Panic of 1907, Federal Reserve Act and Depression of 1920

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 17th, 2013

History 101

In 1907 the Heinze Brothers thought Investors were Shorting the Stock of their United Copper Company

Buying and selling stocks is one way to get rich.  Typically by buying low and selling high.  But you can also get rich if the stock price falls.  How you ask?  By short-selling the stock.  You borrow shares of a stock that you think will fall in price.  You sell them at the current price.  Then when the stock price falls you buy the same number of shares you borrowed at the lower price.  And use these to return the shares you borrowed.  You subtract the price you pay to buy the cheaper shares from the proceeds of selling the costlier shares for your profit.  And if the price difference/number of shares is great enough you can get rich.

In 1907 the Heinze brothers thought investors were shorting the stock of their United Copper Company.  So they tried to turn the tables on them and get rich.  They already owned a lot of the stock.  They then went on a buying spree with the intention of raising the price of the stock.  If they successfully cornered the market on United Copper Company stock then the investors shorting the stock would have no choice but to buy from them to repay their borrowed shares.  Causing the short sellers to incur a great loss.  While reaping a huge profit for themselves.

Well, that was the plan.  But it didn’t quite go as planned.  For they did not control as much of the stock as they thought they did.  So when the short-sellers had to buy new shares to replace their borrowed shares they could buy them elsewhere.  And did.  When other investors saw they weren’t going to get rich on the cornering scheme the price of the stock plummeted.  For the stock was only worth that inflated price if the short-sellers had to buy it at the price the Heinze brothers dictated.  When the cornering scheme failed the stock they paid so much to corner was worth nowhere near what they paid for it.  And they took a huge financial loss.  But it got worse.

The Panic of 1907 led to the Federal Reserve Act of 1913

After getting rich in the copper business in Montana they moved east to New York City.  And entered the world of high finance.  And owned part of 6 national banks, 10 state banks, 5 trusts (kind of like a bank) and 4 insurance companies.  When the cornering scheme failed the Heinze brothers lost a lot of money.  Which spooked people with money in their banks and trusts.  As these helped finance their scheme.  So the people rushed to their banks and pulled their money out.  Causing a panic.  First their banks.  Then their trusts.  Including the Knickerbocker Trust Company.  Which collapsed.  As the contagion spread to other banks the banking system was in risk of collapsing.  Causing a stock market crash.  Resulting in the Panic of 1907.

Thankfully, a rich guy, J.P. Morgan, stepped in and saved the banking system.  By using his own money.  And getting other rich guys to use theirs.  To restore liquidity in the banking system.  To avoid another liquidity crisis like this Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act (1913).  Giving America a central bank.  And the progressives the tool to take over the American economy.  Monetary policy.  By tinkering with interest rates.  And breaking away from the classical economic policies of the past that made America the number one economic power in the world.  Built on a foundation of thrift, savings, investment, free trade, the gold standard, etc.  Where people saved for the future.  The greater their savings the more investment capital there was.  And the lower interest rates were.

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) changed all of that.  By printing money to keep interest rates artificially low.  Giving us boom and bust cycles as people over invest and over build because of cheap credit.  Leading to bubbles (the boom) in asset prices that painful recessions (the bust) correct.  Instead of the genuine growth that we got when our savings determined interest rates.  Where there is no over-investing or over-building.  Because the limited investment capital did not permit it.  Guaranteeing the efficient flows of capital to generate real economic activity.

Warren Harding’s Tax Cuts ignited Economic Activity and gave us the Modern World

Thanks to the Fed there was a great monetary expansion to fund World War I.  The Fed cut the reserve requirements in half for banks.  Meaning they could loan more of their deposits.  And they did.  Thanks to fractional reserve banking these banks then furthered the monetary expansion.  And the Fed kept the discount rate low to let banks borrow even more money to lend.  The credit expansion was vast.  Creating a huge bubble in asset prices.  Creating a lot of bad investments.  Or malinvestments.  Economist Ludwig von Mises had a nice analogy to explain this.  Imagine a builder constructing a house only he doesn’t realize he doesn’t have enough materials to finish the job.  The longer it takes for the builder to realize this the more time and resources he will waste.  For it will be less costly to abandon the project before he starts than waiting until he’s built as much as he can only to discover he will be unable to sell the house.  And without selling the house the builder will be unable to recover any of his expenses.  Giving him a loss on his investment.

The bigger those bubbles get the farther those artificially high prices have to fall.  And they will fall sooner or later.  And fall they did in 1920.  Giving us the Depression of 1920.  And it was bad.  Unemployment rose to 12%.  And GDP fell by 17%.  Interestingly, though, this depression was not a great depression.  Why?  Because the progressives were out of power.  Instead of the usual Keynesian solution to a recession Warren Harding (and then Calvin Coolidge after Harding died in office) did the opposite.  There was no stimulus deficit-spending.  There was no playing with interest rates.  Instead, Harding cut government spending.  Nearly in half.  And he cut tax rates.  These actions led to a reduction of the national debt (that’s DEBT—not deficit) by one third.  And ignited economic activity.  Ushering in the modern world (automobiles, electric power, radio, telephone, aviation, motion pictures, etc.).  Building the modern world generated real economic activity.  Not a credit-driven bubble.  Giving us one of the greatest economic expansions of all time.  The Roaring Twenties.  Ending the Depression of 1920 in only 18 months.  Without any Fed action or Keynesian stimulus spending.

By contrast FDR used almost every Keynesian tool available to him to end the Great Depression.  But his massive New Deal spending simply failed to end it.  After a decade or so of trying.  Proving that government spending cannot spend an economy out of recession.  But cuts in government spending and cuts in tax rates can.  Which is why the Great Recession lingers on still.  Some 6 years after the collapse of one of the greatest housing bubbles ever.  Created by one of the greatest credit expansions ever.  For President Obama is a Keynesian.  And Keynesian policies only lead to boom-bust cycles.  Not real economic growth.  The kind we got from classical economic policies.  Built on a foundation of thrift, savings, investment, free trade, the gold standard, etc.  The economic policies that made America the number economic power in the world.

