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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Democrat Policies are forcing Young Couples back home with Mom and Dad

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 28th, 2013

Week in Review

Since the Keynesians took over government we said goodbye to the classical economics that made America the number one economic power in the world.  Free market capitalism.  Based on a strong banking system.  And a sound currency.  People saved as much as they could.  Banks converted their savings into investment capital.  And investors and entrepreneurs built the world’s number one economy.  Because people worked hard and saved for their future.  While raising their families.  In their houses.  Without Mommy and Daddy helping them.  Unlike people do today (see Young Couples Moving Back Home To Save Money For Baby posted 12/22/2013 on CBS Miami).

“Young couples, when they have a child or when they’re planning to have a child, are moving back in with their parents,” said Carmen Wong Ulrich, BabyCenter Financial expert,. “Ten percent of young women are staying, living at home with their parents to save money to have children. This is a new trend.”

Alexis Kort, her husband Josh and their baby Charlotte moved in with Alexis’ parents when they relocated to their hometown.

“You don’t necessarily think about it before you have a kid and then all of a sudden you’re like ‘Wait a second, how do we make this work financially?’,” said Kort…

This trend extends beyond housing. A survey found that nearly 30 percent of new parents get financial assistance from their parents. Ulrich points out that parents who support their children who have children have less time to save for their retirement.

“Supporting grown children is a strain and it can be a strain on your own financial future,” said Ulrich.

You can blame the Democrats for this.  They’re all Keynesians.  And believe in printing (and devaluing) money to keep interest rates artificially low.  So low that you actually lose money now if you put it into a savings account.  So people spend it before it loses its purchasing power.

And Keynesians believe in government spending.  To stimulate the economy.  Which they pay for with taxes.  Lots of taxes.  Between the devaluation of the dollar (which raises prices) and the rising tax bite there’s less money to save.  And with the Keynesians pushing for more consumption and less savings (to stimulate the economy) kids aren’t saving.  They’re spending.  Living in the now.  Without a care in the world about tomorrow.  Which is why kids today are moving back in with their parents.  Because they’d rather pay a cellular bill the size of a car payment than save for their future.

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Banks, Keynes, Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 17th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published June 11th, 2013)

Bringing Borrowers and Lenders Together is a very Important Function of our Banks

Borrowers like low interest rates.  Savers (i.e., lenders) like high interest rates.  People who put money into the bank want to earn a high interest rate.  People who want to buy a house want a low interest rate.  As the interest rate will determine the price of the house they can buy.  Borrowers and lenders meet at banks.  Bankers offer a high enough interest rate to attract lenders (i.e., depositors).  But not too high to discourage borrowers.

This is the essence of the banking system.  And capital formation.  Alexander Hamilton said that money in people’s pockets was just money.  But when the people came together and deposited their money into a bank that money became capital.  Large sums of money a business could borrow to build a factory.  Which creates economic activity.  And jobs.  The United States became the world’s number one economic power with the capital formation of its banking system.  For a sound banking system is required for any advanced economy.  As it allows the rise of a middle class.  By providing investment capital for entrepreneurs.  And middle class jobs in the businesses they build.

So bringing borrowers and lenders together is a very important function of our banks.  And bankers have the heavy burden of determining saving rates.  And lending rates.  As well as determining the credit risk of potential borrowers.  Savers deposit their money to earn one rate.  So the bank can loan it out at another rate.  A rate that will pay depositors interest.  As well as cover the few loans that borrowers can’t pay back.  Which is why bankers have to be very careful to who they loan money to.

Keynesians make Recessions worse by Keeping Interest Rates low, Preventing a Correction from Happening

John Maynard Keynes changed this system of banking that made the United States the world’s number one economic power.  We call his economic theories Keynesian economics.  One of the changes from the classical school of economics we used to make the United States the world’s number one economic power was the manipulation of interest rates.  Instead of leaving this to free market forces in the banking system Keynesians said government should have that power.  And they took it.  Printing money to make more available to lend.  Thus bringing down interest rates.

And why did they want to bring down interest rates?  To stimulate economic activity.  At least, that was their goal.  To stimulate economic activity to pull us out of a recession.  To even eliminate recessions all together.  To eliminate the normal expansion and contraction of the economy.  By manipulating interest rates to continually expand the economy.  To accept a small amount of permanent inflation.  In exchange for a constantly expanding economy.  And permanent job creation.  That was the Keynesian intention.  But did it work?

No.  Since the Keynesians took over the economy we’ve had the Great Depression, the stagflation and misery of the Seventies, the savings and loans crisis of the Eighties, the irrational exuberance and the dot-com bubble crash of the Nineties, the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession.  All of these were caused by the Keynesian manipulation of interest rates.  And the resulting recessions were made worse by trying to keep interest rates low to pull the economy out of recession.  Preventing the correction from happening.  Allowing these artificially low interest rates to cause even more damage.

The Government’s manipulation of Interest Rates gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the Great Recession

My friend’s father complained about the low interest rates during the Clinton administration.  For the savings rate offered by banks was next to nothing.  With the Federal Reserve printing so much money the banks didn’t need to attract depositors with high savings rates.  Worse for these savers was the inflation caused by printing all of this money eroded the purchasing power of their savings.  So they couldn’t earn anything on their savings.  And what savings they had bought less and less over time.  But mortgages were cheap.  And people were rushing to the banks to get a mortgage before those rates started rising again.

