOT for something THEY wanted but something OTHER people would want.  Such as tobacco.  Whiskey.  Or grain.  These things were valuable.  Other people would want them.  So they could easily trade their good or service for one of these things.  And then later trade it for what they wanted.  And money was born.  For various reasons (durable, portable, divisible, fungible, scarce, etc.) we chose gold and silver as our money of choice.  Due to the inconvenience and danger of carrying these precious metals around, though, we stored our precious metals in a vault and used ‘receipts’ of that deposit as currency.  And the gold standard was born.

To understand the gold standard think of a balance scale.  The kind where you put weights on one side to balance the load on the other.  When the scale balances the weight of the load equals the sum of the weights needed to make the scale balance.  Now imagine a scale like this where the VALUE of all goods and services (created by talented people) are on one side.  And all the precious metal in the gold standard are on the other.  These must be in balance.  And the sum of our currency must equal the amount of precious metal.  (Because they are ‘receipts’ for all that gold and silver we have locked up someplace.)  This prevents the government from creating inflation.  If you want to issue more money you have to put more precious metal onto the scale.  You just can’t print money.  For when you do and you don’t increase the amount of precious metal on the scale you depreciate the currency.  Because more of it equals the same amount of precious metal.  For more currency to equal the same amount of precious metal then each unit of currency has to be worth less.  And when each unit is worth less it takes more of them to buy the same things they bought before.  Thus raising prices.  If a government prints more currency without adding more precious metals on the scale they increase the value of that precious metal when MEASURED in that currency.  It becomes worth more.  In other words, you can trade that precious metal for more of that depreciated currency than before they depreciated it.  You do this too much and eventually people will prefer the precious metal over the currency.  They’ll lose faith in the currency.  And when that happens the economy collapses.  As people move back towards a barter system.

Milton Friedman wanted the Responsibility of the Gold Standard without Gold’s Constraint on increasing the Money Supply

A healthy economy needs a stable currency.  One that people don’t lose faith in.  Imagine trying to shop without money.  Instead, taking things to trade for the groceries you need.  Not very efficient.  So we need a stable currency.  And the gold standard gives us that.  However, the thing that makes gold or silver a stable currency, its scarcity, creates a liability.  Let’s go back to that balance scale.  To the side that contains the value of all goods and services.  Let’s say it increases.  But the precious metal on the other side doesn’t.  Which means the value of that precious metal increases.  The currency must equal the value of that precious metal.  So the value of the currency increases.  And prices fall.  It takes less of it to buy the same things it bought before.  Not a bad thing for consumers.  But it plays havoc with those who borrowed money before this appreciation.  Because they now have to repay money that is worth more than when what is was worth when they borrowed it.  Which hurt farmers during the 1920s.  Who borrowed a lot of money to mechanize their farms.  Which helped to greatly increase farm yields.  And increased food supplies while demand remained unchanged.  Which, of course, lowered farm prices.  The supply increased on the scale.  But the amount of gold didn’t.  Thus increasing the value of the gold.  And the currency.  Making prices fall.  Kicking off the deflationary spiral of the Great Depression.  Or so say the monetarists.

Now the monetarists wanted to get rid of the gold supply.  The Keynesians did, too.  But they wanted to do it so they could print and spend money.  Which they did during the Seventies.  Creating both a high unemployment rate and a high inflation rate.  Something that wasn’t supposed to happen in Keynesian economics.  For their solution to fix unemployment was to use inflation to stimulate aggregate demand in the economy.  Thus reducing unemployment.  But when they did this during the Seventies it didn’t work.  The Keynesians were befuddled.  But not the monetarists.  Who understood that the expansion of the money supply (printing money to spend) was responsible for that inflation.  People understood this, too.  And had rational expectations of how that Keynesian policy was going to end.  Higher prices.  So they raised prices before the stimulus could impact unemployment.  To stay ahead of the coming inflation.  So the Keynesian stimulus did nothing to reduce unemployment.  It just caused runaway inflation.  And raised consumer prices.  Which, in turn, decreased economic activity.  And further increased unemployment.

Perhaps the most well known economist in the Chicago school was Milton Friedman.  Who wanted the responsibility of the gold standard.  But without gold’s constraint on increasing the money supply to meet demand.  The key to monetarism.  To increase the money supply to match the growth in the economy.  To keep that scale balanced.  But without gold.  Instead, putting the money supply directly on the scale.  Printing fiat money as needed.  Great power.  But with great power comes great responsibility.  And if you abuse that power (as in printing money irresponsibly) the consequences of that abuse will be swift.  Thanks to the rational expectations of the people.  Another tenet of the Chicago school.

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Tax Cuts, Gold Standard, Roaring Twenties, Great Depression, New Deal, Great Society, Stagflation, Ronald Reagan and Class Warfare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 28th, 2012

History 101

The Twenties saw one of the Greatest Explosions in Economic Growth in History despite being on a Gold Standard 

There is a duality in economics.  There is Keynesian economics.  And the Austrian School.  The Keynesians believe in central banking.  Forcing interest rates below market rates.  Purposely creating a permanent but ‘manageable’ inflation rate.  And other government interventions into markets.  The Austrians believe in a strong currency.  Even bringing back the gold standard.  Letting the markets set interest rates.  Are against purposely creating inflation.  And oppose government intervention into markets.  So these two schools are sort of the Yin and Yang of economics.  The dark and the light.  The wrong and the right.  The Keynesian and the Austrian.

So it’s not surprising to see periods of history where these two schools bump up against each other.  As we transition from good economic times to bad economic times.  And vice versa.  When politicians change policies for political reasons.  Or when politicians change policies for economic reasons.  When the Keynesians are out of power and want to get back into power.  Or the Keynesians are in power, have destroyed the economy and the electorate wants to throw them out.  Starting shortly after World War I.  When John Maynard Keynes’ ideas came to light.  Economic policies that used smart people and an active, benevolent government.  Exactly what Woodward Wilson and his progressives were looking for.  Who wanted to quantify human behavior and improve it.  With an activist and scientific government.  To bless the United States with their brilliance again now that the war was over.  And return to the new enlightened way.  Helping people everywhere to be better citizens.  And fixing all the ‘faults’ of free market capitalism.

But the progressives lost the 1920 election.  The voters favoring Warren Harding’s message to return to normalcy.  And rejecting the progressives and their new scientific ways of government.  They wanted jobs.  And that’s what Harding gave them.  By cutting taxes.  Thanks to the advice of his brilliant treasury secretary.  Andrew Mellon.  And getting out of the way of businesses.  When he died Calvin Coolidge continued his policies.  And the Twenties roared.  It was one of the greatest explosions in economic growth in history.  Where credit was plentiful.  Despite being on a gold standard.  As the United States electrified.  And modernized.  Electric power.  Telephones.  Radio.  Electric appliances.  Movies.  Even on the farm.  Where mechanization provided bountiful harvests and inexpensive food.  The Roaring Twenties were great times for consumers.  The average American.  Thanks to minimal governmental interference into the free market.  And capitalism.  But, alas, that wouldn’t last.