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Alan Greenspan blames Irrational Risk-Taking and not his Keynesian Policies for the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 26th, 2013

Week in Review

Since the Keynesians took over monetary policy we’ve had the Great Depression, the inflation racked Seventies, the dot-com bubble/recession of the late 1990s/early 2000s and the subprime mortgage crisis.  It’s also given Japan their Lost Decade, a deflationary spiral that started in the late Eighties that they are still fighting today.  As well as the sovereign debt crisis still ongoing in Europe.  So Keynesian economics has a record of failure.  Yet governments everywhere embrace it.  Why?  Because they love having the power to create money.  Especially when it’s ostensibly for helping the economy.  Which it never does.  As efforts to do so resulted in the carnage noted above.  But it always gives a good excuse for another surge in government spending.  And Keynesians love government spending.

Why does Keynesian economics fail?  Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve whose policies helped create some of this carnage (dot-com bubble and subprime mortgage crisis), explains (see Greenspan ponders the roots of a financial crisis he failed to foresee by Martin Crutsinger, The Associated Press, posted 10/21/2013 on The Star).

Now, Alan Greenspan has struck back at any notion that he — or anyone — could have known how or when to defuse the threats that triggered the crisis. He argues in a new book, The Map and the Territory, that traditional economic forecasting is no match for the irrational risk-taking that can inflate catastrophic price bubbles in assets like homes or tech stocks.

This is why the Soviet Union lost the Cold War.  Because their managed economy failed.  As all managed economies fail.  Because it is impossible to know the decisions of hundreds of million people in the market.  These people making decisions for themselves result in economic activity.  But when governments try to decide for them you get Great Depressions, debilitating inflation, bubbles and nasty recessions.  As well as the collapse of the Soviet Union.

People only took irrational risks when the Federal Reserve (the Fed)/government interfered with market forces.  The dot-com bubble grew because the Fed kept interest rates artificially low.  So was it irrational for people to take advantage of those artificially low interest rates and make risky investments they otherwise wouldn’t have made?  Yes.  But if the Fed didn’t keep them artificially low in the first place there would have been no dot-com bubble in the second place.

Was it irrational for people to buy houses they couldn’t afford when the Clinton administration forced lenders to qualify the unqualified for mortgages they couldn’t afford?  Was it irrational behavior for people to buy houses they couldn’t afford because of artificially low interest rates, ‘cheap’ adjustable rate mortgages, zero-down mortgages, interest only mortgages and no-documentation mortgages?  Yes.  But if the Fed/government did not interfere with market forces in the first place to increase home ownership (especially among those who couldn’t qualify for a conventional mortgage) there would have been no subprime housing bubble in the second place.

The problem with Keynesians is they call anyone who doesn’t behave as they hope to make people behave with their policies irrational.  That is, people are irrational if they don’t think like a Keynesian and therefore cause Keynesian policies to fail.  But before there could be irrational exuberance there has to be a climate that encourages irrational exuberance first.  For if we went back to the banking system where our savings rate determined our interest rates as well as the investment capital available there would be no bubbles.  And no irrational exuberance.  What kind of a banking system would that be?  The kind that vaulted the United States from their Founding to the number one economic power in the world in about one hundred years.  And they did that without making money.  Unlike today.

Q: The size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet stands at a record $3.7 trillion, reflecting all the Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities the Fed has bought to push long-term interest rates down. You have expressed concerns about this size, which is more than four times where the balance sheet stood before the start of the financial crisis. What are your worries?

A: My basic concern is that we have to rein this thing in well before the demand for funds picks up and makes it very difficult to rein in. (Inflation) is not immediate. It is down the road. But historically, there are no cases where central banks blow up their balance sheets or where countries print money which doesn’t hit (with higher inflation).

The balance sheet is four times what it was before the Great Recession?  That’s an enormous amount of new money created to stimulate the economy.  And yet we’re still wallowing in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  I don’t know how much more you can prove the failure of Keynesian economics than this.  About five years of priming the economic pump with stimulus stimulated little.  Other than rich Wall Street investors who are using this easy money to make more money.  While the median household income falls.

Keynesian economics attacks the middle class.  While enriching the ruling class.  And their crony friends on Wall Street.  These policies further the divide between the rich and everyone else.  Yet they continually say these same policies are the only way to reduce the divide between the rich and everyone else.  The historical record doesn’t prove this.  And those familiar with the historical record know this.  Which is why the left controls public education.  So people don’t learn the historical record.  Because once they do it becomes harder to win elections when you’re constantly lying to the American people.

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More of the Same from the Fed means more Housing Bubbles and Great Recessions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 14th, 2013

Week in Review

Those who wanted to get away from the United States’ limited government past and grow government had to do away with the gold standard.  Those who favored a large and expansive federal government needed fiat money.  They needed the power to print money at will.  To fund deficits when they continually spend more than they have.  Despite continuously raising taxes.  When Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold in 1971 the fiat money people got their way.  Now the Keynesians could tax, borrow, print and spend to their heart’s content.  With the federal government in the driver’s seat of the U.S. economy.  With their Keynesian economists advising them.  Who said government spending was just as good as private spending.  So go ahead and tax, borrow and print.  Because all you need to create economic activity is to print money.

Of course they couldn’t have been more wrong.  As the Seventies proved.  Printing money just created inflation.  Higher prices.  And asset bubbles.  With no corresponding economic activity.  Instead there was stagflation.  And a high misery index (the inflation rate added to the unemployment rate).  Because there is more to economic activity than monetary policy.  Tax rates and regulations matter a whole heck of a lot, too.  As well as a stable currency.  Not one being depreciated away with double-digit inflation.  Rich people may get richer buying and selling real estate and stocks during periods of high inflation but working class people just see both their paycheck and savings lose purchasing power.

It was these Keynesian policies that caused the S&L Crisis.  The dot-com bubble.  And the subprime mortgage crisis.  Giving is the Great Recession.  The worst recession since the Great Depression.  But have we learned anything from these failed policies of the past?  Apparently not (see Blind Faith In The Fed Is Not Enough by Comstock Partners posted 4/12/2013 on Business Insider).

