The Obama Recovery is Good for Wall Street but Bad for Main Street

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 18th, 2014

Week in Review

The December jobs report was pretty bleak.  It showed that the unemployment rate fell to 6.7% and that the economy added 74,000 jobs.  Not great but good enough for some who say that President Obama’s policies are finally working after 5 some years of trying.  Which is ridiculous.  Because that unemployment rate doesn’t tell you how many people lost their jobs.  And how many people disappeared from the civilian labor force as they gave up trying to find work that just isn’t there.  Which hides the number of people who lost their jobs.  Because the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t count anyone as unemployed if they are no longer looking for work.  But if you dig down into the jobs report you’ll find this data.  And see that for every person that entered the labor force about seven people left it in December (see The BLS Employment Situation Summary for December 2013 posted January 13th, 2014 on PITHOCRATES).  Which is anything but an economic recovery.

All during the Obama presidency the Federal Reserve has been stimulating the economy.  Right out of the Keynesian handbook.  By keeping interest rates near zero to encourage people to borrow money to buy things they don’t need.  But few have.  No.  The only people borrowing that money are rich investors.  Who are borrowing this ‘free’ money to spend in the stock market.  Helping Wall Street to do very well during the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  While Main Street sees their median family income fall.  Still the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, thinks he did a heck of a job (see Bernanke Says QE Effective While Posing No Immediate Bubble Risk by Jeff Kearns and Joshua Zumbrun posted 1/16/2014 on Bloomberg).

Bernanke is seeking to define his legacy before stepping down on Jan. 31. During his eight-year tenure as leader of the Fed he piloted the economy through a financial crisis that led to the longest recession since the 1930s. He has tried to bolster growth by holding the target interest rate near zero and pushing forward with unprecedented bond buying known as QE.

“Those who have been saying for the last five years that we’re just on the brink of hyperinflation, I think I would just point them to this morning’s CPI number and suggest that inflation is not really a significant risk of this policy,” Bernanke said, referring to a Labor Department report showing the consumer price index rose 1.5 percent in the past year. The Fed has set an inflation target of 2 percent…

The Federal Open Market Committee (FDTR) announced plans last month to reduce monthly purchases to $75 billion from $85 billion, citing improvement in the labor market. The jobless rate last month fell to 6.7 percent, a five-year low.

The only reason why we don’t have hyperinflation is that everyone has depreciated their currency so much to boost exports and pay for bloated welfare states that all currencies are losing value.  And of all these bad currencies the American currency is the least bad of the lot.  Which is why some foreign nationals will pay to park their money in American banks.  Because the risk of it losing its value is so much greater in their home country.

But that doesn’t mean inflation hasn’t reared its ugly head in the US economy.  Just go to a grocery store and look at a bag of chips.  Or a box of cookies.  Or any packaged item that didn’t seem to get overly expensive during the Obama recession. A bag of chips may be the same $3-4 it was before the recession.  But notice the size of the bag.  It’s gotten smaller.  So, yes, consumer prices have not shown great inflation.  But packaging has gotten smaller.  So instead of paying more for the same quantity we are paying the same price for a lesser quantity.  Which means we may be buying 4 of something in a month instead of 3 of something.  It adds up.  Which is why there are so many more people on food stamps.  The Bernanke inflation is taking more of our paycheck to buy what it once did.

The economy is horrible.  Fewer people are in the labor force with each jobs report.  Our grocery packaging is shrinking.  And once the Fed stops its bond buying the stock market is going to fall.  A lot.  For every time rich investors think the economic data will show solid economic activity what do they do?  They sell their stocks.  Causing a stock market fall.  Why?  Why would investors leave the stock market when the data say the economy is getting stronger?  Which seems to go against common sense?  Because they know there’s been only one thing helping them get rich during the Obama presidency.  That ‘free’ money.  Once that source of cheap money goes away they will sell before those inflated stock prices fall back to earth.

The Obama recovery.  Good for Wall Street.  Bad for Main Street.

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Quantitative Easing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 24th, 2013

Economics 101

The Gold Standard prevented Nations from Devaluing their Currency to Keep Trade Fair

You may have heard of the great gamble the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, has been making.  Quantitative easing (QE).  The current program being QE3.  The third round since the subprime mortgage crisis.  It’s stimulus.  Of the Keynesian variety.  And in QE3 the Federal Reserve has been ‘printing’ $85 billion each month and using it to buy financial assets on the open market.  Greatly increasing the money supply.  But why?  And how exactly is this supposed to stimulate the economy?  To understand this we need to understand monetary policy.

Keynesians hate the gold standard.  They do not like any restrictions on the government’s central bank’s ability to print money.  Which the gold standard did.  The gold standard pegged the U.S. dollar to gold.  Other central banks could exchange their dollars for gold at the exchange rate of $40/ounce.  This made international trade fair by keeping countries from devaluing their currency to gain a trade advantage.  A devalued U.S. dollar gives the purchaser a lot more weaker dollars when they exchange their stronger currency for them.  Allowing them to buy more U.S. goods than they can when they exchange their currency with a nation that has a stronger currency.  So a nation with a strong export economy would like to weaken their currency to entice the buyers of exports to their export market.  Giving them a trade advantage over countries that have stronger currencies.

The gold standard prevented nations from devaluing their currency and kept trade fair.  In the 20th century the U.S. was the world’s reserve currency.  And it was pegged to gold.  Making the U.S. dollar as good as gold.  But due to excessive government spending through the Sixties and into the Seventies the American central bank, the Federal Reserve, began to print money to pay for their ever growing spending obligations.  Thus devaluing their currency.  Giving them a trade advantage.  But because of that convertibility of dollars into gold nations began to do just that.  Exchange their U.S. dollars for gold.  Because the dollar was no longer as good as gold.  So nations opted to hold gold instead.  Instead of the U.S. dollar as their reserve currency.  Causing a great outflow of gold from the U.S. central bank.

Going off of the Gold Standard made the Seventies the Golden Age of Keynesian Economics

This gave President Richard Nixon quite the contrary.  For no nation wants to lose all of their gold reserves.  So what to do?  Make the dollar stronger?  By not only stopping the printing of new money but pulling existing money out of circulation.  Raising interest rates.  And forcing the government to make REAL spending cuts.  Not cuts in future increases in spending.  But REAL cuts in current spending.  Something anathema to Big Government.  So President Nixon chose another option.  He slammed the gold window shut.  Decoupling the dollar from gold.  No longer exchanging gold for dollars.  Known forever after as the Nixon Shock.  Making a Keynesian dream come true.  Finally giving the central bank the ability to print money at will.