This was an interruption of normal market forces.  It changed people’s behavior.  People who were not even planning to buy a house were moved by those low interest rates to enter the housing market.  Then President Clinton pushed other people into the housing market with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Getting people who were not even planning to buy a house AND who could not even afford to buy a house to enter the housing market.  Those artificially low interest rates pulled so many people into the housing market that this increased demand for houses started raising house prices.  A lot.  But it didn’t matter.  Not with those low interest rates.  Subprime lending.  Pressure by the Clinton administration to qualify the unqualified for mortgages.  And Fannie May and Freddie Mac buying those risky subprime mortgages from the banks, freeing them up to make more risky mortgages.  This scorching demand pushed housing prices into the stratosphere.

A correction was long overdue.  But the Federal Reserve kept pushing that correction off by keeping interest rates artificially low.  But eventually inflation started to appear from all that money creation.  And the Federal Reserve had no choice but to raise interest rates to tamp out that inflation.  But when they did it caused a big problem for those with subprime mortgages.  Those who had adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).  For when interest rates went up so did their mortgage payments.  Beyond their ability to pay them.  So they defaulted on their mortgages.  A lot of them.  Which caused an even bigger problem.  All those mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought?  They sold them to Wall Street.  Who chopped them up into collateralized debt obligations.  Financial instruments backed by historically the safest of all investments.  The home mortgage.  Only these weren’t your father’s mortgage.  These were risky subprime mortgages.  But they sold them to unsuspecting investors as high yield and low-risk investments.  And when people started defaulting on their mortgages these investments became worthless.  Which spread the financial crisis around the world.  On top of all of this the housing bubble burst.  And those house prices fell back down from the stratosphere.  Leaving many homeowners with mortgages greater than the corrected value of their house.

It was the government’s manipulation of interest rates that gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  The Great Recession.  And the worst recovery since that following the Great Depression.  All the result of Keynesian economics.  And the foolhardy belief that you can make recessions a thing of the past.

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The Federal Government’s entry into the Student Loan Market eliminates Market Forces

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 7th, 2013

Week in Review

A sound banking system is a requirement for any advanced economy.  Because you need capital to make an advanced economy.  And how do you do that?  By people responsibly saving for their retirement.  Putting away a few dollars of every paycheck.  A small amount of money that can’t buy much of anything.  But when hundreds of thousands of people save a few dollars from every paycheck those small amounts become capital.  Large sums of money banks can lend out to investors who want to build factories.  Responsible bankers loaned their customers’ deposits to investors.  Investors paid the bankers interest on these loans.  And the bankers paid interest to their depositors.  The economy grew.  And people saved for their retirement.  The system worked well.  And grew the US economy into the world’s number one economy.  But now we’re in danger of dropping from that number one spot.  Because the government destroyed our banking system (see Exclusive – JPMorgan to stop making student loans by Reuters posted 9/5/2013 on Yahoo! Finance).

JPMorgan Chase & Co (NYS:JPM) will stop making student loans in October, according to a document reviewed by Reuters on Thursday, after the biggest U.S. bank concluded that competition from federal government programs limits its ability to expand the business.

When the government runs a deficit they sell bonds to finance it.  Pulling capital out of the private sector.  Raising borrowing costs.  The government then tries to lower borrowing costs by printing money.  Expanding the money supply.  And by making more money available to lend interest rates fall.  But it also does something else.  It encourages bad investments.  Malinvestments.  People who look at those artificially low interest rates and think they should borrow money when the borrowing is good.  Even when they don’t have a good investment opportunity.

They may expand their business now because money is cheap now.  Even though they don’t really need the additional capacity now.  And then if the government raises interest rates to cool the overheated economy thanks to those artificially low interest rates these same investors see their revenues fall as they took on additional expenses by expanding their business.  Just because interest rates were low.  Now their costs are higher just when their revenues have fallen.  Pushing the business towards bankruptcy.  Which would never have happened if the government didn’t encourage them to borrow money they didn’t need by keeping interest rates artificially low.

But getting people to borrow money when they don’t need it is the government’s only economic policy.  Which they took to another level in the housing market.  With pressure from the Clinton Justice Department on lenders to qualify the unqualified for loans.  Exploding the use of risky subprime lending.  And then using Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy these risky subprime loans from these lenders.  Removing all risks from these lenders and passing them on to the taxpayers.  To encourage these lenders to lower their lending standards.  So they would keep making risky loans.  Which they were more than willing to do if they incurred no risk in making these loans.  Which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did for them.  Thus further destroying the banking system.

And now the government has taken over student loans.  Where they will do to student loans what they did to home mortgages.  Where lending decisions will be made for political reasons instead of objective lending standards.  Guaranteeing more subprime mortgage crises in the future.  A further destruction of the banking system.  And the destruction of one of the pillars of an advanced economy.

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Banks, Keynes, Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 11th, 2013

History 101

Bringing Borrowers and Lenders Together is a very Important Function of our Banks

Borrowers like low interest rates.  Savers (i.e., lenders) like high interest rates.  People who put money into the bank want to earn a high interest rate.  People who want to buy a house want a low interest rate.  As the interest rate will determine the price of the house they can buy.  Borrowers and lenders meet at banks.  Bankers offer a high enough interest rate to attract lenders (i.e., depositors).  But not too high to discourage borrowers.