The move of the S&P 500 into new all-time highs is based on neither the economy, nor earnings, nor value, but almost completely on the blind faith that the Fed can single-handedly flood the market with enough funds to keep the illusion going.  In this sense the similarity of the current stock market to the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s or the housing bubble ending in 2007 is glaring…

Real consumer spending has been growing at a mediocre 2% rate over the past year despite growth of only 0.9% in real disposable income over the same period.  This was accomplished mainly by decreasing the savings rate to only 2.6% in February, compared to rates of 7%-to-11% in more prosperous times.  With employment growth diminishing and the negative effects of the January tax increases and the sequester yet to kick in, consumer spending is likely to slow markedly in the period ahead.  While March year-over-year comparisons may benefit from an earlier Easter, the reverse will probably be true in April.  Keep in mind, too, our over-riding theme that consumers, still burdened with most of the debt built up in the housing boom, are in no shape to jump-start their spending…

In sum, the lack of support from the economy, earnings or valuation leaves the Fed as the only game in town.  Although the old adage says “Don’t fight the Fed”, it did pay to fight the Fed in 2001 and 2002 and again from late 2007 to early 2009.  In our view, the Fed can only try to offset the tightness coming from the fiscal side, but cannot get the economy growing on a sustainable basis.

The only real growth we had was from a tax cut.  Surprise, surprise.  Of course that cut in the tax rate of the Social Security payroll tax decreased the Social Security surplus.  Moving the Social Security funding crisis up in time.  That along with Medicare and whatever Obamacare will do will cause a financial crisis this country has yet to see.  Which will cause great suffering.  Particularly because people are saving less because they have less.  Which is the only way they can compensate for the horrible economy President Obama and his Keynesian advisors are giving us.  So they won’t have private savings to replace their Social Security benefits that the government will spend long before they retire.

And what does the government do?  Why, spend more, of course.  Because of the sweet nothings their Keynesian advisors are whispering into their ears.  Saying the things big government types want to hear.  Spend more.  It’s good for the economy.  If you wonder what got Greece into the mess they’re in this is it.  Spending.  And anti-business policies to pull more wealth out of the private sector so the government can spend it.

All the countries reeling in the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis are there for the same reason.  None of them got into the mess they’re in because they had low taxes and low regulatory costs.  Because countries with business-friendly environments create private sector jobs.  And private sector jobs don’t cost the government anything.  So they don’t have to tax, borrow, print and spend like they do when they listen to their Keynesian advisors.  Because that is what causes chronic deficits to fund.  And growing national debts.  Things that don’t happen when you leave the economy in the private sector.

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FT141: “Liberals are absolutely sure they’re right and you’re wrong even though they can’t explain why.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 26th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Jobs are Everything in an Economy

In the movie Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks it was a smart electrical engineer that saved the astronauts.  Who explained that nothing they did would save the astronauts unless they figured out how to make the limited remaining power last until reentry.  He said power was everything.  And if it ran out before reentry the astronauts wouldn’t make it back alive.  So heeding the advice of the smart electrical engineer they shut off all power to save what they had for reentry.  Which meant they had no heat.  And had to do some course corrections without the computer, requiring some complicated flying skills.  Because they listened to the smart electrical engineer they had just enough power left to make it to reentry.  And the astronauts made it back home alive.

An economy is similar in a way.  For it, too, has something that is everything.  And without it nothing else matters.  Jobs.  Jobs are everything in an economy.  For they are the only way we can afford things.  A house.  A car.  Food for our families.  The heating bill.  Fuel for our vehicles.  Electronic devices.  Our wireless/cable bills.  Coffee at Starbucks.  Clothing.  Shoes.  Pet food.  Etc.  None of these would be possible without a job.  And a paycheck.  Even our government benefits.  Paid for with taxes.  Deducted from our paychecks.  Without people working none of these things would be possible.  Because jobs are everything.

Money is not everything.  We use money to make it easier to trade our skills with others to get the things we want.  The more our skills are in demand by others the more we can trade them for other things.  Which is why doctors have more things than high school kids working an entry level job.  For there are a lot high school kids with entry-level job skills.  But not so many people with doctor skills.  So we pay doctors more.  And high school kids less.  Because doctors have more valuable skills than high school kids.  And therefore can trade those skills for a lot of other things.  So it’s not the money that matters.  It’s the skills that they can trade for money that matters.  Provided there is a job for them to fill.  Once again coming back to jobs.  Which are everything.

Birth Control and Abortion are the Pressing Social Issues that keep College Students Awake at Night with Worry

If the government printed money and paid everyone in the nation the equivalent of a doctor’s earnings it would not be the same thing.  Because if everyone was paid the same no matter their skill level no one would go through the costs and hard work to become a doctor.  Because working harder to acquire those skills wouldn’t provide them anything more than they can get for doing nothing.  Giving people money for skills they don’t have diminishes the values of those skills.  So people won’t work hard to get those skills.  With less skillful people in the workplace there will be fewer people to provide the goods and services we want to buy.  Leaving a lot of empty store shelves.  And high prices because the things you want will be very hard to find.

This is why high school kids go to college.  Take on a lot of student loan debt.  To get the skills that will let them get the kind of jobs that will let them earn a lot of money.  Granted, a lot of kids go to college for the fun.  First time away from home.  Binge drinking.  Casual sex.  Drugs.  But they’re also there for the big payday a college education is supposed to give you.  However, if the jobs aren’t there neither is that big paycheck.  But that student loan debt is.  Who’s to blame for the lack of jobs?  In part these college kids.  Who typically vote Democrat.  The party that favors social justice, access to birth control and abortion, gay marriage, the decriminalization of marijuana, and other pressing social issues that apparently keep college students awake at night with worry.  So the Democrats pursue these issues to get the youth vote.  Instead of making a favorable climate for business.  So they can grow and create the jobs these college students want and are going to college for.