The Keynesians said they could make recessions a thing of the past with their ability to control the size of the money supply.  Because everything comes down to consumer spending.  When the consumers spend the economy does well.  When they don’t spend the economy goes into recession.  So when the consumers don’t spend the government will print money (and borrow money) to spend to replace that lost consumer spending.  And increase the amount of money in circulation to make more available to borrow.  Which will lower interest rates.  Encouraging people to borrow money to buy big ticket items.  Like cars.  And houses.  Thus stimulating the economy out of recession.

The Seventies was the golden age of Keynesian economics.  Freed from the responsible restraints of the gold standard the Keynesians could prove all their theories by creating robust economic activity with their control over the money supply.  But it didn’t work.  Their expansionary policies unleashed near hyperinflation.  Destroying consumers’ purchasing power.  As the greatly devalued dollar raised prices everywhere.  As it took more of them to buy the things they once did before that massive inflation.

The only People Borrowing that QE Money are Very Rich People making Wall Street Investments

The Seventies proved that Keynesian stimulus did not work.  But central bankers throughout the world still embrace it.  For it allows them to spend money they don’t have.  And governments, especially governments with large welfare states, love to spend money.  So they keep playing their monetary policy games.  And when recessions come they expand the money supply.  Making it easy to borrow.  Thus lowering interest rates.  To stimulate those big ticket purchases.  But following the subprime
mortgage crisis those near-zero interest rates did not spur the economic activity the Keynesians thought it would.  People weren’t borrowing that money to buy new houses.  Because of the collapse of the housing market leaving more houses on the market than people wanted to buy.  So there was no need to build new houses.  And, therefore, no need to borrow money.

So this is the problem Ben Bernanke faced.  His expansionary monetary policy (increasing the money supply to lower interest rates) was not stimulating any economic activity.  And with interest rates virtually at 0% there was little liquidity Bernanke could add to the economy.  Resulting in a Keynesian liquidity trap.  Interest rates so close to zero that they could not lower them any more to create economic activity.  So they had to find another way.  Some other way to stimulate economic activity.  And that something else was quantitative easing.  The buying of financial assets in the market place by the Federal Reserve.  Pumping enormous amounts of money into the economy.  In the hopes someone would use that money to buy something.  To create that ever elusive economic activity that their previous monetary efforts failed to produce.

But just like their previous monetary efforts failed so has QE failed.  For the only people borrowing that money were very rich people making Wall Street investments.  Making rich people richer.  While doing nothing (so far) for the working class.  Which is why when Bernanke recently said they may start throttling back on that easy money (i.e., tapering) the stock market fell.  As rich people anticipated a coming rise in interest rates.  A rise in business costs.  A fall in business profits.  And a fall in stock prices.  So they were getting out with their profits while the getting was good.  But it gets worse.

The economy is not improving because of a host of other bad policy decisions.  Higher taxes, more regulations on business, Obamacare, etc.  And a massive devaluation of the dollar (by ‘printing’ all of that new money) just hasn’t overcome the current anti-business climate.  But the potential inflation it may unleash worries some.  A lot.  For having a far greater amount of dollars chasing the same amount of goods can unleash the kind of inflation that we had in the Seventies.  Or worse.  And the way they got rid of the Seventies’ near hyperinflation was with a long, painful recession in the Eighties.  This time, though, things can be worse.  For we still haven’t really pulled out of the Great Recession.  So we’ll be pretty much going from one recession into an even worse recession.  Giving the expression ‘the worst recession since the Great Depression’ new meaning.

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Ben Bernanke defends QE3 before Congress even while Admitting it won’t Create any New Jobs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 6th, 2012

Week in Review

Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman, is a student of the Great Depression.  And of Milton Friedman.  Who he cited often to support his policies when speaking before Congress.  Insisting that their expansionary monetary policy will only stimulate growth.  Not inflation.  Of course, he has already tried quantitative easing one and two and they failed.  As demonstrated by the need of QE3.  Yet these Keynesians always go back to the tried and failed Keynesian policies.  Increase the money supply to lower interest rates.  To encourage people to build and sell new housing while the market is still flooded with homes left over when the housing bubble burst back in 2008.

Economics is not like trying to cure a hangover.  A little hair of the dog (drinking more alcohol to mitigate the effects of a hangover) doesn’t work in economics.  More bad monetary policy does not cure previous bad monetary policy.  At least, it hasn’t yet.  Nor does it appear that it ever will (see Bernanke presses Congress to support US economy by AFP posted 10/2/2012 on Channel News Asia).

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Monday he is confident the US economy will continue to expand, but he urged the US Congress and the White House to act to support stronger growth…

However, he said the economy is growing at a weak 1.5-2 percent rate, not fast enough to lower the employment rate, and that the Fed’s stimulus efforts need to be backed up by action from the rest of the government…

“Many other steps could be taken to strengthen our economy over time, such as putting the federal budget on a sustainable path, reforming the tax code, improving our educational system, supporting technological innovation, and expanding international trade,” Bernanke said.

“In particular, the Congress and the administration will soon have to address the so-called fiscal cliff, a combination of sharply higher taxes and reduced spending that is set to happen at the beginning of the year.

“According to the Congressional Budget Office and virtually all other experts, if that were allowed to occur, it would likely throw the economy back into recession,” he warned.

Bernanke is on to something here.  He acknowledges that the new taxes of the fiscal cliff could throw the economy back into recession.  So if more taxes will prolong or deepen the recession what can we infer from this?  Would not fewer taxes have the opposite effect?

This is the frustrating thing about all of these students of the Great Depression.  They only look at what the Fed did when they were contracting the money supply.  And nothing else.  They don’t talk about a massive increase in tariffs (the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930) in Congressional committee during 1929.  Before the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  Nor do they discuss the progressive policies of Republican Herbert Hoover.  And his interference into market forces.  Trying to raise prices everywhere to help farmers earn more and allow employers to pay their employees more.  And the near doubling of federal income tax rates.  Talk about your economic cold shower.

This was a 180-degree turn from the pro-business polices of the Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge administrations.  That let the Twenties roar with solid economic growth.  Yes, there were some inflationary monetary policies.  The Fed was no angel.  But the growth was strong even after the effects of inflation were factored in.  It was all those tax and tariff increases that turned a recession into a depression.  And then the bad Fed policy destroyed the banking industry on top of it.  Unfortunately, that’s the only part that any Keynesian ever sees.  What the Fed did.  Not the solid economic growth generated by low tax rates and a business-friendly environment.