This is the essence of the banking system.  And capital formation.  Alexander Hamilton said that money in people’s pockets was just money.  But when the people came together and deposited their money into a bank that money became capital.  Large sums of money a business could borrow to build a factory.  Which creates economic activity.  And jobs.  The United States became the world’s number one economic power with the capital formation of its banking system.  For a sound banking system is required for any advanced economy.  As it allows the rise of a middle class.  By providing investment capital for entrepreneurs.  And middle class jobs in the businesses they build.

So bringing borrowers and lenders together is a very important function of our banks.  And bankers have the heavy burden of determining saving rates.  And lending rates.  As well as determining the credit risk of potential borrowers.  Savers deposit their money to earn one rate.  So the bank can loan it out at another rate.  A rate that will pay depositors interest.  As well as cover the few loans that borrowers can’t pay back.  Which is why bankers have to be very careful to who they loan money to.

Keynesians make Recessions worse by Keeping Interest Rates low, Preventing a Correction from Happening

John Maynard Keynes changed this system of banking that made the United States the world’s number one economic power.  We call his economic theories Keynesian economics.  One of the changes from the classical school of economics we used to make the United States the world’s number one economic power was the manipulation of interest rates.  Instead of leaving this to free market forces in the banking system Keynesians said government should have that power.  And they took it.  Printing money to make more available to lend.  Thus bringing down interest rates.

And why did they want to bring down interest rates?  To stimulate economic activity.  At least, that was their goal.  To stimulate economic activity to pull us out of a recession.  To even eliminate recessions all together.  To eliminate the normal expansion and contraction of the economy.  By manipulating interest rates to continually expand the economy.  To accept a small amount of permanent inflation.  In exchange for a constantly expanding economy.  And permanent job creation.  That was the Keynesian intention.  But did it work?

No.  Since the Keynesians took over the economy we’ve had the Great Depression, the stagflation and misery of the Seventies, the savings and loans crisis of the Eighties, the irrational exuberance and the dot-com bubble crash of the Nineties, the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession.  All of these were caused by the Keynesian manipulation of interest rates.  And the resulting recessions were made worse by trying to keep interest rates low to pull the economy out of recession.  Preventing the correction from happening.  Allowing these artificially low interest rates to cause even more damage.

The Government’s manipulation of Interest Rates gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the Great Recession

My friend’s father complained about the low interest rates during the Clinton administration.  For the savings rate offered by banks was next to nothing.  With the Federal Reserve printing so much money the banks didn’t need to attract depositors with high savings rates.  Worse for these savers was the inflation caused by printing all of this money eroded the purchasing power of their savings.  So they couldn’t earn anything on their savings.  And what savings they had bought less and less over time.  But mortgages were cheap.  And people were rushing to the banks to get a mortgage before those rates started rising again.

This was an interruption of normal market forces.  It changed people’s behavior.  People who were not even planning to buy a house were moved by those low interest rates to enter the housing market.  Then President Clinton pushed other people into the housing market with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Getting people who were not even planning to buy a house AND who could not even afford to buy a house to enter the housing market.  Those artificially low interest rates pulled so many people into the housing market that this increased demand for houses started raising house prices.  A lot.  But it didn’t matter.  Not with those low interest rates.  Subprime lending.  Pressure by the Clinton administration to qualify the unqualified for mortgages.  And Fannie May and Freddie Mac buying those risky subprime mortgages from the banks, freeing them up to make more risky mortgages.  This scorching demand pushed housing prices into the stratosphere.

A correction was long overdue.  But the Federal Reserve kept pushing that correction off by keeping interest rates artificially low.  But eventually inflation started to appear from all that money creation.  And the Federal Reserve had no choice but to raise interest rates to tamp out that inflation.  But when they did it caused a big problem for those with subprime mortgages.  Those who had adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).  For when interest rates went up so did their mortgage payments.  Beyond their ability to pay them.  So they defaulted on their mortgages.  A lot of them.  Which caused an even bigger problem.  All those mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought?  They sold them to Wall Street.  Who chopped them up into collateralized debt obligations.  Financial instruments backed by historically the safest of all investments.  The home mortgage.  Only these weren’t your father’s mortgage.  These were risky subprime mortgages.  But they sold them to unsuspecting investors as high yield and low-risk investments.  And when people started defaulting on their mortgages these investments became worthless.  Which spread the financial crisis around the world.  On top of all of this the housing bubble burst.  And those house prices fell back down from the stratosphere.  Leaving many homeowners with mortgages greater than the corrected value of their house.

It was the government’s manipulation of interest rates that gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  The Great Recession.  And the worst recovery since that following the Great Depression.  All the result of Keynesian economics.  And the foolhardy belief that you can make recessions a thing of the past.

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Banking, Lending Standards, Dot-Com, Subprime Mortgage and Bill Clinton’s Recessions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 19th, 2013

History 101

Lending more made Banks more Profitable as long as they Maintained Good Lending Standards

Money is a commodity.  And like any commodity the laws of supply and demand affect it.  If a lot of people want to borrow money interest rates rise.  This helps to make sure the people who want to borrow money the most can.  As they are willing to pay the higher interest rates.  While those who don’t want the money bad enough to pay the higher interest rates will let someone else borrow that money.  If few people want to borrow money interest rates fall.  To entice those people back into the credit markets who had decided not to borrow money when interest rates were higher.

Okay, but who is out there who wants people to borrow their money?  And why do they want this?  The key to any advanced civilization and the path to a higher standard of living is a good banking system.  Because if ordinary people can borrow money ordinary people can buy a house.  Or start a business.  Not just the rich.  For a good banking system allows a thriving middle class.  As people earn money they pay their bills.  And put a little away in the bank.  When a lot of people do this all of those little amounts add up to a large sum.  Which converts small change into capital.  Allowing us to build factories, automobiles, airplanes, cell towers, etc.  Giving us the modern world.  As banks are the intermediary between left over disposable cash and investment capital.