The problem is that these kids don’t understand the fundamentals of economics.  They don’t understand business.  Or the affect of taxes and regulatory compliance costs on a business’ bottom line.  And they don’t seem to understand that they are not the only ones who want to make money.  So do business owners.  And if the tax burden and cost of regulatory compliance reduce the bottom line it makes it more difficult to meet payroll.  And pay their other bills.  So they will not grow their business.  They will not create jobs.  They will not offer pay raises and bonuses.  And may even lay off people.  When they do these things college kids call these business owners greedy.  While their desire for a high-paying job does not make them greedy.  Funny how subjective greed can be.

Liberals are Deep Critical Thinkers though they think about few things other than a Woman’s Reproductive Parts

In the current election cycle the Democrats don’t have a good record to run on.  The current economic recovery, if we can call it a recovery, is about the worst on record.  The biggest drag on the economy?  Jobs.  There are fewer of them today than when President Obama took office.  And his policies haven’t help.  Especially Obamacare.  Which has caused business owners to slam the brakes on hiring.  As they have no idea of the final total cost impact of Obamacare.  So having destroyed job creation, the Democrats have turned to other tactics.  Fear and loathing of Republican candidates.  Such as the so-called war on women.  Where the Democrats are warning women that if the Republicans win the upcoming 2012 election women will lose their birth control, their access to abortion, their cancer screening, their freedom.  Life for women under the Republicans, the Democrats say, will be little different than living under the Taliban.

Of course, this isn’t true.  For it didn’t happen under the 20 years of Republican rule of George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.  But it doesn’t stop the Democrats or their celebrity endorsers from warning about the horrible things that will happen to women should the Republicans win.  And they speak with such certain authority.  For they know everything.  At least, that’s what they think.  It would be interesting, though, to ask them a few questions.  So they can demonstrate their mastery of things economic.  By explaining the stages of production.  Why stimulus spending raises prices.  To explain the business cycle.  How recessions correct prices by wringing inflation out of them.  How keeping interest rates artificially low creates asset bubbles.  Like housing bubbles.  And how bubbles create recessions when they burst.  To explain what is Say’s Law.  To name an economic school besides the Keynesian school.  To explain the Keynesian school of economics.  The number of taxes a business must calculate and pay with every payroll.  How excessive government borrowing diverts investment capital from the job-creating private sector.  Or how the growth in government spending cannot increase greater than the population growth rate.

As they don’t teach any of this in today’s public schools and most universities they probably won’t be able to explain any of these things.  Yet liberals are absolutely sure they’re right and you’re wrong.  Even though they can’t explain why.  For they are smarter.  Brighter.  More progressive.  Enlightened.  And deep critical thinkers.  Though they think about few things other than a woman’s reproductive parts.  Even when the real unemployment rate (the U-6 number that counts everyone that can’t find a full-time job) currently stands at 14.7%.  Which is serious.  As jobs are everything.  And sometimes you can’t have everything you want.  Sometimes you must sacrifice.  And put in place policies that are business friendly.  Cutting back on the social spending.  At least until businesses start creating jobs again.  And the working tax base can once again support that social spending.

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Debt Crises in Ireland, Greece, Portugal and now Spain may Prove too much for the Euro to Survive

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 3rd, 2012

Week in Review

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep.  And miles to go before I sleep.  Lines from a poem by Robert Frost.  For some reason this came to me as I read about the never-ending crisis that is the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.  And the Eurozone.  For the Euro is lost in those dark and lovely woods.  Woods that are so deep that it will never find its way out.  And the only kind of sleep the Euro is going to get is the kind you don’t wake up from (see Britons face £5bn bill to help out Spanish as fears grow that Madrid will have to ask IMF for €300billion bailout by Hugo Duncan And James Salmon posted 6/1/2012 on the Daily Mail).

British taxpayers could be forced to stump up another £5billion to rescue Spain as the crisis in the eurozone spirals out of control.

Fears are mounting that Madrid will have to ask for an emergency bailout of up to £300billion as it struggles to prop up its basket-case banks.

A third of that money could come from the International Monetary Fund – including around £5billion from the UK, even though Britain is not in the eurozone.

UK taxpayers have already coughed up £12.5billion to rescue debt-ridden Greece, Ireland and Portugal…

But growing doubts over how the Spanish government will finance the £15billion needed to rescue Bankia, one of its biggest lenders, have raised fears that it will follow Ireland, Greece and Portugal in requiring a bailout from Europe and the IMF.

This week US investment bank JP Morgan warned a joint rescue of Spain could cost around £300billion.

The Spanish banking system has been crippled by nearly £150billion in toxic property loans.

At the heart of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe is debt.  They have way too much of it.  So much that the odds are not good that they will ever be able to repay it.  Which makes people very reluctant to loan them any more money.  It’s like loaning a friend money who already owes you a lot of money.  Do you loan him more money?  It just may help him turn his life around.  Start anew with a new job.  Earning enough money to support himself and pay you back.  That’s one possibility.  Then there’s the possibility he may just blow the money on booze, drugs and women.  You know he’s just going to spend whatever else you loan him.  And not pay any of it back.  So it would be rather foolish to loan him more money.

This is the decision facing the people who could attempt to bail out those in the Eurozone.  They’ve already loaned them a lot of money.  So these in-trouble countries can sustain the government spending their current tax revenue can’t support.  But the deal was to cut back that spending so they can live on what their tax revenue CAN support.  But there’s only one problem.  The people of these countries reject calls for them to live within their means.  And have had enough of austerity.  And that’s a big problem.  Because if they don’t live within their means they will perpetuate the sovereign debt crisis.  As they will always need to borrow more money to pay for the things that their tax revenue can’t afford.  Until the day this house of cards collapses.  And the longer it goes on the more money people will lose in bad loans to these in-trouble countries.

The central problem in this crisis are bad loans.  Caused by the easy credit policies of central banks to loan money to anyone so they can buy a house.  All this easy credit caused housing booms in countries all around the world.  And housing bubbles.  Then the bubbles burst.  Leaving countries with debt crises as toxic mortgages weakened banking systems everywhere.  And still Keynesian economists are urging central banks to repeat this reckless lending behavior again to stimulate economies.  And to bail out the Eurozone.  The problem is that the central banks have so destroyed their economies no one is borrowing money.  Or spending money.  Because no one thinks the worst has passed.  And businesses and private citizens have learned the lesson from the great debt crisis we’re going through everywhere.  Too much debt is a bad thing.  And are refusing to take on new debt.  And using what income they have to pay down existing debt.  Contrary to all Keynesian doctrine.  For they want reckless and irresponsible spending.  Because they believe only spending is good.