Ronald Reagan won in a Landslide based on an Economic Platform that was Austrian to the Core 

It was the mechanization of the farm that began the process that lead to the Great Depression.  The average American benefited greatly from those low food prices.  But not the farmers who went into debt to mechanize their farms.  And when those European World War I soldiers traded their rifles for plows the American farmers lost some valuable export markets.  Farmers were struggling with low prices.  And heavy debt.  Some defaulted on their debt.  Causing bank failures in the farming regions.  Which soon spread throughout the banking system.  And when president Hoover came to office he was going to help the farmers.  For Hoover, though a Republican, was a progressive.  He brought back activist government.  He interfered with the free market.  To fix these problems.  Price supports for farmers to import tariffs.  Raising costs for businesses.  And prices for consumers.  Then the Smoot-Hawley Tariff launched an all out trade war.  Crashing the economy.  And giving us the Great Depression.

The 1930s was a lost decade.  FDR’s New Deal policies increased the size of government.  And their reach into the free market.  Which prolonged the Great Depression.  But nothing they tried worked.  Despite trying their progressive brilliance for some ten years.  It took World War II to pull the United States out of the Depression.  When the government at last allowed businesses to pursue profits again.  And got out of their way.  This surge in economic activity continued after the war and through the Fifties.  And into the Sixties.  With none other than JFK cutting taxes in a very Austrian way.  Yes, Kennedy was an adherent to the Austrian school.  But LBJ wasn’t.  And when he took over things changed.  The progressives were back.  Calling themselves liberals now.  And instead of the New Deal they gave us the Great Society.  Which grew the government even larger than the New Deal did.  And the Great Society spent the money.  Along with putting a man on the moon and the Vietnam War, government spending exploded.  The Keynesians were hitting their prime.  For once they could do all of the great things they always said they could.  And in the process fix a ‘broken’ free market system.  Finally having brilliant people in all the right places in government.  Making brilliant policies to help people live better lives.

And then came the Seventies.  The government was spending so much that they turned to the printing presses.  Because they could.  Thanks to central banking.  Even if it was hamstrung by gold.  You see, at that time the dollar was convertible into gold.  And with the Americans printing so much money and depreciating the dollar countries holding U.S. dollars said, “Screw that.”  And converted their dollars into gold.  That great sucking sound they heard in the Seventies was the sound of U.S. gold reserves getting sucked out of the country.  Well, even though the Keynesians hated gold they didn’t want to see all their gold reserves disappearing.  So Nixon did something very Keynesian.  And decoupled the dollar from gold.  Freeing the government at last to spend as irresponsibly as the Keynesians wanted.  And spend they did.  Turning the printing presses on high.  Depreciating the dollar ever more and causing double digit inflation.  Worse, all that Keynesian spending did nothing for the economy.  There was high unemployment as well as inflation.  An unusual phenomenon as you typically had one or the other.  Not both.  But this was stagflation.  A Keynesian phenomenon.  And you measured how bad it was by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate.  Giving you the misery index.  And the misery was pretty high during the Keynesian Seventies.  It was so miserable that they joked about it on Saturday Night Live.  With Dan Aykroyd impersonating Jimmy Carter.  Joking about high nice it would be to own a $400 suit.  And how nice it was just to make a phone call to get the printing presses to print more money.  The people thought Aykroyd’s Carter was funny.  But they didn’t care for the real one all that much.  And made him a one term president.  As Ronald Reagan won in a landslide.  Based on an economic platform that was Austrian to the core.  Including a promise to return responsibility to government spending by reinstating a gold standard.  (Which was a political ‘bridge too far’.)

The Electorate paying Federal Income Taxes fell from 80% when Reagan was in Office to about 50% by 2009 

The Eighties were so prosperous that the Keynesians, liberals and progressives derisively call them the decade of greed.  They tried everything within their power to rewrite history.  Calling the exploding economic activity ‘trickle down’ economics.  But the figures don’t lie.  Despite the liars figuring.  The inflation rate fell.  Interest rates fell.  The unemployment rate fell.  And despite the cuts in tax rates the government was never richer.  Tax revenue collected under the reduced rates nearly doubled.  But there was little cutting in government spending.  Flush with all that cash they kept spending.  In part to rebuild the military to win the Cold War.  Which Reagan won.  But all the social spending continued, too.  Which led to some record deficits.  Not the trillion dollar deficits of the Obama administration.  But large nevertheless.  Which provided the meme to explain away the prosperity of the Eighties.  “But at what cost?” being the common refrain.  They talk about the deficits.  But very conveniently leave out that part of how tax revenues doubled at the reduced tax rates.

Well, as time passed the Keynesians got back into government.  In the late Nineties as they kept interest rates low again to stimulate the economy.  Creating the dot-com bubble.  And the early 2000s recession.  George W. Bush cut taxes.  Brought the economy out of recession.  But then the Keynesians went back to playing with those interest rates.  Kept them artificially low.  Creating a great housing bubble.  And the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.

Keynesian economics have failed throughout the last century of trying.  And taxpayers clearly saw this along the way.  Voting for Austrian policies every time economic policy mattered.  Especially after another failure of Keynesian policy.  Every time their policies failed, though, the Keynesians had an excuse.  Supply shocks.  Liquidity traps.  Something.  It was always something that caused their policies to fail.  But it was never the policies themselves.  Despite Mellon, Harding, Coolidge, Kennedy and Reagan proving otherwise.  So they had to try something else.  And they did.  Class warfare.  They transferred the tax burden to the wealthier.  Reduced the number of people paying federal income taxes.  And gave ever more generous government benefits.  This took the failed ideology out of the equation.  Making it easier to win elections.  For when Reagan was in office more than 80% of the electorate were taxpayers.  And Austrian economics won at the polls.  The Nineties ended with only about 65% of the electorate paying federal income taxes.  By 2009 that number shrunk to about only half of the electorate.  Which gave the tax and spend Keynesians an edge over responsible-governing Austrians.  Because people who don’t pay income taxes will vote for policies to increase taxes on those who do.  Not because of concern over economic policy.  But just to get free stuff.  Something Keynesians learned well.  When at first you fail just buy votes.  And then you can continue your failed policies to your heart’s content.

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The Austrian School of Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 27th, 2012

Economics 101

Because of the Unpredictable Human Element in all Economic Exchanges the Austrian School is more Laissez-Faire

Name some of the great inventions economists gave us.  The computer?  The Internet?  The cell phone?  The car?  The jumbo jet?  Television?  Air conditioning?  The automatic dishwasher?  No.  Amazingly, economists did not invent any of these brilliant inventions.  And economists didn’t predict any of these inventions.  Not a one.  Despite how brilliant they are.  Well, brilliant by their standard.  In their particular field.  For economists really aren’t that smart.  Their ‘expertise’ is in the realm of the social sciences.  The faux sciences where people try to quantify the unquantifiable.  Using mathematical equations to explain and predict human behavior.  Which is what economists do.  Especially Keynesian economists.  Who think they are smarter than people.  And markets.