Banks are businesses.  They provide a service for a fee.  And they make their money by loaning money to people who want to borrow it.  The more money they lend the more money they make.  They pay people to use their deposits.  By paying interest to people who deposit their money with them.  They then loan this money at a higher interest rate.  The difference between what they pay to depositors and what they collect from borrowers pays their bills.  Covers bad loans.  And gives them a little profit.   Which can be a lot of profit if they do a lot of lending.  However, the more they lend the more loans can go bad.  So they have to be very careful in qualifying those they lend money to.  Making sure they will have the ability to pay their interest payments.  And repay the loan.

With the Federal Reserve keeping Interest Rates low Investors Borrowed Money and Poured it into the Dot-Coms

Just as a good banking system is necessary for an advanced civilization, a higher standard of living and a thriving middle class so is good lending standards necessary for a good banking system.  And when banks follow good lending standards economic growth is more real and less of a bubble.  For when money is too easy to borrow some people may borrow it to make unwise investments.  Or malinvestments as those in the Austrian school of economics call it.  Like buying an expensive car they don’t need.  A house bigger than their needs.  Building more houses than there are people to buy them.  Or investing in an unproven business in the hopes that it will be the next Microsoft.

America became the number one economic power in the world because of a good banking system that maintained good lending standards.  Which provided investment capital for wise and prudent investments.  Then the Keynesians in government changed that.  By giving us the Federal Reserve System.  America’s central bank.  And bad monetary policy.  The Keynesians believe in an active government intervening in the private economy.  That can manipulate interest rates to create artificial economic activity.  By keeping interest rates artificially low.  To make it easier for anyone to borrow money.  No matter their ability to repay it.  Or how poor the investment they plan to make.

The Internet entered our lives in the Nineties.  Shortly after Bill Gates became a billionaire with his Microsoft.  And investors were looking for the next tech geek billionaire.  Hoping to get in on the next Microsoft.  So they poured money into dot-com companies.  Companies that had no profits.  And nothing to sell.  And with the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates artificially low investors borrowed money and poured even more into these dot-coms.  Classic malinvestments.  The stock prices for these companies that had no profits or anything to sell soared.  As investors everywhere were betting that they had found the next Microsoft.  The surging stock market made the Federal Reserve chief, Alan Greenspan, nervous.  Such overvalued stocks were likely to fall.  And fall hard.  It wasn’t so much a question of ‘if’ but of ‘when’.  He tried to warn investors to cool their profit lust.  Warning them of their irrational exuberance.  But they didn’t listen.  And once that investment capital ran out the dot-com bubble burst.  Putting all those newly graduated computer programmers out of a job.  And everyone else in all of those dot-com businesses.  Causing a painful recession in 2000.

Based on the Labor Force Participation Rate we are in one of the Worse and Longest Recession in U.S. History

Encouraging malinvestments in dot-coms was not the only mismanagement Bill Clinton did in the Nineties.  For he also destroyed the banking system.  With his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Where he fixed nonexistent discriminatory lending practices by forcing banks to abandon good lending standards.  And to qualify the unqualified.  Putting a lot of people into houses they could not afford.  Their weapon of choice for the destruction of good lending practices?  Subprime lending.  And pressure from the Clinton Justice Department.  Warning banks to approve more loans in poor areas or else.  So if they wanted to stay in business they had to start making risky loans.  But the government helped them.  By having Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buying those risky, toxic loans from those banks.  Getting them off the banks’ balance sheets so they would make more toxic subprime loans.  And as they did Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac passed these mortgages on to Wall Street.  Who chopped and diced them into new investment vehicles.  The collateralized debt obligation (CDO).  High-yield but low-risk investments.  Because they were backed by the safest investment in the world.  A stream of mortgage payments.  Of course what they failed to tell investors was that these were not conventional mortgages with 20% down payments.  But toxic subprime mortgages where the borrowers put little if anything down.  Making it easy for them to walk away from these mortgages.  Which they did.  Giving us the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

So Bill Clinton and his Keynesian cohorts caused some of the greatest economic damage this nation had ever seen.  For Keynesian policies don’t create real economic activity.  They only create bubbles.  And bubbles eventually burst.  As those highly inflated asset prices (stocks, houses, etc.) have to come back down from the stratosphere.  The higher they rise the farther they fall.   And the more painful the recession.  For this government intrusion into the private economy caused a lot of malinvestments.  A tragic misuse of investment capital.  Directing it into investments it wouldn’t have gone into had it not been for the government’s interference with market forces.  And when the bubble can no longer be kept aloft market forces reenter the picture and begin clearing away the damage of those malinvestments.  Getting rid of the irrational exuberance.  Resetting asset prices to their true market value.  And in the process eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Jobs the market would have created elsewhere had it not been for the Keynesian interference.  We can see the extent of the damage of these two Clinton recessions if we graph the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) along with the labor force participation rate (the percentage of those who are able to work who are actually working).  As can be seen here (see Percent change from preceding period and Employment Situation Archived News Releases):

Labor Force Participation Rate and GDP Growth

The first Clinton recession caused a decline in the labor force participation rate (LFPR) that didn’t level out until after 2004.  Even though there were not two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth during this time.  Usually what it takes to call an economic slump a recession.  But the falling LFPR clearly showed very bad economic times.  That began with the dot-com bubble bursting.  And was made worse after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  Eventually George W. Bush pulled us out of that recession with tax cuts.  The much maligned Bush tax cuts.  Which not only caused a return to positive GDP growth.  But it arrested the decline of the LFPR.  But the good times did not last.  For the second Clinton recession was just around the corner.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  Created with President Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  That unleashed real economic woe.  Woe so bad we call it the Great Recession.  The little brother of the Great Depression.

