The Keynesian Abenomics is Raising Prices in Japan

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 14th, 2014

Week in Review

Money is a temporary storage of value.  We created money to make trade easier.  We once bartered.  We looked for people to trade with.  But trying to find someone with something you wanted (say, a bottle of wine) that wanted what you had (say olive oil) could take a lot of time.  Time that could be better spent making wine or olive oil.  So the longer it took to search to find someone to trade with the more it cost in lost wine and olive oil production.  Which is why we call this looking for people to trade goods with ‘search costs’.

Money changed that.  Winemakers could sell their wine for money.  And take that money to the supermarket and buy olive oil.  And the olive oil maker could do likewise.  Greatly increasing the efficiency of the market.  There is a very important point here.  Money facilitated trade between people who created value.  Creating something of value is key.  Because if people were just given money without producing anything of value they couldn’t trade that money for anything.  For if people didn’t create things of value to buy what good was that money?

Today, thanks to Keynesian economics, governments everywhere believe they can create economic activity with money.  And use their monetary powers to try and manipulate things in the economy to favor them.  And one of their favorite things to do is to devalue their money.  Make it worth less.  So governments that borrow a lot of money can repay that money later with devalued money.  Money that is worth less.  So they are in effect paying back less than they borrowed.  And governments love doing that.  Of course, people who loan money are none too keen with this.  Because they are getting less back than they loaned out originally.  And there is another reason why governments love to devalue their money.  Especially if they have a large export economy.

Before anyone can buy from another country they have to exchange their money first.  And the more money they get in exchange the more they can buy from the exporting country.  This is the same reason why you can enjoy a five-star vacation in a tropical resort in some foreign country for about $25.  I’m exaggerating here but the point is that if you vacation in a country with a very devalued currency your money will buy a lot there.  But the problem with making your exports cheap by devaluing your currency is that it has a down side.  For a country to buy imports they, too, first have to exchange their currency.  And when they exchange it for a much stronger currency it takes a lot more of it to buy those imports.  Which is why when you devalue your currency you raise prices.  Because it takes more of a devalued currency to buy things that a stronger currency can buy.  Something the good people in Japan are currently experiencing under Abenomics (see Japan Risks Public Souring on Abenomics as Prices Surge by Toru Fujioka and Masahiro Hidaka posted 4/14/2014 on Bloomberg).

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to vault Japan out of 15 years of deflation risks losing public support by spurring too much inflation too quickly as companies add extra price increases to this month’s sales-tax bump.

Businesses from Suntory Beverage and Food Ltd. to beef bowl chain Yoshinoya Holdings Co. have raised costs more than the 3 percentage point levy increase. This month’s inflation rate could be 3.5 percent, the fastest since 1982, according to Yoshiki Shinke, the most accurate forecaster of Japan’s economy for two years running in data compiled by Bloomberg…

“Households are already seeing their real incomes eroding and it will get worse with faster inflation,” said Taro Saito, director of economic research at NLI Research Institute, who says he’s seen prices of Chinese food and coffee rising more than the sales levy. “Consumer spending will weaken and a rebound in the economy will lack strength, putting Abe in a difficult position…”

Abe’s attack on deflation — spearheaded by unprecedented easing by the central bank — has helped weaken the yen by 23 percent against the dollar over the past year and a half, boosting the cost of imported goods and energy for Japanese companies.

Japan is an island nation with few raw materials.  They have to import a lot.  Including much of their energy.  Especially since shutting down their nuclear reactors.  Japan has a lot of manufacturing.  But that manufacturing needs raw materials.  And energy.  Which are more costly with a devalued yen.  Increasing their costs.  Which they, of course, have to pay for when they sell their products.  So their higher costs increase the prices their customers pay.  Leaving the people of Japan with less money to buy their other household goods that are also rising in price.  Which is why economies with high rates of inflation go into recession.  As the recession will correct those high prices.  With, of course, deflation.

Keynesians all think they can manipulate the market place to their favor by playing with monetary policy.  But they are losing sight of a fundamental concept in a free market economy.  Money doesn’t have value.  It only holds value temporarily.  It’s the things the factories produce that have value.  And whenever you make it more difficult (i.e., raise their costs by devaluing the currency) for them to create value they will create less value.  And the economy as a whole will suffer.