The Fed’s artificially low interest rates pushed house prices into the stratosphere.  And because they were so high in 2008 they had a very long way to fall.  Which is why the Great Recession has been so painful and so prolonged.  Now they’re trying to stimulate the housing market again.  The very thing that got us into this mess in the first place.  Here’s another lesson the Keynesians need to learn.  Their expansionary policies make recessions longer and more painful.  And there is more to the economy than low interest rates.  For no matter how low they are if the environment is too business-unfriendly they won’t stimulate economic activity.  Lower tax rates and deregulation will.  But not lower interest rates.  That’s what Warren Harding/Calvin Coolidge did.  What JFK did.  What Ronald Reagan did.  What George W. Bush did.  Who all had much faster recoveries following bad recessions than President Obama is having under his Keynesian policies.

If only we could learn the objective lessons of history.  For as George Santayana (1905) said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.”

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Student Loan Debt at Record Highs in the Worst Economy since the Great Depression risk Default

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 11th, 2012

Week in Review

Ben Bernanke gives us encouraging news.  Government guaranteed student loan debt is at a record high.  In a time when the unemployment rate is at a near record high.  In the worst economy since the Great Depression.  With a large chunk of those unemployed being those new college graduates.  But if these college graduates default it won’t put the financial system at risk (see Bernanke Says Student Loans Won’t Cause Crisis by Jeff Kearns and Janet Lorin posted 8/7/2012 on Bloomberg).

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said record U.S. student loan debt doesn’t put the financial system at risk the way mortgages did because most educational borrowing is backed by the government…

Outstanding educational debt, which includes loans taken out by students and their parents, is estimated at $1 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. About 15 percent is private student loans, issued by lenders including banks. The rest is backed by the government.

So instead of the government using tax dollars to bailout financial institutions the government will use tax dollars to pay off these guaranteed student loans once they default.  So what?  What’s putting another Obamacare on the books?  Then again, CBO originally scored Obamacare to cost $1 trillion over ten years.  So a student loan default would be like adding ten Obamacares on the books.   In a year or two.  That would be bad.  But it could be worse.  At least it won’t put the financial system at risk.

If these students default on their student loans because they can’t get a job in this rotten economy with their useless liberal arts or social sciences degrees that aren’t in demand then perhaps we should make the universities refund their money.  Or offer them a degree in something useful at no additional cost.  Like in science or engineering.

Record debt.  Record deficit.  Record government spending.  And now a trillion dollars in student loan debt that may add to the debt pile.  It’s as if the U.S. is on a subway.  And the next stop is Greece.

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Bernanke can’t Help this Bad Economy and Washington only Exasperates our Problems with their Regulatory Zeal

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 26th, 2011

Congressional Action thus far has Scared the Bejesus out of Households and Businesses

All eyes were on Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Ben Bernanke was giving a much anticipated speech.  And the markets waited with bated breath.  They’re not bated anymore (see Bernanke pledges Fed support, but notes limits by Chris Isidore posted 8/26/2011 on CNNMoney).

“Most of the economic policies that support robust economic growth in the long run are outside the province of the central bank,” he said.

And he warned that when Congress weighs future deficit reduction plans, it should be careful to not hurt the economy in the short-term. They “should not…disregard the fragility of the current economic recovery.”

He said there needs to be a better way of Congress making decisions on taxes and spending. And he said a repeat of the this summer’s contentious debate over raising the debt ceiling would likely hurt the economy.

“It is difficult to judge by how much these developments have affected economic activity thus far,” he said about the threat of default and the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. “But there seems little doubt that they have hurt household and business confidence and that they pose ongoing risks to growth.”

The economy has big problems.  Problems, though, that will take more than monetary policy to fix.  But when Congress addresses these fiscal issues they should be very careful not to damage the fragile economic recovery.  Because thus far their words and actions have only been scaring the bejesus out of households and businesses.

Businesses Prefer Stability and Responsible Government that doesn’t Govern Against their Interests

Households and businesses are so frightened of what the future holds that they are sitting on their money (see Key Passages From Bernanke’s Jackson Hole Remark by David Wessel posted 8/26/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

“Financial stress has been and continues to be a significant drag on the recovery, both here and abroad. Bouts of sharp volatility and risk aversion in markets have recently re-emerged in reaction to concerns about both European sovereign debts and developments related to the U.S. fiscal situation…. It is difficult to judge by how much these developments have affected economic activity thus far, but there seems little doubt that they have hurt household and business confidence and that they pose ongoing risks to growth.”

Uncertainty.  The greatest fear of business.  Because you can’t plan uncertainty.  Because it is uncertain.  Businesses prefer stability.  Households, too.  That, and responsible government.  One that doesn’t govern against their interests.

The Department of Energy is going to raise our Electric Bills by 35%  

And so far government hasn’t been delivering what the households and businesses want (see US breaks ground on first industrial-scale carbon capture project by staff of Business Green, part of the Guardian Environment Network guardian.co.uk, posted 8/26/2011 on the Guardian).

The US government’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) efforts stepped up a gear this week, with the start of construction on the government’s first industrial-scale scheme and funds worth $41m set aside for another 16 research projects.

Work on the plant in Decatur, Illinois, which received $141m of public money and another $66.5m from private sector sources, started just a few weeks after American Electric Power abandoned plans to build its $668m CCS facility.

Is this responsible government?  After record deficits caused the first downgrade of U.S. sovereign debt ever should the government still be spending money on bad green investments?  How do I know this is a bad green investment?  Simple.  The private sector will only invest 32% of its total costs.  The taxpayers are picking up the other 68%.

The DoE said its selection yesterday of 16 projects across 13 states to share $41m funding over three years would further the aim.

Each project will focus on developing technologies capable of capturing at least 90% of CO2 produced, as well as reducing the added costs at power plants to no more than a 35% increase in the cost of electricity produced.

Oh, and the Department of Energy is only going to raise our electric bills by 35%.  So not only do the taxpayers have to pay for the construction of this plant, our electric bills will increase afterwards.  For both households.  And businesses.  Which will be a further drag on the economy.  Which won’t make Ben Bernanke happy.

Killing Businesses with Regulatory Compliance Costs

But it gets worse.  The EPA is causing uncertainty for American businesses.  And killing them with compliance costs.  So much so that John Boehner wrote a letter to President Obama demanding a tally of his punishing regulations (see Five EPA rules that will cost more than $1 billion by Conn Carroll posted 8/26/2011 on The Washington Examiner).

Boehner specifically mentions one regulation that “will cost our economy as much as $90 billion per year. That rule, titled “Reconsideration of the 2008 Ozone Primary and Secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards” (aka “The Ozone Rule), is the biggest drag on growth that the EPA has formally proposed so far. The EPA is also working on global warming regulations that are sure to cost much more, but those proposals have not been published yet.