This recession not only had two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth but five of six consecutive quarters showed negative growth.  And one of those quarters nearly reached a negative ten percent.  Which is when a recession becomes a depression.  This recession was so long and so painful because those artificially low interest rates and the pressure on bankers to lower their lending standards created a huge housing bubble.  Pushing housing prices so high that when the housing bubble burst those prices had a very long way to fall.  Worse, President Obama kept to the Keynesian policies that caused the recession.  Trying to spend the economy out of recession.  Instead of cutting taxes.  Like George W. Bush did to pull the economy out of the first Clinton recession.  Worse, anti-business policies and regulations stifled any recovery.  And then there was Obamacare.  The great job killer.  Which he helped pass into law instead of trying to end the Great Recession.  GDP growth eventually returned to positive growth.  And the official unemployment fell.  A little.  But the president’s policies did nothing to reverse one of the greatest declines in the LFPR.  More people than ever have disappeared from the labor force.  That will take a lot of time and a lot of new, real economic activity to bring them back into the labor force.  And no matter what the current GDP growth rate or the official unemployment rate are it doesn’t change the reality of the economy.  Based on the LFPR it is in one of the worse and longest recession in U.S. history.  And the worse recovery since the Great Depression.  Because of President Obama’s embrace of Keynesian policies.  Which do more to increase the size of government than help the economy.

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Pure Gold Standard

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 8th, 2012

Economics 101

To Expand the Money Supply under a Pure Gold Standard requires an Enormous Investment unlike it does for Fiat Money

Do you know why we’ll never have a pure gold standard?  Because a pure gold standard doesn’t need a government.  Or their economists (from the Keynesian school) advising them how to make the economy better.  A pure gold standard works all by itself.  And is hard to manipulate.  Governments can’t inflate the money supply to spend money they don’t have.  So it really takes the fun out of being a spendthrift politician.  And because it would work so well it would debunk a century or so of Keynesian economics.  And shut down most economics departments at our Universities.  Because that’s all they know how to teach.  Keynesian economics.

So there is a lot of opposition to returning to a responsible monetary standard like a pure gold standard.  Ronald Reagan was the last presidential candidate to include a pure gold standard in the campaign platform.  But the idea died quickly after inauguration.  Not because he lied.  There was just too much political opposition that would never let it happen.  For that’s the last thing our spendthrift politicians in Washington want.  Something restraining them from spending what they don’t have.  As that would only make it more difficult to buy votes.  Reward campaign donors.  And reward special contributors with federal jobs in an ever expanding federal bureaucracy.

No, what the spendthrift politicians like is fiat money.  The kind you make up out of thin air.  Easily.  And with very little cost.  Either by printing paper dollars.  Or adding numbers to an electronic ledger.  Something you can’t do when you use gold.  Because to expand the money supply under a pure gold standard requires an enormous investment to find it.  To dig the ore out of the ground.  To comminute it (break it into smaller pieces) usually by crushing and grinding.  To smelt it.  To separate the gold from everything else pulled out of the ground with it.  And add it to the money supply.  This process takes a while.  And costs an enormous amount of money.  Unlike fiat money.  Where they can simply expand the money supply with a few computer key strokes.  Over a cup of coffee.

The Keynesian Interest Rate will always have a Larger Inflation Factor Included than a Gold Standard Rate

Gold mining requires gold mining companies.  And these gold mining companies have to raise a lot of capital to finance their extraction of gold.  Often with stocks and bonds.  So digging gold out of the ground requires investors to take great risks with their investment portfolios.  So it takes a lot to get gold out of the ground.  Which is why under a gold standard you can never have runaway inflation.  Technically you could.  But it would require the company to invest an inordinate amount of money into that inflation.  And if they flooded the market with all of that gold it would only lower the price of gold.  So they would spend more to earn less.  Something a private company is not likely to do.  Which is why it would be very difficult to impossible to have runaway inflation.

One of the things that makes a healthy economy is low interest rates.  If the cost of borrowing money is low more people will borrow money.  And if they’re buying things that require loans they’re generating a lot of economic activity.  Creating a lot of jobs along the way.  This is why Keynesians want to print money.  To flood the market with dollars so it doesn’t cost much to borrow them.  But there is another factor in interest rates.  Inflation.  The greater the inflation rate the greater the interest rate.  To compensate lenders for the loss in purchasing power over the time of the loan.  And increasing the money supply devalues the dollar.  Leading to a loss in purchasing power.  And those higher interest rates.

As it is much easier to inflate fiat money than it is with gold interest rates are higher with fiat money than they are with gold.  Because there is always a risk for governments to print more money for political purposes (i.e., buying votes) there is more cushion built in interest rates.  If you remove the irresponsible government aspect from the monetary system interest rates will be lower.  Because lenders would ask for less cushion in their interest rates.  Because of this stability that gold gives you interest rates are low for extended periods of time.  Encouraging lenders to lend.  And borrowers to borrow.  Leading to economic growth.  And jobs.  What the Keynesians try to get by printing money.  But the Keynesian interest rate will always have a larger inflation factor included.  So their interest rates will never be as low as they are under a pure gold standard.