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From Commodity Money to Representative Money to Fiat Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 8th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published November 8th, 2011)

The Drawbacks to Using Pigs as Money Include they’re not Portable, Divisible, Durable or Uniform

They say we use every part of the pig but the oink.  So pigs are pretty valuable animals.  And we have used them as money.  Because they’re valuable.  People were willing to accept a pig in trade for something of value of theirs.  Because they knew they could always trade that pig to someone else later.  Because we use every part of the pig but the oink.  Which makes them pretty valuable.

Of course, there are drawbacks to using pigs as money.  For one they’re not that portable.  They’re not that easy to take to the market.  And they’re big.  Hold a lot of value.  So what do you do when something is worth more than one pig but not quite worth two?  Well, pigs aren’t readily divisible.  Unless you slaughter them.  But then you’d have to hurry up and trade the parts before they spoil because they’re not going to stay fresh long.  For pig parts aren’t very durable.

Suppose you have two pigs.  And someone has something you want and they will trade two pigs for it.  But there’s only one problem.  One pig is big and healthy.  The other is old and sickly.  And half the weight of the healthy one.  This trader was willing to take two pigs in trade.  But clearly the two pigs you have are unequal in value.  They’re not uniform.  And not quite what this trader had in mind when he said he’d take two pigs in trade.

Our Paper Currency Evolved from the Certificates we Carried for our Gold and Silver we Kept Locked Up

Rats are more uniform.  They’re more portable.  And they’re smaller.  It would be easier to price things in units of rats rather than pigs.  They would solve all the problems of using pigs as money.  Except one.  Rats are germ-infested parasites that no one wants.  And they breed like rabbits.  You never have only one rat.  Man has spent most of history trying to get rid of these vile disease carriers.  So no one would trade anything of value for rats.  Because these little plague generators were overrunning cities everywhere.  So rats were many things.  But one thing they weren’t was scarce.

Eventually we settled on a commodity that addresses all the shortcomings of pigs and rats.  As well as other commodities.  Gold and silver.  These precious metals were portable.  Durable.  They didn’t spoil and held their value for a long time.  You could make coins in different denominations.  So they were easily divisible.  Unlike a pig.  They were uniform.  Unlike pigs.  Finally, you had to dig gold and silver out of the ground.  After digging a lot of holes trying to find gold and silver deposits.  Which made it costly to bring new gold and silver to market.  Keeping gold and silver scarce.  And valuable.  Unlike rats.

But gold and silver were heavy metals.  Carrying large amounts was exhausting.  And dangerous.  A chest of gold and silver was tempting to thieves.  As you couldn’t hide it easily.  Soon we left our gold and silver locked up somewhere.  And carried certificates instead that were exchangeable for that gold and silver.  And these became our paper currency.

Governments Everywhere left the Gold Standard in the 20th Century so they could Print Fiat Money

The use of certificates like this is typically what people mean by gold standard.  Money in circulation represents the value of the underlying gold or silver.  And can be exchanged for that gold or silver.  Which meant that governments couldn’t just print money.  Like they do today.  Because the value was in the gold and silver.  Not the paper that represented the gold and silver.  And the only way to create money was to dig it out of the ground, process it and bring it to market.  Which is a lot harder to do than printing paper money.  So governments everywhere left the gold standard in the 20th century in favor of fiat money.  So they could print money.  Create it out of nothing.  And spend it.  With no restraints of responsible governing whatsoever.

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Capital Flows and Currency Exchange

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 10th, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published July 30th, 2012)

Before we buy a Country’s Exports we have to Exchange our Currency First

What’s the first thing we do when traveling to a foreign country?  Exchange our currency.  Something we like to do at our own bank.  Before leaving home.  Where we can get a fair exchange rate.  Instead of someplace in-country where they factor the convenience of location into the exchange rate.  Places we go to only after we’ve run out of local currency.  And need some of it fast.  So we’ll pay the premium on the exchange rate.  And get less foreign money in exchange for our own currency.

Why are we willing to accept less money in return for our money?  Because when we run out of money in a foreign country we have no choice.  If you want to eat at a McDonalds in Canada they expect you to pay with Canadian dollars.  Which is why the money in the cash drawer is Canadian money.  Because the cashier accepts payment and makes change in Canadian money.  Just like they do with American money in the United States.