Politicians and central bankers said the situation in the eurozone was unsustainable and drastic action was needed to prevent the ‘disintegration’ of the single currency.

They spoke out as European leaders scrambled to stop the financial crisis in Spain spiralling out of control and infecting other countries such as Italy…

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, said the eurozone was unsustainable in its current form.

In his sharpest criticism yet of eurozone leaders’ handling of the crisis, he said the European Central Bank could not ‘fill the vacuum’ left by governments in terms of economic growth or structural reforms.

So, no, more easy credit isn’t the solution.  Countries must live within their means.  Which means adopting austerity measures.  And find ways to achieve real economic growth.  Not the kind that leads to bubbles.  Or sovereign debt crises.  And the best way to generate real economic growth is with tax cuts.  Cutting spending as needed so they spend only what their tax revenue can afford.  They must stop running deficits.  And stop borrowing money.  (Good advice for the United States as well).  As the private sector economy picks up because of a more business-friendly tax structure they will create jobs.  So all of those government workers who lost their jobs in the public sector can get new jobs in the private sector.  Whose salaries and benefits will not have to be paid for by more government borrowing.  If they adopt pro-growth policies like this the international community may still be able to help them.  And save the Euro.  But will they?  With all of that public opinion against any more austerity?  Don’t know.  Probably not. 

It’s unlikely that the Euro will ever find its way out of the woods.  For these woods are scary, dark and deep. 

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Higher Labor Costs are squeezing Margins for Chinese Export Manufacturers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2012

Week in Review

China is still able to exploit their cheap labor to maintain a healthy export market.  But for how long (see China exports may stay strong despite weak Europe by Zhou Xin and Nick Edwards posted 3/1/2012 on Reuters)?

An estimated 200 million jobs — a quarter of China’s workforce — are directly dependent upon the external sector, hiking the political risks of an export slowdown to a leadership hypersensitive to any hint of social instability that might threaten the one-party rule of the Communist Party…

Ye Dingsong is an exporter who has relied on sales to Europe, but his primary headache is pricing, not falling orders.

“There are orders, but the problem is that it’s hard to get good prices. European buyers have become sensitive to prices, but costs are rising quickly so I have to ask for higher prices,” said Ye, the owner of Dadong Shoes in Wenzhou.

His shoe factory, which at its peak employed more than 100 people, currently has only half as many after workers walked out for better wages elsewhere when Ye said he could manage only a 10 percent rise…

Wenzhou exported 265 million pairs of shoes to the EU last year, roughly one pair for every two EU residents, according to data from the local customs office. But total sales were just $1.6 billion, or $6.04 per pair, meaning margins are very narrow even as a starter’s monthly wage can easily exceed 2,000 yuan ($320).

Ye is one of the many exporters Beijing is trying to help through tough times with tax rebates and easier bank credit.

The state capitalists in America look to China with awe and admiration.  They would love to expand state control of the economy in America to the level in China.  So they, too, can produce those magnificent GDP growth rates.  Which they think they can do.  With a union work force.  Even with the high wages and generous benefits of union workers.  Which, of course, they cannot do.  For the only thing maintaining China’s export market is that cheap labor.  Which is far below the union wages and benefits in America. 

In America a Chinese type state capitalism will not result in higher GDP growth rates.  Only in higher wages and benefits for union workers.  Along with a collapsing GDP growth rate.  Thanks to an uncompetitive American work force becoming even more uncompetitive.

But even in Communist China they are having problems keeping their labor cheap.  But they will do everything they can.  Including brutal state oppression.  And Keynesian economic policies.  Urging businesses to borrow money and expand production.  Even in the face of rising prices.  Which one day will lead to falling sales.  Leaving the Chinese with some nasty asset bubbles in their economy.  The kind the Japanese had in the Nineties.  And the kind the U.S. just recently had in the housing market.  Both bubbles popped.  And a horrible deflation set in to undo all the Keynesian mischief that caused the bubbles in the first place.

There is no way for the Americans to do what the Chinese are doing.  Unless the state capitalists do like the Chinese.  And outlaw all unions.  And that’s about as likely to happen as Keynesian economics policies actually working without causing inflation and asset bubbles.

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Versailles Treaty, Marshall Plan, Post-War Japan, MITI, Asian Tigers, Japan Inc., Asset Bubbles, Deflationary Spiral and Lost Decade

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 21st, 2012

History 101

Douglas MacArthur brought some American Institutions into Japan and unleashed a lot of Human Capital

At the end of World War I the allies really screwed the Germans.  The Treaty of Versailles made for an impossible peace.  In a war that had no innocents the Allies heaped all blame onto Germany in the end.  And the bankrupt Allies wanted Germany to pay.  Placing impossible demands on the Germans.  Which could do nothing but bankrupt Germany.  Because, of course, to the victors go the spoils.  But such a policy doesn’t necessarily lead to a lasting peace.  And the peace following the war to end all wars wasn’t all that long lasting.  Worse, the peace was ended by a war that was worse than the war to end all wars.  World War II.  All because some corporal with delusions of grandeur held a grudge.

The Americans wouldn’t repeat the same mistake the Allies made after World War II.  Instead of another Versailles Treaty there was the Marshal Plan.  Instead of punishing the vanquished the Americans helped rebuild them.  The peace was so easy in Japan that the Japanese grew to admire their conqueror.  General Douglas MacArthur.  The easy peace proved to be a long lasting peace.  In fact the two big enemies of World War II became good friends and allies of the United States.  And strong industrial powers.  Their resulting economic prosperity fostered peace and stability in their countries.  And their surrounding regions.