The EPA has published at least four other proposed regulations, however, that would inflict costs on the U.S. economy over or near $1 billion a year. These cost estimates are all from the EPA’s own numbers…

Here’s a chart summarizing the 5 regulations in this article:

 

And this is only 5 of them.  Imagine if you add them up in total.  Could it be holding back businesses?  Perhaps.  I mean, would you invest in anything new knowing billions of dollars of compliance costs were coming your way?  I wouldn’t.

Perhaps the Problem with the Bad Economy is the People trying to Fix It

Bernanke is right.  You can’t fix this stuff with monetary policy.  When you’re attacking American households and businesses like this, no one is going to borrow any money to invest.  No matter how cheap it is.

Furthermore, all of these costs are going to be passed onto the American consumer.  They always are.  So this means consumers will have less disposable income.  Which means this will be a further drag on the economy.  And less economic activity means less tax revenue.  Which takes us back to those growing deficits.  They ain’t going away.

Perhaps the problem with the bad economy isn’t due to a lack of demand as the Keynesians say.  Perhaps the problem is with the people trying to fix it.  And there is no quick solution to that problem.  As the 2012 election is still more than a year away.

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LESSONS LEARNED #79: “Tax cuts stimulate. Not tax hikes.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 18th, 2011

With Bubbles the Ride Down is never as Enjoyable as the Ride Up

Bill Clinton dealt George W. Bush a horrible hand.  Clinton enjoyed the irrational exuberance.  He rode the good side of the dot-com bubble.  Saw the treasury awash in cash.  Dot-com people cashing in their stock options and paying huge capital gains taxes.  There was so much money pouring in that projections showed a balanced budget for the first time in a long time.  As long as the people stayed irrationally exuberant.  And that damn Alan Greenspan didn’t raise interest rates.  To rain on his parade.

But he did.  The days of free money were over.  (For awhile, at least).  Because people where bidding up stock prices for companies that hadn’t produced a product or provided a service.  Money poured into these dot-coms as investors were ever hopeful that they had found the next Microsoft.  These companies hired programmers.  Colleges couldn’t graduate enough of them.  To program whatever these companies would eventually do.  But with the spigot of free money turned off these companies ran out of startup capital.  As most of these businesses had no revenue they went out of business.  By the droves.  Throwing these programmers out onto the street.

And then the great contraction.  Which follows a bubble after it is a bubble no more.  Prices fell as deflation replaced inflation.  And as prices fell, unemployment went up.  The phantom prosperity at the end of the Nineties was being corrected.  And the ride down is never as enjoyable as the ride up. 

Easy Monetary Policy and lack of Congressional Oversight of Fannie Mae and Fannie Mac

And then there was, of course, 9/11.  Which further weakened an already weakened economy.  So that’s the backstory to the economic activity of the 2000s.  A decade that began with the aftermath of one bubble bursting.  And ended with an even worse bubble bursting.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  It was a decade of government stimulus.  George W. Bush used both tax cuts (at the beginning of his presidency).  And then a more Keynesian approach (tax rebates and tax incentives) at the end of his presidency.  In other words, tax and spend.

But the subprime mortgage crisis was so devastating that the 2008 stimulus urged by Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve) to ward off a possible recession failed.  The easy monetary policy and lack of Congressional oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused big trouble.  And put far too many people into houses who couldn’t afford them.  The housing bubble was huge.  And because Fannie and Freddie were buying these risky mortgages and repackaging them into ‘safe’ securities, the fallout went beyond the housing market.  Pension funds, IRAs and 401(k)s that bought these ‘safe’ securities lost huge swaths of wealth.  The economic fallout was vast.  And global.

And then came Barack Obama.  A Keynesian if there was ever one.  With the economy in a free fall towards a depression, he signed into law an $800 billion stimulus package.  Not surprisingly, it turned out that about 88% of that was pure pork and earmarks.  Making his ‘stimulus’ stimulate even less than the George W. Bush $152 billion stimulus package.  And worked about as well.

Home Ownership was the Key to Economic Prosperity in the U.S.

So let’s look at the numbers.  Below is a chart graphing GDP, the unemployment rate and the inflation rate for the 2000s.  GDP is in billions of 2005 dollars.

(Sources: GDP, unemployment, inflation.  *Average to date (GDP – 2 quarters, unemployment rate – 7 months and inflation – 7 months).)

You can see the fallout of the dot-com bust.  The decade opens with deflation and a rising unemployment rate.  GDP, though, was still tracking upward.  After the bush tax cuts in 2001 (Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001) and 2003 (Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003) you can see improvement.  Unemployment peaks out and then falls.  Inflation replaces deflation.  And GDP grows at a greater rate. 

Things were looking good.  But lurking in the background was that easy credit.  And federal policies to qualify unqualified people for mortgages.  To put them into houses they couldn’t afford.  All because home ownership was the key to economic prosperity in the U.S.

Which makes the rising rate of inflation a concern.  Rising inflation (i.e., expansionary or ‘easy’ monetary policy) created the dot-com bubble.  A rising inflation rate can be bad.  But at least during this period the growth rate of GDP is greater than the growth in the inflation rate.  Which indicates real economic growth.  Accompanied by a falling unemployment rate.  All nice.  Until…

Bernanke and Company Crapped their Pants

Those people approved for mortgages they weren’t qualified for?  Guess what?  They couldn’t make their mortgage payments.  And because Fannie and Freddie bought so many of these risky mortgages, these defaults weren’t the banks’ problems.  They were the taxpayers’ problems.  And anyone who bought those ‘safe’ securities.

Long story short, Bernanke and company crapped their pants.  He urged the $152 billion Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 to ward off a possible recession.  This was a Keynesian stimulus.  Remember that summer when you got those $300 checks?  This was that stimulus.  But it didn’t stimulate anything.  People used that money to pay down debt.  Because they were crapping their pants, too.

The good times were over.  That huge housing bubble was bursting.  And nothing was going to stop it.  Certainly not more of the same (Keynesian stimulus).  GDP fell.  Unemployment rose.  Inflation became deflation.  And Bernanke stepped in and turned the printing presses on.  Desperate not to make the same mistake the Fed made during the Great Depression.  When bad Fed policy caused all of those bank runs.

An Inflation Rate Greater than the GDP Growth Rate may Return us to Stagflation

The Obama administration (all Keynesians) pushed for a massive stimulus to fix the economy.  The best and brightest in the administration, Ivy League educated economists, guaranteed that if passed they could hold the unemployment rate under 8%.  So they passed it.  And Bernanke kept printing money.  In other words, more of the same.  More of what gave us the dot-com bubble.  And more of what gave us the housing bubble.  Inflationary monetary policy.  And more government spending.

Didn’t work.  It took a year for the deflation to end.  As the market corrected prices.  And readjusted supply to match actual demand.  The unemployment rate maxed out around 10%.  And the Obama stimulus didn’t move it much from that high. 