So currency exchange is very important for foreign purchases.  Because foreign goods are priced in a foreign currency.  And it’s just not people traveling across the border eating at nice restaurants and buying souvenirs to bring home.  But people in their local stores buying goods made in other countries.  Before we buy them with our American dollars someone else has to buy them first.  Japanese manufacturers need yen to run their businesses.  Chinese manufacturers need yuan to run their businesses.  Indian manufacturers need rupees to run their businesses.  So when they ship container ships full of their goods they expect to get yen, yuan and rupees in return.  Which means that before anyone buys their exports someone has to exchange their currency first.

Goods flow One Way while Gold flows the Other until Price Inflation Reverses the Flow of Goods and Gold

We made some of our early coins out of gold.  Because different nations used gold, too, it was relatively easy to exchange currencies.  Based on the weight of gold in those coins.  Imagine one nation using a gold coin the size of a quarter as their main unit of currency.  And another nation uses a gold coin the size of a nickel.  Let’s say the larger coin weighs twice as much as the smaller coin.  Or has twice the amount of gold in it.  Making the exchange easy.  One big coin equals two small coins in gold value.  So if I travel to the country of small coins with three large gold coins I exchange them for six of the local coins.  And then go shopping.

The same principle follows in trade between these two countries.  To buy a nation’s exports you have to first exchange your currency for theirs.  This is how.  You go to the exporter country with bags of your gold coins.  You exchange them for the local currency.  You then use this local currency to pay for the goods they will export to you.  Then you go back to your country and wait for the ship to arrive with your goods.  When it arrives your nation has a net increase in imported goods (i.e., a trade deficit).  And a net decrease in gold.  While the other nation has a net increase in exported goods (i.e., a trade surplus).  And a net increase in gold.

The quantity theory of money tells us that as the amount of money in circulation increases it creates price inflation.  Because there’s more of it in circulation it’s easy to get and worth less.  Because the money is worth less it takes more of it to buy the same things it once did.  So prices rise.  As prices rise in a nation with a trade surplus.  And fall in a nation with a trade deficit.  Because less money in circulation makes it harder to get and worth more.  Because the money is worth more it takes less of it to buy the same things it once did.  So prices fall.  This helps to make trade neutral (no deficit or surplus).  As prices rise in the exporter nation people buy less of their more expensive exports.  As prices fall in an importer nation people begin buying their less expensive exports.  So as goods flow one way gold flows the other way.  Until inflation rises in one country and eventually reverses the flow of goods and gold.  We call this the price-specie flow mechanism.

In the Era of Floating Exchange Rates Governments don’t have to Act Responsibly Anymore

This made the gold standard an efficient medium of exchange for international trade.  Whether we used gold.  Or a currency backed by gold.  Which added another element to the exchange rate.  For trading paper bills backed by gold required a government to maintain their domestic money supply based on their foreign exchange rate.  Meaning that they at times had to adjust the number of bills in circulation to maintain their exchange rate.  So if a country wanted to lower their interest rates (to encourage borrowing to stimulate their economy) by increasing the money supply they couldn’t.  Limiting what governments could do with their monetary policy.  Especially in the age of Keynesian economics.  Which was the driving force for abandoning the gold standard.

Most nations today use a floating exchange rate.  Where countries treat currencies as commodities.  With their own supply and demand determining exchange rates.  Or a government’s capital controls (restricting the free flow of money) that overrule market forces.  Which you can do when you don’t have to be responsible with your monetary policy.  You can print money.  You can keep foreign currency out of your county.  And you can manipulate your official exchange rate to give you an advantage in international trade by keeping your currency weak.  So when trading partners exchange their currency with you they get a lot of yours in exchange.  Allowing them to buy more of your goods than they can buy from other nations with the same amount of money.  Giving you an unfair trade advantage.  Trade surpluses.  And lots of foreign currency to invest in things like U.S. treasury bonds.