MacArthur changed Japan.  Where once the people served the military the nation now served the people.  With a strong emphasis on education.  And not just for the boys.  For girls, too.  And men AND women got the right to vote in a representative government.   This was new.  It unleashed a lot of human capital.  Throw in a disciplined work force, low wages and a high domestic savings rate and this country was going places.  It quickly rebuilt its war-torn industries.  And produced a booming export market.  Helped in part by some protectionist policies.  And a lot of U.S. investment.  Especially during the Korean War.  Japan was back.  The Fifties were good.  And the Sixties were even better. 

By the End of the Seventies the Miracle was Over and Japan was just another First World Economy 

Helping along the way was the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI).  The government agency that partnered with business.  Shut out imports.  Except the high-tech stuff.  Played with exchange rates.  Built up the old heavy industries (shipbuilding, electric power, coal, steel, chemicals, etc.).  And built a lot of infrastructure.  Sound familiar?  It’s very similar to the Chinese economic explosion.  All made possible by, of course, a disciplined workforce and low wages.

Things went very well in Japan (and in China) during this emerging-economy phase.  But it is always easy to play catch-up.  For crony capitalism can work when playing catch-up.  When you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.  But just trying to duplicate what others have already proven to work.  You can post remarkable GDP growth.  Especially when you have low wages for a strong export market.  But wages don’t always stay low, do they?  Because there is always another economy to emerge.  First it was the Japanese who worked for less than American workers.  Then it was the Mexicans.  Then the South Koreans.  The three other Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan).  China.  India.  Brazil.  Vietnam.  It just doesn’t end.  Which proves to be a problem for crony capitalism.  Which can work when economic systems are frozen in time.  But fails miserably in a dynamic economy.

But, alas, all emerging economies eventually emerge.  And mature.  By the end of the Seventies Japan had added automobiles and electronics to the mix.  But it couldn’t prevent the inevitable.  The miracle was over.  It was just another first world economy.  Competing with other first world economies.  Number two behind the Americans.  Very impressive.  But being more like the Americans meant the record growth days were over.  And it was time to settle for okay growth instead of fantastic growth.  But the Japanese government was tighter with business than it ever was.  In fact, corporate Japan was rather incestuous.  Corporations invested in other corporations.  Creating large vertical and horizontal conglomerates.  And the banks were right there, too.  Making questionable loans to corporations.  To feed Japan Inc.  To prop up this vast government/business machine.  With the government right behind the banks to bail them out if anyone got in trouble.    

Low Interest Rates caused Irrational Exuberance in the Stock and Real Estate Markets

As the Eighties dawned the service-oriented sector (wholesaling, retailing, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, communications, etc.) grew.  As did government.  With a mature economy and loads of new jobs for highly educated college graduates consumption took off.  And led the economy in the Eighties.  Everyone was buying.  And investing.  Businesses were borrowing money at cheap rates and expanding capacity.  And buying stocks.  As was everyone.  Banks were approving just about any loan regardless of risk.  All that cheap money led to a boom in housing.  Stock and house prices soared.  As did debt.  It was Keynesian economics at its best.  Low interest rates encouraged massive consumption (which Keynesians absolutely love) and high investment.  Government was partnering with business and produced the best of all possible worlds.

But those stock prices were getting way too high.  As were those real estate prices.  And it was all financed with massive amounts of debt.  Massive bubbles financed by massive debt.  A big problem.  For those high prices weren’t based on value.  It was inflation.  Too much money in the economy.  Which raised prices.  And created a lot of irrational exuberance.  Causing people to bid up prices for stocks and real estate into the stratosphere.  Something Alan Greenspan would be saying a decade later during the dot-com boom in the United States.  Bubbles are bombs just waiting to go off.  And this one was a big one.  Before it got too big the government tried to disarm it.  By increasing interest rates. But it was too late.

We call it the business cycle.  The boom-bust cycle between good times and bad.  During the good times prices go up and supply rushes in to fill that demand.  Eventually too many people rush in and supply exceeds demand.  And prices then fall.  The recession part of the business cycle.  All normal and necessary in economics.  And the quicker this happens the less painful the recession will be.  But the higher you inflate prices the farther they must fall.  And the Japanese really inflated those prices.  So they had a long way to fall.  And fall they did.  For a decade.  And counting.  What the Japanese call their Lost Decade.  A deflationary spiral that may still be continuing to this day.

As asset prices fell out of the stratosphere they became worth less than the debt used to buy them.  (Sound familiar?  This is what happened in the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.)  Played hell with balance sheets throughout Japan Inc.  A lot of debt went bad.  And unpaid.  Causing a lot problems for banks.  As they injected capital into businesses too big to fail.  To help them service the debt used for their bad investments.  To keep them from defaulting on their loans.  Consumption fell, too.  Making all that corporate investment nothing but idle excess capacity.  The government tried to stop the deflation by lowering interest rates.  To stimulate some economic activity.  And a lot of inflation.  But the economy was in full freefall.  (Albeit a slow freefall.  Taking two decades and counting.)  Bringing supply and prices back in line with real demand.  Which no amount of cheap money was going to change.  Even loans at zero percent.

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Low Interest Rates in Canada are creating a Housing Bubble Similar to the one that led to the Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 5th, 2012

Week in Review

Easy credit created a housing bubble in the U.S.  And inflation.  When the Fed increased interest rates to stop that inflation they burst that housing bubble.  And caused the U.S. Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  Which caused the Great Recession. 

Easy credit.  The hallmark of Keynesian economics.  To maintain a small but ‘manageable’ permanent level of inflation.  To make recessions a thing of the past.  But this permanent inflation has only created bubbles.  Like housing bubbles.  Such as the one that led to the Great Recession.  Making it longer and far more painful than it would have been had they left interest rates to market forces.

Credit wasn’t as easy in Canada.  So they escaped much of the fallout from the Great Recession.  But they still practiced Keynesian economics.  Kept interest rates low these past few years to stimulate their economy.  And stimulated they did.  Perhaps a little too much (see Look out below posted 2/4/2012 on The Economist).