Because Gold is not a Friend of Inflation it is no Friend to Keynesian Economists or Spendthrift Politicians

Under such a gold standard we would not get rid of paper dollars.  We’d still have those.  Only there would be no fractional reserve banking.  Where the banks keep only a small percentage of their deposits in their bank vaults while lending the rest out.  Under a gold standard our dollars would be ‘receipts’ for the gold stored in those bank vaults.  If the price of gold was $50 an ounce (it’s not) then $1 would equal 1/50 of an ounce of gold.  So for every dollar in circulation there would be 1/50 of an ounce of gold in a bank vault somewhere.  If you had $500 in your checking account the bank would have 10 ($500 X 1/50) ounces of gold on deposit for you.  Which means if everyone came to withdraw their money at the same time everyone would get their money.  There would not be any bank runs.  And no bank failures like there were during the Great Depression.

But could banks still loan money with a 100% reserve requirement for demand deposits (i.e., checking accounts)?  Yes.  They would loan money that people deposited for a fixed period of time.  Like a 5-year certificate of deposit.  Where the depositor can’t withdraw it until that 5-year period is up without a significant penalty for early withdrawal.  If a bank makes a 4-year loan with a 5-year deposit the money should be returned to the bank in time for the depositor to withdraw it at the end of 5 years.  As most savings are long-term (such as for retirement) this would not hinder lending.  There would still be plenty of money to lend.  Only there may be tighter lending standards where only people who can actually repay their loans may be able to borrow money.  Which would be a good thing.  As it would prevent another subprime mortgage crisis from happening.

If the economy grows larger than the money supply there will be fewer dollars chasing all those goods and services.  Meaning that the dollar’s purchasing power will increase.  And prices will fall.  This is something Keynesians all fear (but not consumers who like lower prices).  For they say if prices fall there could be another Great Depression.  However, the Federal Reserve helped to bring about the Great Recession with their deflationary monetary policies.  They contracted the money supply by some 30%.  That can’t happen with a pure gold standard.  Because the money supply never gets smaller.  Because just as you can’t create gold out of thin air you can’t make it disappear.  For once they add it to the money supply it is always there.  The gold stock never shrinks.  It can only grow less than the economy.  So you can have a monetary deflation without a depression.  Which is a good thing.  For your paycheck will go farther.  You savings will give you a better retirement.  It even makes international trade fair.  Because gold is gold.  Which makes any currency based on a unit weight of gold difficult to manipulate when it comes to exchange rates.  As prices are, essentially, in weights of gold.

So who wouldn’t win under a pure gold standard?  Governments with welfare states.  Who like to buy votes with their power over the monetary system.  Who depend on Keynesian inflationary policies to give them those large sums to spend.  And because gold is not a friend of inflation it is no friend to Keynesian economists or spendthrift politicians.

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The Keynesian Contagion in the Eurozone is so Bad Investors are Paying People to hold their Money Elsewhere

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 11th, 2012

Week in Review

The Keynesian answer to everything is more spending.  By any means possible.  By taxes.  By borrowing.  Or by printing.  Despite Jimmy Carter’s stagflation of the Seventies.  Japan’s Lost Decade in the Nineties.  And the current sovereign debt crisis in Europe.  All Keynesian failures.  And the Keynesian answer to why they all failed.  Because they didn’t spend enough.  It’s amazing.  No matter how wrong they are they keep insisting that they are right.  And now things are so bad in the Eurozone that investors are paying people to hold their money until the current Keynesian contagion spreading through Europe dies out (see Negative interest rates spell final defeat for beleaguered savers by Jeremy Warner posted 8/6/2012 on The Telegraph).

Ignore, for the moment, what has happened to bond yields in the troubled eurozone periphery. That is an unnecessary tragedy unique to certain members of the euro. The bigger story is that across large parts of Europe, nominal interest rates are turning negative. Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland are already there, and now there is even some possibility of the UK joining them.

Last week, the yield on two-year gilts reached a record low, and though it has come back a bit since – boosted by the possibly mistaken belief that Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, is about to come riding to the rescue in the eurozone debt crisis – it still hovers at an almost unbelievable 0.05pc. Real yields on index-linked gilts have been negative for some years now, but this is the first time that nominal yields have looked like joining them.

The way things are going, investors will soon be forced to pay to lend the Government their money, a topsy-turvy, Through the Looking Glass world where the lender pays the borrower a rate of interest, rather than the other way around. The profligacy of government is rewarded, the thrift of its citizens is punished. For long something of a mug’s game, saving for the future becomes completely pointless, while pension funds, forced into gilts by solvency regulation, are further crucified.

As governments lower interest rates to try and stimulate economic activity that isn’t there (and won’t appear even with these low rates as proven by the fact that these low rates haven’t stimulated economic activity yet) this also lowers the interest rate on savings accounts.  So as the government pursues reckless Keynesian policies (lowering interest rates to stimulate the economy) those who live responsibly and save for their retirement see their savings shrink instead of grow.  Though this destroys lives it doesn’t necessarily bother Keynesians.  Who hate people who save their money instead of spending it.  Because in the Keynesian view savings reduce economic activity by pulling cash out of the economy.  Of course savings have typically been the source of investment capital that actually generates economic activity.  But the Keynesians ignore this fact.  As well as the one about destroying people’s retirement.  Which is why their policies destroy economies.