GDP growth resumed.  However, the growth of inflation is now greater than the growth of GDP.  A very ominous sign.  Indicating that GDP growth is not real.  And will likely collapse once the ‘free money’ Fed policies end.  Or the growth of inflation coupled with high unemployment return us to the Jimmy Carter stagflation of the Seventies.

Keynesian Stimulus is the way to go if you want Deflation and Recession 

Further Keynesian stimulus may only make a bad situation worse.  And prolong this economic ‘recovery’.  These policies make bubbles.  Which are fine and dandy until they burst.  Giving us deflation and recession.  And the bigger the bubble, the greater deflation and recession that follows.

Tax cuts stimulate.  They ended the dot-com recession.  All Keynesian attempts during the 2000s have failed.  Proving again that tax and spend doesn’t work.  Easy monetary policy and government spending does not end well.  Unless you want deflation and recession.  Then the Keynesian way is the way to go.  But if you want to stimulate economic activity.  If you want real GDP growth.  Then you have to go with tax cuts.  As their track record of success shows.

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Can’t see the Fiscal Forest for the Monetary Trees

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 24th, 2011

He won’t Drill but he will Draw from the Strategic Reserve

The Great Recession lingers on.  As high oil prices hit consumers hard.  Gas prices are back to $4/gallon territory.  Leaving consumers with less disposable income.  Home values are declining in a deflationary spiral.  Wages are stagnant.  Unemployment is high.  And there’s inflation in food and consumer goods.  All driven by the high price of oil.  And all that quantitative easing (QE) that has depreciated the U.S. dollar (which we buy and sell oil with in the global market).

The demand for oil is soaring.  And yet President Obama put a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  In fact, the U.S. isn’t drilling anywhere.  Which has forced the U.S. to import more foreign oil.  Because of this squeeze on supply.  Economics 101 tells you when demand increases supply should increase to meet that growing demand.  When it doesn’t, prices rise.  Like they are.  And the QE just compounded that problem.  When the dollar is worth less it takes more of them to buy the same amount of oil it used to.  Which means higher prices at the pump.  From demand outpacing supply.  And a weaker dollar.

The president’s solution to the high gas prices?  Blame the oil companies.  Because their profits were too high.  It had nothing to do with his policies that restricted the supply of oil on the market.  Of course, with an election coming up and gasoline prices too close to $4/gallon, he’s changed his position on that (see Loss of Libya oil bigger disruption than Katrina: IEA by Simon Falush and Zaida Espana posted 6/24/2011 on Reuters).

On Thursday, the International Energy Agency which represents the major oil consumers agreed to release 60 million barrels from emergency stockpiles, sending crude prices tumbling.

Imagine that.  Increase supply.  And prices fall.  For awhile, at least.  Because once these 60 million barrels are gone, the prices will just go back up where they were.  Unless there is a real increase in supply.  Like more drilling in the Gulf.  The Atlantic.  The Pacific.  In Alaska.  We know it works.  Increase supply.  And prices fall.  So why not just increase supply with more drilling?  Instead of drawing down our strategic reserves (America’s share being 30 million of the 60 million barrels).  Which, incidentally, we’ll have to replace.

Energy Policy Driven by the 2012 Election

Even the White House is all but admitting this move is purely political (see The wrong reason for depleting the strategic oil reserve posted 6/23/2011 on The Washington Post).

So on Thursday Obama administration spokesman Jay Carney argued that oil demand is likely to rise over the summer. In other words: It’s vacation season, and the White House is worried about high prices through the summer driving months.

Therein, perhaps, is a political emergency, at least in the White House view: President Obama’s reelection prospects will be harmed if national discontent over high gasoline prices continues. The oil release could be seen as a way for the president to take credit for gas prices that are falling anyway, or as an indirect, pre-election stimulus.

Personally, the president doesn’t have a problem with the high cost of gasoline.  His administration wants it high.  The higher the better.  They’d like to see it European high (see Times Tough for Energy Overhaul by Neil King Jr. and Stephen Power posted 12/12/2008 on The Wall Street Journal).

In a sign of one major internal difference, Mr. Chu [who became Obama’s Energy Secretary] has called for gradually ramping up gasoline taxes over 15 years to coax consumers into buying more-efficient cars and living in neighborhoods closer to work.

“Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” Mr. Chu, who directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in September.

To make the more expensive green energy less expensive in comparison.  And an easier sell to the American people.  Pleasing his liberal base.  But there’s an election coming.  And high gas prices don’t help you win elections.  Especially during record long-term unemployment.  Even though it goes against every fiber in his body to act to bring down the cost of gasoline, he will.  If it’ll help his reelection chances.  It’s not like he’s going to lose his liberal base.  Who else are they going to vote for?  The conservative?  Not likely.  They’re always going to vote for the most liberal candidate in the race.  And that will still be him.  Despite encouraging more oil consumption.

The Fed doesn’t know why the Economy is in the Toilet

The president needs to get the price down at the pump.  Where people really feel the full weight of his economic policies.  Because the economy isn’t going to get better anytime soon (see Serial disappointment posted 6/23/2011 on The Economist).

THE Fed attracted attention this week for downgrading its forecast not just for this year, but for 2012, as well. More striking is how often it does this. As my nearby chart shows [follow the above link to see chart], the Federal Open Market Committee has repeatedly ratcheted down its forecasts of out-year growth. The latest downward revision is particularly large, and in keeping with the pattern: when the current year disappoints, they take a bit out of the next, as well.

There’s been a steady downward progression of economic projections.  Despite the stimulus.  And the quantitative easing.  Nothing has worked.  When the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, was asked why the economy was not responding to the government’s actions his reply was rather Jeff Spicoli: I don’t know.  And he’s supposed to be an expert in this field.

Mr Bernanke does not need lessons about the painful deleveraging that follows crises. His pioneering work with Mark Gertler on the Great Depression introduced the “financial accelerator”, the mechanism by which collapsing net worth crushes the real economy. This concept has been rechristened the “balance sheet recession” by Richard Koo. Stephen Gordon admits he is new to the term and notes (with some nice charts contrasting America with Canada) “it’s not pretty”. (HT to Mark Thoma). Yet until now Mr Bernanke seemed to think America had learned enough from both the 1930s and Japan to avoid either experience. Reminded by a reporter for Yomiuri Shimbun that he used to castigate Japan for its lost decade, Mr Bernanke ruefully replied, “I’m a little bit more sympathetic to central bankers now than I was 10 years ago”…

Mr Koo has argued that quantitative easing cannot help in a balance sheet recession; only fiscal policy can. Does Mr Bernanke secretly agree? He may believe as strongly as he did a decade ago that sufficiently aggressive monetary policy can prevent deflation, but not that it can create enough demand to restore full employment. This does not rule out QE3; it only means it will be pursued with less hope about the results than a year ago.