The gold standard gave us a fixed exchange rate and the free flow of capital.  But it limited what a government could do with its monetary policy.  An active monetary policy will allow the free flow of capital but not a fixed exchange rate.  Capital controls prevent the free flow of capital but allows a fixed exchange rate and an active monetary policy.  Governments have tried to do all three of these things.  But could never do more than two.  Which is why we call these three things the impossible trinity.  Which has been a source of policy disputes within a nation.  And between nations.  Because countries wanted to abandoned the gold standard to adopt policies that favored their nation.  And then complained about nations doing the same thing because it was unfair to their own nation.  Whereas the gold standard made trade fair.  By making governments act responsible.  Something they never liked.  And in the era of floating exchange rates they don’t have to act responsibly anymore.

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Britain and Scotland disagree over Scottish Currency in an Independent Scotland

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 16th, 2014

Week in Review

The Eurozone was a grand idea to make an economic zone that could compete against the United States.  A United States of Europe, if you will.  But the Eurozone has suffered a sovereign debt crisis that was unavoidable.  As many analysts have identified the problem causing the Eurozone all its sovereign debt woes.  The lack of a political union.

The solution they say is for member states to give up some of their sovereignty and allow a Eurozone government have more control.  Like the United States of America has.  Which means putting even stricter controls on member states when it comes to their spending.  Which, in turn, would limit their deficits.  And their borrowing needs.  Which brought on the sovereign debt crisis in the first place.  Excessive spending beyond their ability to pay for with taxes.  Normally not a problem for other countries when another country spends itself into oblivion.  Unless, of course, there is a currency union with that country.  Which makes their problems your problems.  Problems that are impossible to solve without a political union.

The Eurozone sovereign debt crisis illustrates that a currency union without a political union will not work.  Which makes the movement for Scottish independence very interesting (see Britain warns Scotland: Forget the pound if you walk away by Belinda Goldsmith, Reuters, posted 2/13/2014 on Yahoo! News).

Britain warned Scotland on Thursday it would have to give up the pound if Scots voted to end the 307-year-old union with England, declaring the currency could not be divided up “as if it were a CD collection” after a messy divorce…

The message was aimed at undermining the economic case for independence and one of the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) key proposals – that an independent Scotland would keep the pound…

The debate has intensified in recent weeks with Bank of England chief Mark Carney cautioning that a currency union would entail a surrender of some sovereignty…

The SNP [Scottish National Party] has indicated that if London prevented a currency union, an independent Scotland could refuse to take on a share of the UK’s 1.2 trillion pounds ($1.99 trillion) of government debt which Britain has promised to honor…

Osborne said the nationalist threat to walk away from its share of UK debt would mean punitively high interest rates for an independent Scotland and was an “empty threat”.

“In that scenario, international lenders would look at Scotland and see a fledgling country whose only credit history was one gigantic default,” Osborne said.

Currently there is a political union between Scotland and England.  The United Kingdom (UK).  And Scottish independence would go contrary to what some analysts say is needed to save the Eurozone.  Political unity.  The problem in the Eurozone is that no one nation wants to give up any of their sovereignty and have some distant power tell them what they can and cannot do.  The way some in Scotland feel about London.  That distant power that governs the United Kingdom.

The British pound is one of the world’s strongest currencies.  A product of the powers in London.  Because they have political control across the UK.  If they lose their political control over Scotland will it damage the British pound?  If the Eurozone is any measure of a currency union without a political union, yes.  So it will be interesting to see what happens between these two great nations.  Whose people made the world a better place.  People like the great Scotsman Adam Smith.  And the great Englishman John Locke.  To name just two.  So whatever happens let’s hope it’s in the best interest of both countries.  For countries everywhere enjoying economic freedom and human rights can thank these two countries for their contributions to the British Empire.  Which helped spread the best of Western Civilization around the world from the United States to Canada to Australia to Hong Kong.  And beyond.

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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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The Obama Administration’s Dollar Devaluation lowers the Cost of Living in Britain

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 6th, 2013

Week in Review

The British economy appears to be turning the corner.  Of course, they have an advantage over the American economy.  They’re not stuck buying petrol with a devalued American dollar (see UK economy growing at fastest rate in the developed world by Philip Aldrick, and Steve Hawkes posted 10/3/2013 on The Telegraph).

And there were hopes tonight that the signs of life could help tackle the cost of living, with a strong pound helping to push down the cost of petrol, which is traded globally in US dollars.