But there is a school of economic thought that doesn’t believe we can quantify human activity.  The Austrian school.  Where Austrian economics began.  In Vienna.  Where the great Austrian economists gathered.  Carl Menger.  Ludwig von Mises.  And Friedrich Hayek.  To name a few.  Who understood that economics is the sum total of millions of people making individual human decisions.  Human being key.  And why we can’t reduce economics down to a set of mathematical equations.  Because you can’t quantify human behavior.  Contrary to what the Keynesians believe.  Which is why these two schools are at odds with each other.  With people even donning the personas of Keynes and Hayek to engage in economic debate.

Keynesian economics is more mainstream than the Austrian school.  Because it calls for the government to interfere with market forces.  To manipulate them.  To make markets produce different results from those they would have if left alone.  Something governments love to do.  Especially if it calls for taxing and spending.  Which Keynesian economics highly encourage.  To fix market ‘failures’.  And recessions.  By contrast, because of the unpredictable human element in all economic exchanges, the Austrian school is more laissez-faire.  They believe more in the separation of the government from things economic.  Economic exchanges are best left to the invisible hand.  What Adam Smith called the sum total of the millions of human decisions made by millions of people.  Who are maximizing their own economic well being.  And when we do we maximize the economic well being of the economy as a whole.  For the Austrian economist does not believe he or she is smarter than people.  Or markets.  Which is why an economist never gave us any brilliant invention.  Nor did their equations predict any inventor inventing a great invention.  And why economists have day jobs.  For if they were as brilliant and prophetic as they claim to be they could see into the future and know which stocks to buy to get rich so they could give up their day jobs.  When they’re able to do that we should start listening to them.  But not before.

Low Interest Rates cause Malinvestment and Speculation which puts Banks in Danger of Financial Collapse

Keynesian economics really took off with central banking.  And fractional reserve banking.  Monetary tools to control the money supply.  That in the Keynesian world was supposed to end business cycles and recessions as we knew them.  The Austrian school argues that using these monetary tools only distorts the business cycle.  And makes recessions worse.  Here’s how it works.  The central bank lowers interest rates by increasing the money supply (via open market transactions, lowering reserve requirements in fractional reserve banking or by printing money).  Lower interest rates encourage people to borrow money to buy houses, cars, kitchen appliances, home theater systems, etc.  This new economic activity encourages businesses to hire new workers to meet the new demand.  Ergo, recession over.  Simple math, right?  Only there’s a bit of a problem.  Some of our worst recessions have come during the era of Keynesian economics.  Including the worst recession of all time.  The Great Depression.  Which proves the Austrian point that the use of Keynesian policies to end recessions only makes recessions worse.  (Economists debate the causes of the Great Depression to this day.  Understanding the causes is not the point here.  The point is that it happened.  When recessions were supposed to be a thing of the past when using Keynesian policies.)

The problem is that these are not real economic expansions.  They’re artificial ones.  Created by cheap credit.  Which the central bank creates by forcing interest rates below actual market interest rates.  Which causes a whole host of problems.  In particular corrupting the banking system.  Banks offer interest rates to encourage people to save their money for future use (like retirement) instead of spending it in the here and now.  This is where savings (or investment capital) come from.  Banks pay depositors interest on their deposits.  And then loan out this money to others who need investment capital to start businesses.  To expand businesses.  To buy businesses.  Whatever.  They borrow money to invest so they can expand economic activity.  And make more profits.

But investment capital from savings is different from investment capital from an expansion of the money supply.  Because businesses will act as if the trend has shifted from consumption (spending now) to investment (spending later).  So they borrow to expand operations.  All because of the false signal of the artificially low interest rates.  They borrow money.  Over-invest.  And make bad investments.  Even speculate.  What Austrians call malinvestments.  But there was no shift from consumption to investment.  Savings haven’t increased.  In fact, with all those new loans on the books the banks see a shift in the other direction.  Because they have loaned out more money while the savings rate of their depositors did not change.  Which produced on their books a reduction in the net savings rate.  Leaving them more dangerously leveraged than before the credit expansion.  Also, those lower interest rates also decrease the interest rate on savings accounts.  Discouraging people from saving their money.  Which further reduces the savings rate of depositors.  Finally, those lower interest rates reduce the income stream on their loans.  Leaving them even more dangerously leveraged.  Putting them at risk of financial collapse should many of their loans go bad.

Keynesian Economics is more about Power whereas the Austrian School is more about Economics

These artificially low interest rates fuel malinvestment and speculation.  Cheap credit has everyone, flush with borrowed funds, bidding up prices (real estate, construction, machinery, raw material, etc.).  This alters the natural order of things.  The automatic pricing mechanism of the free market.  And reallocates resources to these higher prices.  Away from where the market would have otherwise directed them.  Creating great shortages and high prices in some areas.  And great surpluses of stuff no one wants to buy at any price in other areas.  Sort of like those Soviet stores full of stuff no one wanted to buy while people stood in lines for hours to buy toilet paper and soap.  (But not quite that bad.)  Then comes the day when all those investments don’t produce any returns.  Which leaves these businesses, investors and speculators with a lot of debt with no income stream to pay for it.  They drove up prices.  Created great asset bubbles.  Overbuilt their capacity.  Bought assets at such high prices that they’ll never realize a gain from them.  They know what’s coming next.  And in some darkened office someone pours a glass of scotch and murmurs, “My God, what have we done?”

The central bank may try to delay this day of reckoning.  By keeping interest rates low.  But that only allows asset bubbles to get bigger.  Making the inevitable correction more painful.  But eventually the central bank has to step in and raise interest rates.  Because all of that ‘bidding up of prices’ finally makes its way down to the consumer level.  And sparks off some nasty inflation.  So rates go up.  Credit becomes more expensive.  Often leaving businesses and speculators to try and refinance bad debt at higher rates.  Debt that has no income stream to pay for it.  Either forcing business to cut costs elsewhere.  Or file bankruptcy.  Which ripples through the banking system.  Causing a lot of those highly leveraged banks to fail with them.  Thus making the resulting recession far more painful and more long-lasting than necessary.  Thanks to Keynesian economics.  At least, according to the Austrian school.  And much of the last century of history.

The Austrian school believes the market should determine interest rates.  Not central bankers.  They’re not big fans of fractional reserve banking, either.  Which only empowers central bankers to cause all of their mischief.  Which is why Keynesians don’t like Austrians.  Because Keynesians, and politicians, like that power.  For they believe that they are smarter than the people making economic exchanges.  Smarter than the market.  And they just love having control over all of that money.  Which comes in pretty handy when playing politics.  Which is ultimately the goal of Keynesian economics.  Whereas the Austrian school is more about economics.