The Great Depression (during the 1930s) is a complex topic.  And monetary policy played a big role in making a bad situation worse.  In particular, the numerous bank runs and failures can be blamed on the Federal Reserve.  Starving the banks for capital when they most needed it.  But there was a whole lot more going on.  And it wasn’t the stock market crash that caused it.  World War I (1914-1918) is probably more to blame.  That war was so devastating that it took the combatants a decade to recover from it.  And during that time America exploded in economic activity and fed the world with manufactured goods and food.  We call it the Roaring Twenties.  But eventually European manufacturing and farming came back.  Those lucrative export markets went away.  And America had excess capacity.  Which had to go away.  (A similar boom and bust happened in the U.S. following World War II.)  Then all the other stuff started happening.  Including the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Kicking off a trade war.  It was all too much.

Japan’s lost decade (the 1990s) followed their roaring Eighties.  When the government partnered with business.  And interest rates were low.  The economy boomed.  Into a great big bubble.  That popped.  Because they stimulated the economy beyond market demand. 

The lesson one needs to take away from both of these deflationary spirals is that large government interventions into the private market caused most of their woes.  So the best way to fix these problems is by reducing the government’s intervention into the private market.  Because only the private market knows how to match supply to demand.  And when they do, we have business cycles.  That give us only recessions.  Not depressions.

Like a Dog having Puppies

The market is demanding more oil.  But the U.S. is not meeting that demand.  So gasoline prices are up.  To lower those prices we need to bring more oil onto the market.  And you don’t do that by shutting down the oil business.

We have high unemployment.  And excess capacity.  That’s not a monetary policy problem (interest rates).  It’s a fiscal policy problem (tax and regulation).  No one is going to borrow money to add jobs to build more stuff when no one is buying.  But if you cut taxes and reduce regulations to make running a business highly profitable, people will build businesses here.  Create jobs.  And hire people.  Even if they have to ship everything they make halfway around the world to find someone who is buying. 

Running the economy is not rocket science.  Because it runs itself.  Like a dog having puppies.  Everything will be fine.  If greedy politicians just keep their hands out of it.  But they don’t.  And they love printing money.  Because they love to spend.  But the problem is that they can’t see the fiscal forest for the monetary trees.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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Government as Usual, Making a Bad Financial Situation Worse

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 8th, 2011

The Federal Debt is Bad; what we’re Adding is Worse than can be Imagined

If you thought the debt was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet (see U.S. funding for future promises lags by trillions by Dennis Cauchon posted 6/7/2011 on USA Today).

The government added $5.3 trillion in new financial obligations in 2010, largely for retirement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. That brings to a record $61.6 trillion the total of financial promises not paid for.

This gap between spending commitments and revenue last year equals more than one-third of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The current outstanding U.S. debt is $14 trillion and change.  So, in addition to that debt, the U.S. has to borrow an additional $61.6 trillion sometime in the future.  Meanwhile they debate deficit reduction in Washington.  And the Obama administration is desperately trying to get the Republican-controlled House to raise the legal debt ceiling.  By a whopping $2.4 trillion.  You don’t have to be a whiz kid to see that something bad financially is coming this way.

Medicare alone took on $1.8 trillion in new liabilities, more than the record deficit prompting heated debate between Congress and the White House over lifting the debt ceiling.

Social Security added $1.4 trillion in obligations, partly reflecting longer life expectancies. Federal and military retirement programs added more to the financial hole, too.

It’s those social democracy things.  The same things that are bankrupting countries in the European Union.  Free health care.  And free pensions (with everyone living longer people are collecting far, far more than they ever paid into these programs).  Which just goes to show that free things are very expensive.

The $61.6 trillion in unfunded obligations amounts to $527,000 per household. That’s more than five times what Americans have borrowed for everything else — mortgages, car loans and other debt. It reflects the challenge as the number of retirees soars over the next 20 years and seniors try to collect on those spending promises.

Imagine yourself living as you are.  Working hard to pay your bills (mortgages, car loans and other debt).  And then adding another mortgage to the mix for a magnificent half-million dollar home.  Only without the home.  Just the mortgage payments.  If you’re not good at imagining that’s okay.  Because you’ll be living it within 20 years.  Can it get worse?

The government has promised pension and health benefits worth more than $700,000 per retired civil servant. The pension fund’s key asset: federal IOUs.

Why, yes.  It can.  While you struggle to pay these enormous bills you can think about this.  Your civil servants.  The people that work for you.  They will be making about $173,000 more in retirement than you.  Their boss.  That ought to put a smile on your face.  And a skip in your step.

Here Comes National Health Care

And it’s going to get worse.  Because national health care is coming (see Study Sees Cuts to Health Plans by Janet Adamy posted 6/8/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

A report by McKinsey & Co. has found that 30% of employers are likely to stop offering workers health insurance after the bulk of the Obama administration’s health overhaul takes effect in 2014.

The findings come as a growing number of employers are seeking waivers from an early provision in the overhaul that requires them to enrich their benefits this year. At the end of April, the administration had granted 1,372 employers, unions and insurance companies one-year exemptions from the law’s requirement that they not cap annual benefit payouts below $750,000 per person a year.

But the law doesn’t allow for such waivers starting in 2014, leaving all those entities—and other employers whose plans don’t meet a slate of new requirements—to change their offerings or drop coverage.

Bill Clinton lost the 1994 midterm election because he campaigned as a moderate and governed as a liberal.  With Hillarycare being the poster child of his liberal agenda.  Barack Obama lost the 2010 midterm election because he campaigned as a moderate and governed as a liberal.  With Obamacare being the poster child of his liberal agenda.  The people spoke.  Then.  And now.  They don’t want national health care.  That’s why Hillarycare failed.  And why they watered Obamacare down to be something short of national health care.  But Obamacare will serve its purpose.  It will kill the private health insurance market.  Setting the stage once and for all for national health care in the United States.

In surveying 1,300 employers earlier this year, McKinsey found that 30% said they would “definitely or probably” stop offering employer coverage in the years after 2014. That figure increased to more than 50% among employers with a high awareness of the overhaul law.

The Obamacare legislation was something like a thousand pages long.  Guaranteed to confuse.  In fact, it was so confusing that Democrats voted for it without reading it.  Republicans read as much of it as they could.  And because they saw what was in it they voted against it.  Those who take the time to read it don’t like it.  Including the 50% of employers surveyed.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in a March 2010 report, found that by 2019, about six million to seven million people who otherwise would have had access to coverage through their job won’t have it owing to the new law. That estimate represents about 4% of the roughly 160 million people projected to have employment-based coverage in 2019.