When the United States saw a vast housing bubble inflate and burst during the 2000s, many Canadians felt smug about the purported prudence of their financial and property markets. During the crash, Canadian house prices fell by just 8%, compared with more than 30% in America. They hit new record highs by 2010. “Canada was not a part of the problem,” Stephen Harper, the prime minister, boasted in 2010.

Today the consensus is growing on Bay Street, Toronto’s answer to Wall Street, that Mr Harper may have to eat his words. In response to America’s slow economic recovery and uncertainty in Europe, the Bank of Canada has kept interest rates at record lows. Five-year fixed-rate mortgages now charge interest of just 2.99%. In response, Canadians have sought ever-bigger loans for ever-costlier homes. The country’s house prices have doubled since 2002…

Bankers are becoming alarmed. Mark Carney, the governor of the central bank, has been warning for years that Canadians are consuming beyond their means. The bosses of banks with big mortgage businesses, including CIBC, Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal, have all said the housing market is at or near its peak. Canada’s ratio of household debt to disposable income has risen by 40% in the past decade, recently surpassing America’s (see chart). And its ratio of house prices to income is now 30% above its historical average—less than, say, Ireland’s excesses (which reached 70%), but high enough to expect a drop. A recent report from Bank of America said Canada was “showing many of the signs of a classic bubble”…

However, the state has refused to use its most powerful tool. To protect business investment, the central bank has made clear that it plans to keep interest rates low. As long as money stays cheap, the balloon could get bigger—perhaps big enough to become a fully fledged bubble after all.

So, to further stimulate the economy (i.e., to protect business investment) they are keeping interest rates low.  When all the signs indicate that this economic growth is growing a rather large real estate bubble.  Normally a good time to start raising interest rates.  So housing prices don’t get so high that when they fall they hurt.  Like they did in the U.S.  Where they fell over 30%.  And are still falling in some areas.  And when they fall from that height it hurts.  It really hurts.  Just ask someone whose mortgage is underwater.  Where their mortgage is greater than the current price of their house.  You can ask just about any homeowner in the U.S.  Or, perhaps, any homeowner in Canada in the not so distant future.

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FT103: “If General Grant used Keynesian tactics he wouldn’t have given up the attack on Cold Harbor until all of his soldiers were dead.” Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 3rd, 2012

Fundamental Truth

On the Eve of Cold Harbor Grizzled Union Veterans pinned Scraps of Paper with their Names and Home Cities Inside their Jackets

General Grant has a few reputations.  That he was a drunk.  He wasn’t.  He just couldn’t hold his liquor.  And he hated inactivity.  And being away from his family.  Two things that led him to drink.  They also called him a butcher.  That he cared little for his men.  Which wasn’t true.  The bloodiest single day of battle in the Civil War was the Battle of Antietam.  Grant wasn’t there.  The bloodiest battle was the three days at Gettysburg.  Grant wasn’t there.  One of the greatest Union defeats was at Fredericksburg.  Grant wasn’t there.  So it wasn’t Grant.  It was the tactics used in the Civil War.  Napoleonic tactics.  Massing great ranks of soldiers opposite great ranks of soldiers.  Fire a few shots.  Close in on each other.  Then finish the job with the bayonet.  And plenty of finishing was needed as those Napoleonic weapons weren’t rifled.  Or all that accurate.

The weapons were rifled, though, in the American Civil War.  And far more accurate.  So they killed a lot of soldiers as they massed and fired.  And killed even more as they closed in to finish the job.  They soon learned that massing troops in the open on the field of battle was not a good idea.  Instead they looked for good ground to defend.  At Antietam there was a sunken road in the center of the Confederate line.  One of the first trenches used in warfare.  Lee failed at Gettysburg because General Ewell failed to take the high ground on the eve of the first day of battle.  Over night the Union entrenched strong defensive positions.  That held for days 2 and 3.  At Fredericksburg there was another sunken road.  This one was behind a stone wall.  It was also on the high ground.  And that’s where the Confederates were when the Union attacked.  And lost the battle.

General Lee was a combat engineer in the Mexican War.  Some called him the King of Spades.  So fortifying defensive positions was something he was good at.  And became better at.  Building breastworks.  Which even the odds in battle when a numerically superior force attacks a smaller entrenched force.  Like at Cold Harbor.  Where the breastworks zigzagged for 5 miles.  Allowing the defenders to shoot into the front of the attacking force.  As well as into the side of the attacking force.  Which is why on the eve of battle the grizzled veterans in the Union Army pinned scraps of paper with their names and home cities inside their jackets.  An early dog tag.  So when they attacked those heavily fortified defensive positions in the morning their surviving comrades could identify their bodies and send them home to family for burial.  Which, sadly, proved very useful after the battle.

The Problem with Keynesian Economics is that it interferes with Market Prices causing Inflation and Bubbles

The attack was over in less than an hour.  Seven thousand Union soldiers fell killed or wounded.  Grant regretted his order to attack until his dying day.  And he wouldn’t give such an order again.  Because he learned the folly of attacking entrenched positions.  And began adjusting his tactics to match the technology of the battlefield.

Sometimes it’s easier to identify failed policies in war.  It may have taken some time.  But it eventually became clear.  For when the casualty rates soared people were less willing to send their sons off to war.  Making the cost of those failed policies very real.  And personal.  Not abstract numbers.  Like in economics.  Where few understand what Keynesian economics is.  Or how to identify if these policies work.  Or if they fail.  For if you listen to Keynesian economists they never fail.  And when they do it’s not because they’re wrong.  It’s because those using them weren’t bold enough.  Such as using a Keynesian economic stimulus to pull an economy out of a recession.  It didn’t work in the Seventies.  And it didn’t work in the most recent recession.  The Great Recession.  And how do Keynesians explain this failure?  The economic stimulus wasn’t big enough.

The problem with Keynesian economics is that it interferes with the market forces.  By denying reality.  The business cycle.  The cycle between good economic times and bad economic times.  From periods of expanding economic activity to periods of contracting economic activity.  It’s this second half of the business cycle that Keynesians were especially trying to deny.  Recessions.  Those things that correct prices at the end of a growth cycle.  Before inflation can set in and wreak its havoc.  And when Keynesians interfere with this market mechanism the market doesn’t correct prices before inflation sets in.  So prices keep rising.  And they create asset bubbles.  Like housing bubbles.  Like the one that led up to the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  And because Keynesians interfered all they did was delay the inevitable.  Allowing prices to rise higher than they normally would have.  Which meant they had further to fall.  Creating a longer and more painful recession than there would have been had they not interfered.