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A Keynesian has an Austrian Moment

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 15th, 2012

Week in Review

There are a few schools of economics.  The Keynesian school gain prominence following World War I.  Governments like it because it justifies big government.  And government interventions into the free market to ‘fix’ market failures.  Using the power of central banking and monetary policy.  And fiscal tax and spend polices.  With such interventions they believe they can eliminate or at least lessen the impact of recessions.  Because the architects of these policies believe they are smarter than market forces.

Another prominent economic school is the Austrian school.  Which favors limited government.  Low taxes.  A sound currency.  And where the government doesn’t use the central bank and monetary policy to manipulate currency and interest rates to interfere with market forces.  For they believe, as history shows, such interventions into market forces results in worse and prolonged recessions.

So that’s just a very brief overview of these two schools.  John Maynard Keynes was a Brit.  And very influential in Europe.  Where his policies are still embraced in these social democracies.  But even these devout Keynesians can have a moment of doubt and waiver in their beliefs.  Even chief correspondents in the most esteemed newspapers (see ‘Strangely Austrian’ posted 1/10/2012 on the Ney York Sun).

In any event, Mr. Rachman notes that Dr. Paul has recalled dining with Hayek and being inspired by Ludwig von Mises, “another economist of the Austrian school.” He writes that this explains Dr. Paul’s “otherwise baffling remark” after the Iowa caucus, in which the Texan said: “I’m waiting for the day when we can say we’re all Austrians now.” He calls Dr. Paul the “purest advocate of a powerful conviction on the American right that the US is afflicted by an over-mighty state.” He notes that “Paulite suspicion of central banks that threaten to debase the currency is powerfully echoed in Germany — where the Hayekian right is horrified by the operation of the European Central Bank . . .”

Mr. Rachman doesn’t predict which trend will set the tone for the new age. But he offers this confession: “Under normal conditions I would probably sign up with the social democratic tendency. The Tea Party is not my cup of tea.* [* His erstwhile king, George III, wasn’t all that crazy about it either.]  But I spent the weekend reading newspaper accounts of the ever more incredible figures that may have to be poured into the bail-outs for banks and countries in Europe. Then I turned the page to read of demands for more protectionism and regulation in the EU. For light relief, I then went to see ‘The Iron Lady’ — the new film about Margaret Thatcher. The whole thing has left me feeling strangely Austrian.”

Strangely, indeed. The importance of the column lies in the fact that Mr. Rachman is not just any scrivener. He is the chief foreign affairs commentator for the leading Keynesian newspaper in England. Here he is kvelling over Ron Paul and the Austrians.

The “we’re all Austrians now” line is a play on what Richard Nixon reportedly said when he decoupled the U.S. dollar from gold in 1971, unleashing double-digit interest rates and inflation.  He said, “I am now a Keynesian in economics.”  Which was a play on what Milton Friedman wrote in 1965, “In one sense, we are all Keynesians now; in another, nobody is any longer a Keynesian.”  Dr. Paul is waiting for the day when those in government abandon the failed policies of Keynesian economics and adopt the policies of the Austrian school.

Margaret Thatcher was British prime minister during the Eighties when Ronald Reagan was the U.S. president.  Who were both adherents to the Austrian school of economics.  And who both saw incredible economic growth when they were in office.  By following those Austrian policies.

After listening to Dr. Paul in the U.S. Republican primary race, reading some articles on the financial problems of Europe and the cost of their bailouts, the European Union’s demand for protectionism and regulation to protect their markets and then seeing the film about the Great Margaret Thatcher Mr. Rachman was given pause for thought.  Which often happens when you actually learn Austrian economics.  Because it makes sense.  And there is a lot of economic history proving the success of these policies.  But will it last?  Probably not.  Because Keynesians just like Keynesian economics so much.  Like a religion.  They accept it on faith.  And want to believe.

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Conservative (kən-sûr’və-tĭv), n., One who adheres to the political philosophy of conservatism.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 20th, 2011

Politics 101

Conservatives tend to be Responsible Adults with Jobs in the Private Sector who Pay Taxes Instead of Consuming Them

What is a conservative?  For a start, it’s probably not what you’ve heard.

There is this perception that conservatives are just a bunch of old white guys.  Bankers.  Corporate fat cats.  And out of touch Republicans (in the U.S., at least).  The perception continues that they are rich, hate the poor and are both closeted racists.  And open racists.  These perceptions are wrong.

Conservatives tend to be grownups.  Responsible adults.  Parents.  And they typically have jobs.  Real jobs.  In the private sector.  They don’t consume tax dollars.  They pay tax dollars.  And they tend to pay their own way.  Who want to raise their children their way.  And live their lives their way.  Without government telling them what’s best for them.

Conservatives believe in Limited Government, the Rule of Law, Individual Liberty and Personal Responsibility

Conservatives believe in limited government.  And they respect the Constitution.  They don’t believe it’s a living document.  Open to broad interpretation.  Or that it is merely a suggestion.  They don’t believe the courts should be used to make law that can’t be legislated in Congress.  The courts interpret law; they don’t write it.  Per the Constitution.  And they don’t like radical, populist change.  That are all theory.  With no track record of success.  They know their history.  Their heritage.  Their traditions.  And are very cautious when it comes to changing the old ways.  Especially when the old ways have been proven by time.

Conservatives believe in the Rule of Law.  Individual liberty.  And personal responsibility.  Where everybody plays by the same set of rules.  Regardless of race, color, sex, creed, etc.  And cheaters shouldn’t prosper.  They favor true capitalism.  And abhor crony capitalism.  Which isn’t capitalism.  But government favoritism.

They favor the Austrian School of economics over the tax and spend Keynesian school.  They believe in sound money and would lean towards reinstating the gold standard.  So government can’t inflate the currency at will to pay for more Keynesian spending.  They also believe that free trade benefits the consumer.  By providing more competition, lower prices and higher quality.

Conservatives typically Go to Church, Believe in the Golden Rule and Love & Respect their Fellow Man

Conservatives tend to be older on average than liberals.  That’s because they have grown up.  And left the ignorant ways of their youth behind.  They have worked and paid taxes.  Been part of the free market economy.  They know how wealth and jobs are created.  And have learned how to think for themselves.

They carefully budget their money.  Scrimp and save to raise a family.  Which is why they are very sensitive to taxes.  They struggled to get by.  And sacrificed for their children.  So they can have a better life.  So they oppose higher taxes now.  And higher taxes later.  For their children.  And their grandchildren.

But they don’t hate the poor.  Or those in need.  Conservatives typically go to church.  Believe in the Golden Rule.  And love and respect their fellow man.  Which is why conservatives are among the most charitable of people.  Many tithe their church.  Donate their time in their communities.  And make great neighbors.