There are two primary forces that determine the price of gasoline.  Supply and demand.  And the strength of the US dollar.

Thanks to the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression, gasoline is not in as great of demand as it once was.  Before President Obama became president.  With so many people having left the labor force people just don’t have the money to put into their gas tanks.  Hence the ‘staycation’.  Spending the family vacation at home.  Doing fun things in the backyard.  Like cutting the grass.  And then when the kids’ chores are done there’s hotdogs on the grill.  Can a week at Disneyland compare to that?

Even though we’re buying less gas gasoline prices are still pretty high.  Why?  Because unlike the British we buy our gasoline with devalued dollars.  Due to all of that quantitative easing.  Printing money to buy treasury bonds.  To stimulate the economy.  Where only the rich Wall Street traders who buy and sell these bonds are getting stimulated.

With more money in circulation chasing the same goods and services in the economy it takes more dollars to buy what they once did.  Including gasoline.  Especially gasoline.  For the higher price of gas can be hidden in other products by reducing the package size of the product sold.  Such as smaller cereal boxes.  The prices may not be going up on cereal but we have to buy cereal more often.  Spending more money in the long run.  The higher price of gasoline (due to a weaker dollar) makes everything more expensive in the supply chain that ultimately puts those boxes of cereal on the supermarket shelf.  Ditto for everything else that is moved with gasoline or diesel.  But they can’t shrink the package size of gasoline to hide the added cost from the devalued dollar.  Because they sell gasoline by a fixed measurement.  We buy it by the gallon.  We don’t buy it by the box.  If we sold cereal by a fixed measurement we’d see cereal prices rising a lot higher than they are now.  But they’re not. So the boxes are getting smaller.

The British pound is stronger than the US dollar.  So when the British buy oil on the world market they exchange stronger pounds for weaker dollars.  Getting more dollars in exchange for their pounds.  Removing the U.S. price inflation (due to the devalued dollar) from the price of oil.  Lowering the cost of oil in Britain.  And lowering costs throughout the British supply chain.  Which will help lower the British cost of living.  Making life easier for the British consumer.  Because the British are more responsible with their currency than the Obama administration is with the American currency.

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Roman Denarius, New World Gold and Silver, American Continental and German Mark

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 25th, 2013

History 101

Money that is not Scarce is a Poor Temporary Storage of Wealth

They say money doesn’t grow on trees.  And it’s a good thing it doesn’t.  For money is a temporary storage of wealth.  It temporarily stores value.  And one if its attributes is that it has to be scarce.  For example, let’s say you are a highly skilled tomato grower.  And you work in your garden 12 hours each day weeding, fertilizing, watering, tying, pruning, etc., your many fields of tomato plants.  Producing beautiful tomatoes that everyone just loves.  You love your tomatoes so much that you actually gave up your day job to grow them full time.  And support your family with the proceeds from selling your tomatoes.  Which you will exchange with others for money.  Provided that money is scarce.  And will hold the value of your tomatoes.  Until you can exchange that money for something you want.

Now let’s assume money grows on trees.  Anyone can plant one in their backyard.  And it grows like a weed.  That is, you don’t have to fertilize it or water it or do anything else for it.  And anytime you want something you just walk to your money tree and pick the bills you need.  We would never have to work again if we all had money trees in our backyard.  Wouldn’t that be great?  Or would it?  What would happen if everyone quit working because they, too, had a money tree in their backyard?  If no one worked then there would be nothing to buy with the money from your money tree.

But there is another problem.  If everyone had a money tree there would be such much money in circulation that it would no longer be scarce.  And if it’s not scarce it isn’t money.  It isn’t a temporary storage of wealth.  It won’t temporarily store value.  Because someone that has something of value, say delicious tomatoes, won’t want to trade them for something that he or she can just pick off of his own money tree.  Instead, he or she would rather trade those tomatoes for something that does have value.  Like, say, mozzarella cheese.  So a skilled cheese-maker and the skilled tomato-grower can meet to trade things of value with each other.  Tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.  And then each can make a delicious Caprese salad.  Which also has value.  Unlike money that grows on trees that anybody can pick whenever they want to.  Filling the world with people with lots of money but nothing to buy.  Because no one works to grow or make anything.