Ultra-low bond yields are a sign not so much of international confidence in the UK’s credit worthiness, but of a seriously impaired economy…

In the meantime, fear of a disorderly break-up continues to drive investors into safe-haven assets, which, in practice, means any half-way credit-worthy alternative to the eurozone periphery…

When a country’s bond interest rate falls it is typically a sign of a strong and healthy economy.  Things are going so well that people have little fear in loaning money to them.  And therefore the country doesn’t have to pay high interest rates to attract buyers for their bonds.  This is not what is happening now, though.  Money is flowing to Britain and the United States not because their economies are strong and robust (they’re not) but because their economies aren’t as horrible as in other countries.  Especially in the Eurozone.  Where interest rates are high because of the high risk of default.  Which drives investors to countries not with better and more robust economies.  But where the risk of default is lower.  The investors are basically saying that, yes, the economies of Britain and the United States are bad.  But they are not ‘Eurozone’ bad.  So they will park their money there.  And even pay (with negative bond yields) these countries to hold their money until some better investing opportunity comes along.  You see, it’s not about earning profits now.  It’s about trying to save what money they have until this current Keynesian contagion dies out.

Banks struggle to fund themselves at the same low rates as the Government because investors fear that a eurozone break-up would further undermine their solvency. Even in Britain, banks are once again seen as fundamentally unsafe…

When the economy is growing strongly, money changes hands with high velocity, creating a consequent demand for cash. To satisfy this demand, money is withdrawn from bonds, causing interest rates to rise. But with conditions as they are now, the reverse takes place. Low economic activity causes cash to flow back the other way and into bonds, driving yields into negative territory.

In such circumstances the Bank of England has little option but to carry on with quantitative easing, even though this has become something of a circular process. The Bank buys gilts to pump prime the economy with cash and investors use the cash to buy still more gilts…

Eventually, the Bank will need to go rapidly into reverse to prevent more serious inflation, a la 1970s. The velocity of money will rise, and all that freshly minted cash will suddenly start chasing goods, wages, assets and commodities, instead of sitting in bonds.

Before there was a large government debt market rich people invested in businesses.  Small business with venture capital.  And large businesses with corporate stocks and bonds.  Rich people got richer by investing in businesses that created jobs.  Increasing economic activity throughout the country.  They made greater profits.  And took greater risks.  With a large government debt market, though, they have another alternative.  Rich people can buy government bonds instead.  They don’t make as much but they don’t take anywhere near the same risk.  Unless they’re investing in the Eurozone.  Which they appear not to be doing these days.  In fact, with these bargain basement interest rates some are even borrowing money to invest in higher interest bonds of other countries.  We call this trading on the interest.  Or carry trading.  Borrow at low interest rates.  And using that money to buy investments with high interest rates.

This is the price we pay with high government debt.  It pulls capital out of the private sector.  Provides a safer, non-job-creating option for rich investors.  And all of this extra money in the economy will sooner or later ignite inflation.  As well as threaten the solvency of the banking sector when some of these bets on carry trades go bad.  As a lot of these investors borrow money to make these trades leaving the banking sector exposed to huge risks when things go bad.  And they often do.

This is what Keynesian economics does.  Has done.  And always will do.  Yet governments still play their Keynesian games with interest rates.  And their interventions into the economy.  So why do governments keep going down this same destructive road?  Because they can.  And they just love spending other people’s money.

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World War I, Gold Standard, German Reparations, Hyperinflation, Credit-Anstalt, Keynesian Policies and the Great Depression

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 13th, 2012

History 101

Nations abandoned the Gold Standard to Borrow and Print Money freely to pay for World War I 

Banks loan to each other.  They participate in a banking system that moves capital from those who have it to those who need it.  It’s a good system.  And a system that works.  Providing businesses and entrepreneurs with the capital to expand their businesses.  And create jobs.  As long as all the banks in the system go about their business responsibly.  And their governments go about their business responsibly.  Sadly, neither always does.

World War I changed the world in so many ways for the worse.  It killed a generation of Europeans.  Bankrupted nations.  Redrew the borders in Europe as the victors divvied up the spoils of war.  Setting the stage for future political unrest.  Gave us Keynesian economics.  Saw the beginning of the decline of the gold standard.  A deterioration of international trade.  A rise of protectionism and nationalism.  Punishing German reparations.  To pay for a war that they didn’t necessarily start.  Nor did they necessarily lose.  Which created a lot of anger in Germany.  And provided the seed for the Great Depression.

A set of entangling treaties brought nations eagerly into World War I.  There was great patriotic fervor.  And a belief that this war would be Napoleonic.  Some glorious battles.  With the victors negotiating a favorable peace.  Sadly, no one learned the lessons of the Crimean War (1853-1856).  Which killed approximately 600,000 (about 35% of those in uniform).  Or the American Civil War (1861-1865).  Which killed approximately 600,000 (about 20% of those in uniform).  The first modern wars.  Where the technology was ahead of the Napoleonic tactics of the day.  Modern rifled weapons made accurate killing weapons.  And the telegraph and the railroads allowed the combatants to rush ever more men into the fire of those accurate killing weapons.  These are the lessons they didn’t learn.  Which was a pity.  Because the weapons were much more lethal in World War I (1914-1918).  And far more advanced than the tactics of the day.  Which were still largely Napoleonic.  Mass men on the field of battle.  Fire and advance.  And close with the bayonet.  Which they did in World War I.  And these soldiers advanced into the withering fire of the new machine gun.  While artillery rounds fell around them.  Making big holes and throwing shredded shrapnel through flesh and bone.  WWI killed approximately 10,000,000 (about 15% of those in uniform).  And wounded another 20 million.  To do that kind of damage costs a lot of money.  Big money.  For bullets, shells, rifles, artillery, machine guns, warships, planes, etc., don’t grow on trees.  Which is why all nations (except the U.S.) went off of the gold standard to pay for this war.  To shake off any constraints to their ability to raise the money to wage war.  To let them borrow and print as much as they wanted.  Despite the effect that would have on their currency.  Or on foreign exchange rates.