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Keynesian Policies gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Solyndra and Inflation while the Free Market gives us Jobs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 30th, 2011

The Problem with Washington is that there are too many Elitists who Think they are Smarter than Us

Now we know why we have slow economic growth.  Apparently it’s par for the course after a financial crisis (see Phony Fear Factor by Paul Krugman, Keynesian Economist, posted 9/29/2011 on The New York Times).

We might add that major financial crises are almost always followed by a period of slow growth, and U.S. experience is more or less what you should have expected given the severity of the 2008 shock.

So why do any spending?  Why have any stimulus to stimulate growth that won’t come.  Because “major financial crises are almost always followed by a period of slow growth…”  If true then we could have gotten here without that $800 billion stimulus bill.  And we could have avoided that debt ceiling debate.  And the subsequent downgrading of U.S. sovereign debt.  All because we were spending money trying to alter slow growth that was going to happen anyway.

But the Keynesian will say, “Just think how bad things would have been if we didn’t spend that $800 billion.  And how better things would be if we had just spent more.”  How do you argue with that?  When spending fails it’s because we didn’t spend enough.    By this logic, then, spending as a policy can never fail.  Even when it fails.

If slow growth is more or less what you get were they then lying?  When they said they would keep the unemployment rate below 8%?  If Congress passed the stimulus bill?  Or did they just not understand how bad things were?  Because their understanding of economics is that bad?  Or was George W. Bush so much smarter than them that he was able to hide how bad things were?

And it also, of course, reflects the political need of the right to make everything bad in America President Obama’s fault. Never mind the fact that the housing bubble, the debt explosion and the financial crisis took place on the watch of a conservative, free-market-praising president; it’s that Democrat in the White House now who gets the blame.

But good politics can be very bad policy. The truth is that we’re in this mess because we had too little regulation, not too much. And now one of our two major parties is determined to double down on the mistakes that caused the disaster.

Who was it that pushed subprime lending to get people who couldn’t afford a house into a house?  Whose policies were those that made home ownership available to everyone, not just those with good-paying jobs that could pay their mortgage payments?  Who was it that brought suits and protests against lenders for ‘redlining’ poor and minority communities by not approving mortgages for those who could not qualify for a mortgage?  The Republicans?  The so-called servants of the wealthy?  Or the Democrats?  The so-called champion of the poor and disenfranchised?

Buying risky mortgages from banks allowed banks to make risky loans.  And who was buying those risky mortgages?  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  That was government policy.  Keynesian policy.  Keeping interest rates low and removing risks from the normal risk takers in the mortgage industry.  There could not have been a Subprime Mortgage Crisis without these Keynesian government policies in place.  And we know that conservative Republicans aren’t Keynesians.  That’s why Keynesians hate conservative Republicans.  Especially when they hold up further stimulus spending in Congress.

The problem with Washington is that there are too many elitists who think they are smarter than us.  And these elitists want to double down on the mistakes that caused this crisis.  Already the Obama administration has been talking about boosting subprime lending.  Incredible.  This after that very same policy caused the worst recession since the Great Depression.

After the Benefit of a Cheap Euro runs its Course the Depreciated Euro turns into a Liability

The Keynesian’s answer to everything is more spending.  And when someone warns about igniting inflation with all of their easy monetary policy they call those people misinformed.  Monetary policy doesn’t cause inflation.  Greedy business people do.  By raising prices.  And supply shocks.  Like the OPEC oil embargo of the Seventies.  They point to the Eurozone and say, “See?  Their central banks have been keeping rates low to stimulate spending.  And where is the inflation?”  Here, apparently (see Euro-Zone Inflation Surges by Paul Hannon, Dow Jones Newswires, posted 9/30/2011 on NASDAQ).

The annual rate of inflation in the 17 countries that share the euro surged to its highest level in almost three years in September, while the number of people without work fell slightly.

The European Union’s official statistics agency Eurostat Friday said consumer prices rose 3% in the 12 months to September, up from 2.5% in August and was well above the European Central Bank’s target of just below 2%.

Prices rose faster than at any time since October 2008, and more rapidly than economists had expected. Those surveyed last week by Dow Jones Newswires had estimated that prices rose 2.5%. The last rise in the annual rate from one month to the next that was of a similar scale was in March 2010, when it picked up to 1.6% from 0.8%.

With a depressed economy businesses haven’t been able to raise their prices.  But what they couldn’t do their central bank has.  Put so much cheap money into the economy that they depreciated the Euro.  Which is another way to cause inflation.  Eventually.  After the benefits of a cheap Euro (making cheap exports) run its course.  And the depreciated Euro turns into a liability (higher input prices in the manufacturing process).

This always happens in Keynesian economics.  Yet the Keynesian ignores this reality and doubles down on the failed policies of the past.

Government Policies Favor Green Energy over Oil and Gas because Government Elitists are in Control

Keynesian economic thought is the prevailing though in most governments.  For a reason.  They’re expansionary policies.  And put government in control of that expansion.  Government officials don’t care if they work.  They just like the power it gives them.  The control over the economy.  And an open checkbook to buy votes.  So governments everywhere put Keynesians into their administrations.  Which give the Keynesians legitimacy.  People accept what they say.  Because if government adopts what they say they must know what they’re saying.

But Keynesian thought is wrong.  History has shown this.  The Austrian School of economics has a far better track record of success.  But that is not a popular school among expansionists.  Because it leaves the economy to the free market.  Not to elitists in government.  Who think they know better than the free market.

An example of this elitist intervention into the free market is government’s choice of green energy as the smart investment of the future.  Which has been failing even with heavy subsidies.  While the hated oil and gas industry, on the other hand, is creating jobs (see Gassing Up: Why America’s Future Job Growth Lies In Traditional Energy Industries by Joel Kotkin posted 9/27/2011 on Forbes).

But the biggest growth by far has taken place in the mining, oil and natural gas industries, where jobs expanded by 60%, creating a total of 500,000 new jobs…

Nor is this expansion showing signs of slowing down. Contrary to expectations pushed by “peak oil” enthusiasts, overall U.S. oil production has grown by 10% since 2008; the import share of U.S. oil consumption has dropped to 47% from 60% in 2005.  Over the next year, according to one recent industry-funded study, oil and gas could create an additional 1.5 million new jobs.

What makes this growth even more remarkable is that the month of August posted zero new jobs.  So if there were no new jobs while oil and gas was creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, hundreds of thousands of jobs in other industries must have been disappearing.  Such as in that government-backed green energy sector.

How about those “green jobs” so widely touted as the way to recover the lost blue-collar positions from the recession? Since 2006, the critical waste management and remediation sector — a critical portion of the “green” economy — actually lost over 480,000 jobs, 4% of its total employment…

The future of the rest of the “green” sector seems dimmer than widely anticipated. One big problem lies in cost per kilowatt, where wind is roughly twice as expensive and solar at least three times as expensive as electricity produced with natural gas. Given the Solyndra  bankruptcy  and their inevitable impact on the renewables industry, it’s also pretty certain that the U.S., at least in the near term, will not be powered by windmills and solar panels.