When Spain brought back New World Gold and Silver it unleashed Inflation in the Old World

For anything to be money it must be scarce.  Just think of the laws of supply and demand.  If there are droughts all summer long farmers have smaller harvests.  Which raises the price of what they bring to market.  Because demand is greater than the supply.  If there was a great growing season they have bumper crops.  Which lowers the price of what they bring to market.  Because supply is greater than demand.  So the scarcer something is the more valuable it is.  And so it is with money.

The main Roman coin was the silver denarius.  As the Roman Empire reached its zenith her borders stopped moving out.  The Roman legions stopped conquering new lands.  And without new conquest there were no spoils to send back to Rome.  So the Romans had to raise taxes to pay for the cost of empire.  The administration of it.  The protection of it.  And a growing welfare state to keep the people content.  To help with these great expenditures they began to debase the denarius.  Mixing more and more lead into the coin.  Reducing the silver content.  So they could make more coins with the available silver.  Thus making these coins less scarce.  And less valuable.  Unleashing an inflation so bad that it devalued the denarius so much that no amount of them could buy anything.   Eventually even the Roman government would refuse to accept it in payment of taxes.  Demanding gold instead.  Or payment in kind.

When Spain arrived in the New World they found a lot of gold and silver.  Which Europeans used as money in the Old World.  The Spanish brought so much gold and silver back to the Old World that it greatly expanded the money supply.  Making gold and silver less scarce.  And less valuable.  Requiring more of it to buy the things it once bought.  So prices rose.  Because of the inflation of the money supply.

The War Reparations the Versailles Treaty imposed on Germany led to their Hyperinflation

During the American Revolution there was little specie (i.e., gold and silver coin) in the colonies.  As wars are expensive this made it difficult to finance the war.  The Continental Congress asked for contributions from the states.  And could only hope the states would give them some money.  For they had no taxing powers.  But they never were able to raise enough money.  So they borrowed what they could.  And then started printing paper money.  The continental.  But they printed so many of them that they were far from scarce.  The massive inflation devalued the continental so much that it created the expression “not worth a continental.”  Which meant something was absolutely worthless.  The people would refuse to accept them as legal tender from the Continental Army because they were worthless pieces of paper.  So the army took what they needed from the people.  And gave them IOUs that Congress would settle at some later date.

The Germans paid for World War I by borrowing money.  The increased debt of the nation during the war devalued the currency.  The German mark.  It took more and more of them to exchange for stronger currencies.  Like the U.S. dollar.  The Versailles Treaty that ended the war saddled Germany with the responsibility for the war.  And made them pay enormous amounts of war reparations.  In gold.  Or foreign currency.  So the Germans turned up the printing presses.  And printed marks like there was no tomorrow.  Making them less scarce.  And worth less.  It took more and more of them to exchange for foreign currency to make their reparation payments.  But they didn’t care what the exchange rate was.  For whatever amount of devalued marks they needed to exchange they just turned to their printing presses.  And printed whatever they needed.  This rapid inflation devalued the mark more.  Requiring them to print more.  Which just fed into the inflation.  Eventually bringing on a hyperinflation where it took enormous amounts of marks to buy anything.  For example, it was cheaper and easier to burn marks than it was to buy firewood to burn.

Anytime you make money less scarce you make it worth less.  The inflation of the money supply devalues the currency.  Which raises prices.  Because it takes more of the devalued currency to buy what it once did before the inflation.  So expanding the money supply leads to price inflation.  Good if you’re a rich investor.  But if you’re someone just trying to buy firewood to keep from freezing to death during the winter?  Not so good.  The Romans, the Europeans, the Americans and the Germans all suffered from bad inflation.  Some worse than others.  If the inflation is so bad, such as in the case of hyperinflation, people may lose all confidence in the currency.  And simply stop using it.  Going to a barter system instead.  Like when a tomato-grower trades his tomatoes for a cheese-maker’s mozzarella cheese.

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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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A Weakening Dollar is giving Boeing a Trade Advantage over Airbus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 23rd, 2013

Week in Review

Before you can buy from a foreign country you have to exchange your currency fist.  For example, if you’re in China and want to buy some aircraft from Boeing or Airbus, you have to exchange you currency first.  Exchange Chinese yuan for U.S. dollars.  Or exchange Chinese yuan for euros.