So let’s crunch some numbers.  Private insurers can’t cap benefits below $750,000 per person per year.  Some 6-7 million people will lose their insurance because of Obamacare.  So if the government has to pick up the costs for half of the lower amount (3 million) of these people consuming $750,000 each that comes to…$2.25 trillion.  That’s a lot.  Now let’s say the 160 million who have employment-based coverage lose it.  And that half of them need $750,000 in benefits.  That comes to…$60 trillion.  How about that?  That’s about the same as the amount of the government’s unfunded financial liabilities. 

So, in addition to the $14 trillion or so in debt, there may be another $120 trillion that we’ll have to borrow.  And that’s a little more than the $2.4 trillion the Obama administration is desperately trying to get the House to approve.  And warn about dire consequences if the Republicans refuse to do so.  This reminds me of that scene in Jaws where Chief Brody was throwing out that chum to attract the shark.  It worked.  The shark appeared.  Only it was a lot bigger than Brody thought it’d be.  He told Captain Quint, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  Because fighting a $120 trillion debt with a $2.4 trillion dingy is going to lose the battle.  And by ‘lose the battle’ I mean the United States will end up like Greece.  Only without anyone big enough to bail her out.

OPEC not increasing Oil Production, no Help for Depressed Economies

That’s some pretty doleful news.  Maybe there’s a white knight rushing to the rescue.  Perhaps the economy will rebound and go gang busters.  Maybe the United States will grow itself out of this debt sinkhole (see OPEC Keeps Lid on Oil Production Targets by The Associated Press posted 6/8/2011 posted on The New York Times).

OPEC decided on Wednesday to maintain its crude oil output levels and meet again within three months to discuss a possible production increase.

The decision was unexpected and reflected unusual tensions in an organization that usually works by consensus.

Saudi Arabia and other influential oil-producing nations had pushed to increase production ceilings to calm markets and ease concerns that crude was overpriced for consumer nations struggling with their economies.

To quote a line from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, they have a better chance of playing pickup sticks with their butt cheeks.  The moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico put pressure on supply.  Then the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa added more.  The recession had kept oil down for the last year or so.  But with supply being squeezed that wasn’t going to last.  It’s back up.  With an assist from Ben Bernanke.  Whose quantitative easing devalued the dollar and sparked some inflation.  For we buy and sell the world’s oil in U.S. dollars.  So consumer prices are up.  While high unemployment and flat wages continue to make life hard for the American consumer.

Those opposed were led by Iran, the second-strongest producer within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries…

Iran and Venezuela came to the meeting opposing any move to increase output, which would have probably lowered prices for benchmark crude from the present levels of around $100 a barrel.

But OPEC powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which favors prices of around $80 a barrel, wanted higher production levels — and served notice that it was prepared to raise production unilaterally, to close to 10 million barrels a day from its present daily production of about 8.7 million barrels.

How about that?  Our enemies want to keep the price of oil up.  While our friends want to bring it back down to $80 per barrel.  Yet the Obama administration demanded that Mubarak step down from power in Egypt (a move the Saudis did not like as Egypt was anti-Iran and kept a lid on radical Islam like the Muslim Brotherhood) while doing nothing to help the democracy movement in Iran.  And Obama himself has a close and personal relationship with the Venezuelan dictator.  Hugo Chavez.

Policies like these will do little to bring the price of oil down.  Or make the economy rebound and go gang busters.  So there’s little hope of the U.S. growing its way out of their unfunded financial obligations. 

Monetary Policy doing more Harm than Good

And it doesn’t help to have Big Government Keynesians trying to fix things (see Sizing up the Fed’s few options by Cyrus Sanati posted 6/8/2011 on CNNMoney).

At the time the Fed began its second round of quantitative easing, inflation was low, so Bernanke felt comfortable instituting a program that would see $600 billion injected into the economy. After all, how much inflation can $600 billion cause when the country has a national debt load of $14 trillion and a personal debt load of $30 trillion?

Inflation has jumped in the last three months at a much faster pace than historical averages. The consumer price index rose by 6.1% annually during the April quarter, and core CPI, which excludes food and energy, rose by 2%. Such an accelerated move in inflation would be explainable if there was strong economic growth, but that’s not the case.

Higher prices without economic growth.  We saw this in the Seventies.  Under Jimmy Carter.  His treasury secretary, Paul Volcker, raised rates to reduce inflation.  Interest rates soared.  But he tamed inflation.  And he didn’t do it with quantitative easing.  He did it by doing the exact opposite.  Bernanke could learn a lesson from Volcker.

“If you’re Bernanke and you are seeing this rapid acceleration in core inflation and a high unemployment rate, you got to be thinking to yourself, ‘Gee, my models aren’t working right,'” says Drew Matus, senior U.S. economist at UBS Investment Research. “This should cause more caution in the part of the Fed and it is this caution that will keep them from doing QE3.”

Yes.  The models don’t work.  They’ve never worked.  And never will.  Because monetary policy is not the be all and end all of economic activity.  Think of it this way.  Say there is a restaurant not doing well.  The Keynesian would help that restaurant with monetary policy.  It would lower prices on the menu.  To make the menu items cheaper (like making money cheaper to borrow from a bank).  The only problem is that this restaurant has problems.  People aren’t going there.  The food is bad, the service is poor and it’s dirty.  Lowering the menu prices isn’t going to fix those problems.  So lowering prices is not going to bring the people back.  Just as making money cheap to borrow won’t bring the consumers back to the market.

People need Disposable Income and Responsible Government

Unemployment is high.  A lot of people have no jobs.  Or disposable income.  Meanwhile, prices are going up.  Leaving even less disposable income.  Businesses aren’t going to borrow cheap money to hire people to expand production.  Because current production levels are already in excess of current demand.

People need disposable income.  Inflation is taking that money away from the people.  And two things are driving inflation.  High oil prices (demand greater than supply).  And bad monetary policy (a devalued dollar increases the price of oil and everything else).  We need to fix these things.  We need to drill.  We need to increase American production of oil.  And we need to stop printing money.  We need to do these two things ASAP.

Then we need to address the insanity of spending money we don’t have.  And stop it.  Sooner or later, we have to address entitlements.  Actually, later may no longer be an option.  With $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities in the pipeline.  And with Obamacare potentially adding another $60 trillion.  That’s just too much.  Trying to pay this will kill economic activity.  It will require more taxes, more borrowing and more printing.  Everyone of which will increase the cost of doing business or investing.  Which will ultimately kill jobs.  Giving people even less disposable income.