Natural gas is a clean burning fuel.  It’s so clean we use it in our homes.  In our stoves.  And our furnaces.  It’s cheap.  And it’s plentiful.  We’re getting it out of American ground that can put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work.  Without loan guarantees.  And they can bring it to market at market prices.  Without any subsidies.  It’s the hanging softball of energy policy.  But what are we pursuing?  Green energy.  A sector that is bleeding jobs.

The relative strength of the energy sector can be seen in changes in income by region over the past decade. For the most part, the largest gains have been heavily concentrated in the energy belt between the Dakotas and the Gulf of Mexico. Energy-oriented metropolitan economies such as Houston, Dallas, Bismarck and Oklahoma City have also fared relatively well. In energy-rich North Dakota there’s actually a huge labor shortage, reaching over 17,000 — one likely to get worse if production expands, as now proposed, from 6000 to over 30,000 wells over the next decade.

Why are we subsidizing green startups when we have an energy belt almost the size of the Louisiana Territory?  A labor shortage of 17,000?  And a plan to increase wells from 6,000 to 30,000 (an increase of 400%) in one state?  This is real economic growth.  Created with no government help.  I mean, if there is one thing the Obama administration isn’t known for it’s being a friend to the oil and gas industry.

So this is an industry government doesn’t help.  If anything government hinders it with heavy regulation.  And yet the gas and oil industry is blowing government-subsidized green energy away.  There’s a lesson here.  Free market works.  And when government intervenes into the market you can bet on them picking a loser.

Industry experts say that the shift in energy exploration is moving from the Middle East to the Americas, with rich deposits of oil and gas uncovered from Brazil to the Canadian oil sands.

Much of the new action is on the U.S. mainland, including the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming. Increasingly, there’s excitement about finds in long-challenged sections of the Midwest such as Ohio. The Utica shale formation, according to an estimate by Chesapeake Energy, could be worth roughly a half trillion dollars and be, in the words of CEO Aubrey McClendon, “the biggest to hit Ohio, since maybe the plow.”

Ohio now has over 64,000 wells, with five hundred drilled just year. Recent and potential finds, particularly in the Appalachian basin, could transform the Buckeye State into something of a Midwest Abu Dhabi, creating more than 200,000 jobs over the next decade.

A Midwest Abu Dhabi?  Creating 200,000 new jobs?  And that’s just in the oil and gas business.

The energy boom also has sparked a spate of new factory expansions, including a $650 million new steel mill to make pipes for gas pipelines. Other local firms are gearing up to make up specialized equipment like compressors.

This is real economic growth.  Created and sustained by the private sector.  Without any stimulus funding or subsidies.  The way of the Austrian School of economics.  But is anathema to expansionist Keynesians.  That’s why government policies favor green energy.  Like they favored subprime lending.  Because government elitists are in control.  Not the free market.

The Genius Elite have given us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Solyndra and Inflation in the Eurozone

The government bet wrong on green energy.  As smart as they are.  And as smart as their Keynesian advisers are.  Is there a lesson here?  Yes.  They are not that smart.

The oil and gas industry is booming.  Why?  Because there is enormous demand for oil and gas.  For all the Keynesians’ lament over the lack of demand you’d think they’d jump on this.  But no.  They ignore it.  Instead they impose oppressive regulations.  Impose moratoriums on Gulf drilling.  And do more to impede this industry than to help it.  To please the environmentalists.  And their friends in green energy.

The genius elite have given us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Solyndra and inflation in the Eurozone.  The Keynesian way.  Whereas the free market is finding domestic sources of real energy and creating jobs.  The Austrian School way.  Which was also the American way.  Once upon a time.  And it can be again.  If we listen more to the market.  And less to the Keynesian elites.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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Keynesian Policies are giving us Great Depression Unemployment with no Hope of Economic Recovery

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 4th, 2011

Real Unemployment is Greater than the Unemployment Rate for about half of the Great Depression 

The unemployment numbers are bad.  But few realize just how bad they are.  The real unemployment numbers.  Not the official unemployment rate released by the government (U-3).  Because that number doesn’t count a lot of people who can’t find a full time job (see Unemployed face tough competition: underemployed by Paul Wiseman and Christopher Leonard posted 9/4/2011 on the Associated Press).

America’s 14 million unemployed aren’t competing just with each other. They must also contend with 8.8 million other people not counted as unemployed – part-timers who want full-time work…

And the unemployed will face another source of competition once the economy improves: Roughly 2.6 million people who aren’t counted as unemployed because they’ve stopped looking for work. Once they start looking again, they’ll be classified as unemployed. And the unemployment rate could rise.

Combined, the 14 million officially unemployed; the “underemployed” part-timers who want full-time work; and “discouraged” people who have stopped looking make up 16.2 percent of working-age Americans…

If you look at the unemployment rate during the Great Depression (1929 to 1941), this more real rate (16.2%) is greater than the unemployment rate for about half of those years.  From 1932 until 1936, the rate was 23.53%, 24.75%, 21.60%, 19.97% and 16.80%.  After dropping down to 14.18% in 1937, it went back up to 18.91% in 1938.  It fell to 17.05% in 1939.  It was below 16.2% for only 6 years of the 13 years of the Great Depression.  So this 16.2% is bad.  Very, very bad.  And very, very real.

In a healthy economy, this broader measure of unemployment stays below 10 percent. Since the Great Recession officially ended more than two years ago, the rate has been 15 percent or more.

Even if you don’t use Great Depression standards this 16.2% is still very, very bad.

Eventually, lots of Americans…will start looking for jobs again. If those work-force dropouts had been counted as unemployed, August’s unemployment rate would have been 10.6 percent instead of 9.1 percent.

If it wasn’t for a counting gimmick to exclude long-term unemployed who gave up looking for work, the official unemployment rate would count all the unemployed.  And it would be 10.6%.  Not the ‘official’ 9.1% reported.  Of course, throw in the underemployed and it’s back up to 16.2%.

If Taxes and Regulations were Good for the Economy, we wouldn’t have Real Unemployment of 16.2%

No doubt the employment picture is far worse than the media has reported.  And that Recovery Summer was purely political propaganda.  To put a positive spin on some really wasteful ‘stimulus’ spending.  Spending that was more pork and earmarks than stimulative.  And President Obama is going to address a joint-session of Congress to tell us how he’s going to fix the economy.  No doubt urging more of the same that hasn’t worked thus far (see Cheney dismisses Obama’s jobs speech: ‘Don’t think it will get the job done’ by Vicki Needham posted 9/4/2011 on The Hill).