Unlike a Keynesian, General Grant Recognized a Failed Policy and Stopped Using It

Keynesians try to reduce economics down to a set of mathematical equations.  That they accept on faith.  Blinded by their ideology.  And refuse to recognize their failure.  Which is why they continue to interfere with market forces.  And continue to make recessions longer and more painful than they need be.  While strewing a swath of economic destruction in their path.  Like all of those home owners who lost so much value in their houses that their mortgages are now greater than the market price of their house.  Many lost their retirement nest egg in the process.  Some even had to alter their retirement plans because of their losses.  Or go back to work in their retirement.

These aren’t bodies littering a battlefield.  But the Keynesian carnage has destroyed lives just the same.  Impoverishing future generations to pay for their inept policies.  For people not even born today will have a tax bill so great that it will diminish their living standard far below what we enjoy today.  As bad as that is what’s worse is that they don’t change their policies after these failures.  Believing that the only reason they’ve failed is because they didn’t try them on a grand enough scale.  Or the government quit them before they had a chance to work. 

Thankfully General Grant didn’t use such Keynesian thinking at Cold Harbor.  Had he used such reasoning he would have ordered a second assault.  And a third. And kept ordering them as long as he had living men to send in against that entrenched defense.  But he didn’t.  Why?  Because he was smarter than a Keynesian.  He recognized a failed policy.  And stopped using it.

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The Chinese Scale Back their Ambitious High-Speed Rail Plans because their Keynesian Polices Unleashed Inflation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 30th, 2011

Week in Review

Railroads are expensive to build.  And to operate.  Especially high-speed railroads.  Why?  Because unlike airplanes that fly in the air between cities trains have to travel on track between cities.  And that’s a whole lot of railroad infrastructure.  That’s why railroads don’t suffer as much during times of escalating fuel costs as trucking and aviation.  Because fuel isn’t their greatest cost.  As it is for trucks and planes.  It’s that massive infrastructure that they have to build.  And maintain.

To build a railroad you need lots of money.  And lots of labor.  Preferably cheap labor.  And that usually means government money.  And immigrant labor.  That’s how they built the first transcontinental railroad in America.  Along with a lot of inefficiencies.  And corruption.  Typical when you put government and big piles of money together.

That first transcontinental railroad needed a lot of ‘fixing up’ before it was safe for use.  They had to move some track from ice to terra firma.  Rebuild some bridges that weren’t disposable after a few uses.  That kind of thing.  Because that’s the kind of craftsmanship you get when government is in charge of the money.  What we call crony capitalism.  Government rewarding their friends.  Picking winners and losers.  And helping those who will help them.  That is, return the favor of government contracts with campaign contributions.

Governments all around the world are in favor of building more high-speed rail.  Because it will ‘put people to work’.  And ‘save the planet’.  By moving people out of gasoline-powered cars into electricity-powered trains.  Electricity that is generated from even more polluting coal-fired power plants.

The Americans have been trying.  Obama’s stimulus included billions for high-speed rail.  That did nothing.  Meanwhile the Chinese have been doing it.  By making money for the banks to lend.  And using cheap ‘second-class’ migrant labor from China’s countryside to build their high-speed rail.  And how has that been working?  Not so good (see Can’t pay, won’t pay posted 10/29/2011 on The Economist).

EFFORTS to curb inflation in China are having some painful side-effects. A squeeze on bank lending has prompted some businesses short of cash to stop paying wages to blue-collar workers. Even the much-vaunted state sector is feeling the pinch. Work has all but ground to a halt on thousands of kilometres of railway track, and many of the network’s 6m construction workers have been complaining about not being paid for weeks or sometimes months…

The government touted building railways as a great way to keep the economy buoyant during global financial trouble, and boost employment. But the $600 billion stimulus launched in 2008 is all but spent. Indeed, the central government has urged state banks to cut back on lending in order to curb inflation, which in the year to July reached a three-year high of 6.5%, before dropping to 6.1% in September.

Yet another example of why Keynesian economic stimulus stimulates only economic bubbles and inflation.  Which are always corrected by recessions.  And the greater the stimulus/bubble the greater the recession.  Of course Keynesian government economists everywhere will all come to the same conclusion.  That China isn’t spending enough.  And that governments everywhere should follow the Chinese example.  But without the one flaw of turning off the easy credit spigot.  Because Keynesians always say that any inflation created by government stimulus is minor and negligible in comparison to all the good that it does.

Similar problems have also been reported in road building and property construction, prompting a growing number of demonstrations and violent incidents, including clashes with employers and suicides. Such difficulties are likely to get worse towards the end of the year, when companies traditionally try to settle accounts with employees. Wage inflation is adding to employers’ woes. Minimum wages have risen by an average of nearly 22% in the two-thirds of China’s provinces which have adjusted them this year. Nice if you can get it, but not much use if you are not being paid at all.

But the Keynesians couldn’t be more wrong.  Once inflation starts it ripples through the economy.  Costs go up.  Wages go up.  Increasing consumer prices everywhere.  There’ll be some economic prosperity for a little while.  But soon inflation will eat away at the standard of living.  People will be making more money everywhere.  But that money will buy less and less.  It will buy less of a house.  Fewer toys.  And even less food.  This is the endgame of Keynesian stimulus.  And we’re seeing it played out on a grand scale in China.  Like we saw in Japan during their Lost Decade.  Where the Japanese suffered a deflationary spiral that just never ended.  To correct all that damage caused by their Keynesian bubble.

This could prove to have a devastating effect on the American economy.  For the Americans will have no one left to finance their debt.  And yet President Obama, the Democrats and all those mainstream Keynesian economists are all clamoring for one thing.  Can you guess what that is?  That’s right.  More Keynesian stimulus.

Some people just never learn.

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