Benjamin Franklin warned, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”  That’s why they designed the republic to have disinterested, responsible people between the treasury and the people.  But that was then.  When disinterested, responsible people were in government.  Perhaps not everyone, but enough to keep the republic solvent.  Today most serve themselves.  The treasury is just a tool to buy votes.  And to hell with the consequences because most of them will be dead by the time the republic ends.

So don’t expect them to do the right thing anytime soon.  Because doing the right thing will not make their lives better.  Only ours.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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Financial Crises: The Fed Giveth and the Fed Taketh Away

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 3rd, 2010

Great Depression vs. Great Recession

Ben Bernanke is a genius.  I guess.  That’s what they keep saying at least. 

The chairman of the Federal Reserve is a student of the Great Depression, that great lesson of how NOT to implement monetary policy.  And because of his knowledge of this past great Federal Reserve boondoggle, who better to fix the present great Federal Reserve boondoggle?  What we affectionately call the Great Recession.

There are similarities between the two.  Government caused both.  But there are differences.  Bad fiscal policy brought on a recession in the 1920s.  Then bad monetary policy exasperated the problem into the Great Depression. 

Bad monetary policy played a more prominent role in the present crisis.  It was a combination of cheap money and aggressive government policy to put people into houses they couldn’t afford that set off an international debt bomb.  Thanks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buying highly risky mortgages and selling them as ‘safe’ yet high-yield investments.  Those rascally things we call derivatives.

The Great Depression suffered massive bank failures because the lender of last resort (the Fed) didn’t lend.  In fact, they made it more difficult to borrow money when banks needed money most.  Why did they do this?  They thought rich people were using cheap money to invest in the stock market.  So they made money more expensive to borrow to prevent this ‘speculation’.

The Great Recession suffered massive bank failures because people took on great debt in ideal times (low interest rates and increasing home values).  When the ‘ideal’ became real (rising interest rates and falling home values), surprise surprise, these people couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore.  And all those derivatives became worthless. 

The Great Depression:  Lessons Learned.  And not Learned.

Warren G. Harding appointed Andrew Mellon as his Secretary of the Treasury.  A brilliant appointment.  The Harding administration cut taxes.  The economy surged.  Lesson learned?  Lower taxes stimulate the economy.  And brings more money into the treasury.

The Progressives in Washington, though, needed to buy votes.  So they tinkered.  They tried to protect American farmers from their own productivity.  And American manufacturers.  Also from their own productivity.  Their protectionist policies led to tariffs and an international trade war.  Lesson not learned?  When government tinkers bad things happen to the economy.

Then the Fed stepped in.  They saw economic activity.  And a weakening dollar (low interest rates were feeding the economic expansion).  So they strengthened the dollar.  To keep people from ‘speculating’ in the stock money with borrowed money.  And to meet international exchange rate requirements.  This led to bank failures and the Great Depression.  Lesson not learned?   When government tinkers bad things happen to the economy.

Easy Money Begets Bad Debt which Begets Financial Crisis

It would appear that Ben Bernanke et al learned only some of the lessons of the Great Depression.  In particular, the one about the Fed’s huge mistake in tightening the money supply.  No.  They would never do that again.  Next time, they would open the flood gates (see Fed aid in financial crisis went beyond U.S. banks to industry, foreign firms by Jia Lynn Yang, Neil Irwin and David S. Hilzenrath posted 12/2/2010 on The Washington Post).

The financial crisis stretched even farther across the economy than many had realized, as new disclosures show the Federal Reserve rushed trillions of dollars in emergency aid not just to Wall Street but also to motorcycle makers, telecom firms and foreign-owned banks in 2008 and 2009.

The Fed’s efforts to prop up the financial sector reached across a broad spectrum of the economy, benefiting stalwarts of American industry including General Electric and Caterpillar and household-name companies such as Verizon, Harley-Davidson and Toyota. The central bank’s aid programs also supported U.S. subsidiaries of banks based in East Asia, Europe and Canada while rescuing money-market mutual funds held by millions of Americans.

The Fed learned its lesson.  Their easy money gave us all that bad debt.  And we all learned just how bad ‘bad debt’ can be.  They wouldn’t make that mistake again.

The data also demonstrate how the Fed, in its scramble to keep the financial system afloat, eventually lowered its standards for the kind of collateral it allowed participating banks to post. From Citigroup, for instance, it accepted $156 million in triple-C collateral or lower – grades that indicate that the assets carried the greatest risk of default.

Well, maybe next time.

You Don’t Stop a Run by Starting a Run

With the cat out of the bag, people want to know who got these loans.  And how much each got.  But the Fed is not telling (see Fed ID’s companies that used crisis aid programs by Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer, posted 12/1/2010 on Yahoo! News).

The Fed didn’t take part in that appeal. What the court case could require — but the Fed isn’t providing Wednesday — are the names of commercial banks that got low-cost emergency loans from the Fed’s “discount window” during the crisis.

The Fed has long acted as a lender of last resort, offering commercial banks loans through its discount window when they couldn’t obtain financing elsewhere. The Fed has kept secret the identities of such borrowers. It’s expressed fear that naming such a bank could cause a run on it, defeating the purpose of the program.

I can’t argue with that.  For this was an important lesson of the Great Depression.  When you’re trying to stop bank runs, you don’t advertise which banks are having financial problems.  A bank can survive a run.  If everyone doesn’t try to withdraw their money at the same time.  Which they may if the Fed advertises that a bank is going through difficult times.

When Fiscal Responsibility Fails, Try Extortion

Why does government always tinker and get themselves into trouble?  Because they like to spend money.  And control things.  No matter what the lessons of history have taught us.

Cutting taxes stimulate the economy.  But it doesn’t buy votes.  You need people to be dependent on government for that.  So no matter what mess government makes, they NEVER fix their mess by shrinking government or cutting taxes.  Even at the city level. 

When over budget what does a city do?  Why, they go to a favored tactic.  Threaten our personal safety (see Camden City Council Approves Massive Police And Fire Layoffs Reported by David Madden, KYW Newsradio 1060, posted 12/2/2010 on philadelphia.cbslocal.com).

Camden City Council, as expected, voted Thursday to lay off almost 400 workers, half of them police officers and firefighters, to bridge a $26.5 million deficit.

There’s a word for this.  And it’s not fiscal responsibility.  Some would call it extortion.

It’s never the pay and benefits of the other city workers.  It’s always the cops and firefighters.  Why?  Because cutting the pay and benefits of a bloated bureaucracy doesn’t put the fear of God into anyone.

Here we go Again

We never learn.  And you know what George Santayana said.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And here we are.  Living in the past.  Again.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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