Former Vice President Dick Cheney suggested Sunday that the White House should adopt Reagan-era tax and regulatory policy to spur economic growth…

“The Obama administration is doing exactly the opposite, they’re loading on more regulation on the private sector in respect to how the economy functions,” he said.

They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But if it is broke then we should probably fix it.  And based on the real unemployment numbers, the Obama policies are broke.  And need to be fixed.  And a good place to start would be to back off on all of their regulations.  And stop with the new taxes.  We know they’re bad for the economy.  For if they were good for it, we wouldn’t have a real unemployment rate of 16.2%.

President Obama will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday to outline a jobs plan likely to include a call for more infrastructure spending along with an extension of the payroll tax cuts, unemployment benefits and tax incentives for business to pick up hiring…

The president used his weekly address to push passage of an extension of the surface transportation bill to spur highway construction, bridge repair and the improvement of mass transit systems.

Haven’t we heard this message before?  Infrastructure spending?  As in ‘shovel-ready jobs’?  That was the whole point of the stimulus bill.  And being that we’re still talking about ‘infrastructure spending’, apparently it didn’t work.  So why return to a failed policy?

Infrastructure Stimulus Projects are like a Pill that Cures the Common Cold…in only 3 Weeks

Even Obama conceded there was no such thing as a ‘shovel-ready’ job.  Not with the regulatory red tape you have to go through before breaking ground.  Which costs millions of dollars.  So it’s not likely anyone spent millions of dollars over the years just in anticipation of a stimulus program.  Something unknown then that would pay for a project started without adequate funding.  Yeah, like that would ever happen.

But infrastructure work isn’t your everyday make-work kind of employment.  It takes skill.  And experience.  It’s not picking up trash along the side of the road that any unemployed person can do without extensive training (see Did the Stimulus Create Jobs? Not Always for the Unemployed by Megan McArdle posted 91/2011 on The Atlantic).

In the construction industry, there’s another wrinkle; many of the specialties in heavy construction are, at least as I understand it, not overfull with qualified applicants; finding young people who have the math skills and other academic talents necessary to be a modern skilled construction worker, and also want to skip college and apprentice with an outfit like the operating engineers, is something that a lot of the skilled trades worry about. 

I think a lot of people assumed that doing infrastructure construction projects would be a great way to soak up excess labor from the homebuilding industry, but there’s not actually that much overlap; knowing how to install drywall or do framing work does not qualify you for a job that requires sandhogs and specialty welders.  And it can take a long time to make journeyman in many of these professions.  This is also true of certain kinds of civil engineers and so forth. 

Cleary infrastructure projects are not the panacea the Obama administration thinks they are.  They are not ‘shovel-ready’ for the unemployed.  After years of regulatory compliance expenditures, highly skilled and highly specialized workers will break ground.  Which won’t employ a single person outside these specialties.  At least, not without years of training.  And working as an apprentice.  Which will be years down the road.  Which won’t stimulate anything in the here and now. 

This is like a pill that cures the common cold.  In only 3 weeks.  They have no effect.  And their ‘cure’ is purely illusionary.

The Era of Keynesian Big Government came to an End in 1980…for Awhile 

So we know what doesn’t work.  We know what policies are wrong.  Almost 3 years of Obama policies have told us that.  But it’s easy to point to failure.  To identify problems.  It’s a little more difficult to fix problems.  But the amazing thing is we don’t have to fix them.  We just have to stop causing them (see Free The Market by Peter Boettke posted 9/2/2011 on The European).

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design”, F.A. Hayk once wrote. We would we well-served to heed his call and reinvigorate the ideology of the free market.

There are a few schools of economics.  There’s the Keynesian school.  The majority of mainstream economists adhere to this.  As well as the Obama administration.  And then there is the Austrian school.  Which is more in keeping with economists like F.A. Hayek and Adam Smith

The Keynesians want hands-on government control and spending.  The Austrian school doesn’t.  Because they don’t think they are better and smarter than the average consumer.

The past thirty years proved the validity of Adam Smith’s assertion, “The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition…is so powerful, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often encumbers its operations.”

During “the age of Milton Friedman”, as Andrei Shleifer dubed it, key developments in economic freedom—deregulation in the US and UK, the collapse of communism in East and Central Europe, and the opening up of the economies of China and India—allowed individuals to surmount government meddling in the economy. From 1980 to 2005, there were marked, world-wide improvements in life expectancy, education, democracy, and living standards as integration into a world economy delivered billions of individuals from poverty, ignorance and squalor.

From 1980?  You know what happened at that time?  The era of Keynesian Big Government came to an end.  For awhile.  With the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the UK.  And the rise of Ronald Reagan in the USA.  Both were adherents to the Austrian school.  And because of that their nations exploded with prosperity.  Thanks to tax cuts.  And deregulation. 

Unfortunately, this began to reverse course around 2005.  Big Government began to return.  And it’s becoming bigger than it ever was.  We see this in declining Western economies.  And financial crises in these same Western economies (in Europe and the United States).  As they are imploding under excessive government spending.  And debt.

A setting of private property rights, free pricing, and accurate profit and loss accounting aligns incentives and communicates information so that individuals realize the mutual gains from trade with one another. Efficient markets are an outcome of a process of discovery, learning, and adjustment, not an assumption going into the analysis. That process, however, operates within political, legal, and social institutions. Those institutions can promulgate policies that block discovery, inhibit learning, and prevent adjustment, causing the market to operate poorly.

So rather than free market ideology being obsolete, what is needed is a reinvigorated ideological vision of the free market economy: a society of free and responsible individuals who have the opportunity to prosper in a market economy based on profit and loss and to live in caring communities. Yes, caring communities. The Adam Smith that wrote The Wealth of Nations also wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and the F. A. Hayek that wrote Individualism and Economic Order also wrote about the corruption of morals in The Fatal Conceit. Our challenge today is to embrace the full scope of free market ideology so as to understand the preconditions under which we can live better together in a world of peace, prosperity, and progress.

Get government out of the private sector.  Let the private sector respond freely to market forces.  Be responsible.  And be kind to others.  Like they told us in kindergarten.

Keynesians don’t like the Masses, they just want to Rule over Them

Anyone looking objectively at the economy can see where the problem lies.  With government.  Their policies didn’t work in the Seventies.  And they’re not working now.  So why are they returning to failed policies of the past?  Because Keynesian policies grow government.  And those in government want to grow government.  For the money and the power.  And to stroke their egos. 

Keynesians are academics.  They have little real-life experience.  They didn’t run businesses.  Make payrolls.  They didn’t sell.  Or live on the other side of regulatory compliance.  Why?  Because they aren’t entrepreneurs.  They don’t have the ability to be creative.  So they elevate themselves above those who are.  To compensate for their inadequacies. 

They prefer privilege.  Entitlement.  Like the aristocracy in the Old World.  Where a good last name was all you needed for wealth and power. 