As Countries abandoned the Gold Standard they depreciated their Currencies and wiped out People’s Life Savings

Well, the war had all but bankrupted the combatants.  They had huge debts and inflated currencies.  Large trade deficits.  And surpluses.  A great imbalance of trade.  And it was in this environment that they restored some measure of a gold standard.  Which wasn’t quite standard.  As the different nations adopted different exchange rates.  But they moved to get their financial houses back in order.  And the first order of business was to address those large debts.  And the ‘victors’ decided to squeeze Germany to pay some of that debt off.  Hence those punishing reparations.  Which the victors wanted in gold.  Or foreign currency.  Which made it difficult for Germany to return to the gold standard.  As the victors had taken most of her gold.  And so began the hyperinflation.  As the Germans printed Marks to trade for foreign currency.  Of course we know what happened next.  They devalued the Mark so much that it took wheelbarrows full of them to buy their groceries.  And to exchange for foreign currency.

Elsewhere, in the new Europe that emerged from WWI, there was a growth in regional banking.  Savvy bankers who were pretty good at risk evaluation.  Who were close to the borrowers.  And informed.  Allowing them to write good loans.  Meanwhile, the old institutions were carrying on as if it was still 1914.  Not quite as savvy.  And making bad loans.  The ones the more savvy bankers refused to write.  Weak banking regulation helped facilitate these bad lending practices.  Leaving a lot of banks with weak balance sheets.  Add in the hyperinflation.  Heavy debts.  Higher taxes (to reduce those debts).  Trade imbalances.  And you get a bad economy.  Where businesses were struggling to service their debt.  With many defaulting.  As a smaller bank failed a bigger bank would absorb it.  Bad loans and all.  Including an Austrian bank.  A pretty big one at that.  The largest in Austria.  Credit-Anstalt.  Which was ‘too big to fail’.  But failed anyway.  And when it did the collapse was heard around the world. 

As banks failed the money supply contracted.  Causing a liquidity crisis.  And deflation (less money chasing the same amount of goods).  Currency appreciation (further hurting a country’s balance of trade).  And low prices.  Which made it harder for borrowers to service their debt with the lower revenue they earned on those lower prices.  So there were more loan defaults.  Bank runs.  And bank failures.  Spreading the contagion to Amsterdam.  To Warsaw.  Germany.  Latvia.  Turkey.  Egypt.  Britain.  Even the U.S.  Soon countries abandoned the gold standard.  So they could print money to save the banks.  Lower interest rates.  Depreciate their currencies.  And wipe out large swathes of wealth denominated in that now depreciated currency.  What we call Keynesian policies.  People’s life savings became a fraction of what they were.  Making for a longer working life.  And a more Spartan retirement. 

Abandoning the Gold Standard didn’t fix the U.S. Economy in 1971

Meanwhile in the U.S. the government was destroying the U.S. economy.  Trying to protect domestic prices they passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Raising the price for businesses and consumers alike.  And kicking off a trade war.  Both of which greatly reduced U.S. exports.  New labor legislation keeping wages above market prices while all other prices were falling.  And higher taxes to pay for New Deal social programs.  Wiping out business profits and causing massive unemployment.  Then came the fall in farm prices due to increased farm productivity.  Thanks to farmers mechanizing their farms and greatly increasing their harvests.  Thus lowering prices.  Making it hard to service the bank loans they got to pay for that mechanization.  Thus leading to bank failures in the farming regions.  That spread to the cities.  Causing a liquidity crisis.  And deflation.

Then came Credit-Anstalt.  And all the woe that followed.  Which caused a speculative run in Britain.  Which made the British decide to leave the gold standard.  To stem the flow of gold out of their country.  Which destroyed whatever confidence was still remaining in their banking system.  People thought that the U.S. would be next.  But the Americans defended the dollar.  And instead raised interest rates (by reducing the money supply).  To keep the dollar valuable.  And to protect the exchange rate.  Making it less attractive to exchange cash for gold.  And to restore confidence in the banking system.  Of course, this didn’t help the liquidity crisis.  Which Keynesians blame for the length and the severity of the Great Depression.

Of course, it wasn’t the gold standard that caused the fall of Credit-Anstalt.  It was poor lending practices.  A weak banking regulation that allowed those poor lending practices.  And a lot of bad government policy throughout Europe.  Especially those punishing German reparations.  And the gold standard didn’t cause the economic collapse in the United States.  For it worked well the previous decade.  Providing all the capital required to produce the Roaring Twenties that modernized the world.  It was government and their intrusive policies into the free market that caused the economic collapse.  And abandoning the gold standard wouldn’t have changed that.  Or made the economy better.  And we know this because leaving the gold standard didn’t solve all of the countries woes in 1971.  Because the government was still implementing bad Keynesian policies.

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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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