Just listen to them talk.  Their very words drip with condescension.  They don’t like the masses.  They don’t live with them.  They don’t vacation with them.  They don’t want to have anything to do with them.  Except to rule over them.  The way it should be.  In their world of privilege.

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Ronald Reagan’s Reaganomics Increased GDP and Tax Revenue, Decreased Unemployment and Tamed Inflation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 8th, 2011

Ronald Reagan’s Supply-Side Reaganomics caused an Economic Boom

Politics is a struggle.  Between those on the Left.  And those on the Right.  And nowhere is it more partisan than when it is about one subject.  ReaganomicsRonald Reagan‘s supply-side economics.  Of the Austrian School.  That the Left belittles as trickle-down economics. 

His tax cuts during the Eighties sparked an economic boom.  No one denies this.  In fact, life was very good during the Eighties.  So good that the Left denounce those years as the Decade of Greed.  “Yes, a lot of people got rich,” the Left says.  “But at what cost?”  And then they point to those ‘soaring’ Reagan deficits.  Peaking at about $221.2 billion in 1986.  Or about $358.3 billion adjusted for inflation.  (Pretty tame by today’s standards.  Barack Obama has one in the $1.6 trillion neighborhood.)  But did Reagan cause them with his tax cuts?

To answer this question we look at historical GDP (gross domestic product).  And tax receipts.  From the Seventies and the Eighties.  From the heyday of Keynesian economics.  After the Nixon Shock in 1971. That ended the ‘gold standard‘.  When Nixon said, “I am now a Keynesian in economics.”  And through Reaganomics.  All dollar amounts are constant 2005 dollars (shown in billions).  These are graphed along with the top marginal tax rate, inflation and the unemployment rate.

(Sources: GDP, tax revenue, top marginal tax rate, inflation, unemployment)

Inflation Eroded GDP and Raised Unemployment in the Seventies

There are two relatively flat plateaus on the GDP graph.  Flat or falling GDP growth indicates a recession.  One starting sometime after 1972.  The other one around 1979. 

Both of these correspond to a spike in the inflation rate.  This happens because inflation erodes GDP.  By raising prices.  Higher prices mean we buy less.  Which means less GDP.  And higher prices tend to inflate business profits.  Where profit gains are from inflation.  Not from selling more stuff.  Which means less GDP.

Inflation is one half of the business cycle.  Which is a boom-bust cycle.  A booming economy.  And a busting recession.  Inflation.  And deflation.  Growth.  And recession. 

During growth there’s inflation.  Prices go up as more people want to buy the same things.  Bidding up prices.  The unemployment rate falls.  Because businesses are hiring more people.  To expand.  To meet this demand. 

When they expand too much there’s too much stuff on the market.  People can’t buy it all.  So prices go down.  To encourage people to buy.  And businesses cut back.  Lay people off.  With fewer people working there’s fewer people to buy that excess supply.  So prices fall more.  And businesses lay more people off.  To reflect the falling demand.  Which increases the unemployment rate.

The business cycle, then, corrects prices.  And readjusts supply to demand.  Keynesian economics was going to change this, though.  By removing the recession part.   Through permanent inflation.  At least, that was the plan.  The two plateaus in the GDP graph shows that the business cycle is still here despite their best efforts.   

And the Keynesians only made things worse.  By causing double-digit inflation.  By creating more demand than existed in the market.  People used that easy money.  To buy things they wouldn’t have otherwise bought.  Creating ‘bubbles’ of inflated prices.  Which are corrected by recessions.  And the greater the bubble, the greater the recession.

Easy Monetary Policy (i.e., Printing Money) made Inflation Worse in the Seventies

Government spent a lot during the Seventies.  A lot of that was Keynesian spending paid for with easy monetary policy (i.e., printing money).  Something governments can only do.  They are the only ones that can say, “Use these paper bills as legal tender.  We guarantee it.”

Making fiat money is easy.  But there is a cost.  The more you make the more you devalue your currency.  That’s the cost of inflation.  Money loses some of its purchasing power.  The greater the inflation the greater loss of purchasing power. 

They printed a lot of money during the late Seventies.  So much that the dollar lost a lot of its purchasing power.  Hence the double-digit inflation.

Paul Volcker was a Federal Reserve chairman.  He started in the last year of Jimmy Carter‘s presidency.  And remained chairman for about 8 years.  He raised interest rates severely.  To constrict the money supply.  To pull a lot of those excess dollars out of circulation.  This caused a bad recession for Reagan.  But it killed the double-digit inflation beast.  This sound money policy was a tenet of Reaganomics.  Which was an integral part of the Eighties boom.

Reagan’s Tax Cuts Increased both GDP and Tax Revenue

The hallmark of Reaganomics, of course, is low taxes.  Reagan cut the top marginal tax rate.  He dropped it from 70% to 28% in four cuts.  After the first cut GDP took off.   Because rich people reentered the economy. 

They weren’t parking their money in investments that helped them avoid paying the top marginal tax rate.  They were starting up businesses.  Or buying business.  Creating jobs.  Because the lower tax rates provided an incentive to earn business profits.  And not settle for lower interest income.  Or capital gains. 

For business profits can be far greater than interest earned on ‘income tax avoiding’ investments.  Such as government bonds.  And if we don’t penalize rich people for risk-taking they will take risks.  Create another Microsoft.  Or Apple.  But they are less likely to do that if they know we will penalize them for it.  And that’s what a high marginal tax rate is.  A penalty.  Remove this penalty and they will choose risky profits over safe interest every time.  And make a lot of jobs along the way.

And this is what they did during the Eighties.  Their ‘greed’ created a boom in employment.  A rising GDP.  Accompanied with a falling unemployment rate.  Rich people were pulling their money out of tax shelters.  And putting it into businesses.  Where they could make fat profits.  And making fat profits in business requires employees.  Jobs.  Unlike making money with safe tax-sheltered investments. 

Tax revenue increased.  There were more business profits.  And more business income taxes on those profits.  There were more jobs.  More employees in the workforce.  Paying more payroll taxes.  And more personal income taxes

Successful businesses made more rich people.  And more rich people pay more income taxes than fewer rich people.  A lot more.  The top marginal tax rate was lower.  But there were more businesses and people paying taxes.   Because the lower rates created more taxpayers.  And richer taxpayers to tax.  Which increased overall tax revenue.

Tax Revenue Increased under Reaganomics but Government Spending simply Increased More

So to summarize the data during Reaganomics, GDP grew, tax revenue grew, unemployment fell and inflation was tame.  All the things you want in a healthy economy.  And this all happened when the top marginal tax rate was cut from 70% to 28%. 

So, no, the Reagan deficits were NOT caused by the Reagan tax cuts.  That’s a myth created by the Left to revise history.  To recast the successful policies of Ronald Reagan as failures.  So they can continue in their tax and spend ways.

Those deficits were a spending problem.  Not a revenue problem.  For tax revenue increased after the tax cuts.  So why the deficits?  Because government spending simply increased more.

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