Now if both Boeing and Airbus have a plane that meets all of their needs leaving price as the only consideration, they have two things to consider.  Price, obviously.  And the current exchange rate.  For if the U.S. dollar is weaker compared to the euro they will get more dollars than euros when exchanging their currency.  Giving the Americans a trade advantage.  Because if the dollar is weaker than the euro the Chinese yuan will buy more from Boeing than it will from Airbus.  A situation that actually exists now.  And it concerns Airbus (see Airbus CEO Concerned Over Euro/USD Exchange Rate Affecting Exports by David Pearson posted 6/20/2013 on 4-traders).

Airbus Chief Executive Fabrice Bregier Thursday said he remains concerned about the strength of the euro against the U.S. dollar which could limit the European plane-maker’s export-reliant growth despite strong demand for passenger jets particularly from Asia.

The CEO has previously expressed concern that the euro’s rise against the dollar could force the company to seek extra cost cuts or savings.

The aircraft market is a world market.  An aircraft manufacturer’s export sales will be greater than their domestic sales.  So a weak currency benefits them.  Which is why governments like to weaken their currencies.  Especially if they depend on robust export sales.  But the down side to that is that a weaker currency will raise prices everywhere else.  So, yes, exports will grow.  But people will lose purchasing power.  As their money won’t buy as much as it once did.

Because the Chinese yuan will buy more from Boeing than it will from Airbus they have to somehow lower the price of their planes to offset that advantage Boeing has. Which means they will have to find costs they can cut.  Find savings elsewhere.  Or watch Boeing sell more planes.

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China, Taiwan, Four Asian Tigers and 1997 Asian Financial Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 18th, 2013

History 101

Both Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek were rather Brutal to any Political Opposition

Today many of the things we buy are stamped ‘Made in China’.  Because the Chinese can manufacture things cheaply.  For they have a booming export economy.  Which the Chinese built by introducing a little capitalism to the communist state.  And some things that were as un-capitalistic as you can get.  Like artificially low interest rates.  Currency manipulation.  Cheap labor.  And the strong arm of the communist ruling party to keep that labor cheap.  All of this to make their exports about the most inexpensive in the world.  Giving them a huge trade advantage.  Filling stores around the world with products stamped ‘Made in China’.

But before there was ‘Made in China’ there was ‘Made in Taiwan’.  Taiwan.  Officially the Republic of China (ROC).  Not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  AKA mainland China.  Taiwan (or the ROC) is an island in the Pacific Ocean off the China coast with Japan to the northeast and the Philippines to the south.  And is where Chiang Kai-shek and his Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang or KMT) fled to during the Chinese Civil War when Mao Zedong and his communists conquered mainland China.

Both Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek were rather brutal to any political opposition.  But while the PRC suffered some of the world’s worst famines and abject poverty Taiwan at least modernized into an advanced industrial economy.  Helped in large part by the KMT taking China’s gold reserves.  Their foreign currency reserves.  As well as the intellectual and business elites.  Who typically flee ahead of advancing communists.  As those are the people the communists usually kill or send off to reeducation camps.

International Investment poured into Southeast Asia and Spread the Asian Miracle beyond the Four Asian Tigers

Taiwan is one of the Four Asian Tigers.  Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong developed advanced economies beginning in the early Sixties.  Thanks in part to laissez-faire economic policies of free trade, open markets, privatization and deregulation.  They also shrunk the size of their public sector.  And had a high savings rate.  Providing the capital for their industrialization.  While keeping personal and public debt levels low.  Because debt matters.  And the more of it you have the more difficult it is to get through a crisis.

But some of these countries also implemented non-laissez-faire economic policies.  Such as keeping domestic interest rates artificially low.  Even having special low rates for select export industries.  And there was some crony capitalism.  Government loaning to their crony capitalist friends.  Some of which disappeared thanks to a certain amount of corruption.  While a lot of it was used to make bad investments.  What those in the Austrian school of economics call malinvestments.  Investments not driven by the laws of supply and demand.  But for non-business reasons.  Growing big for the sake of being big.  Expanding just because of cheap interest rates.  Or the government choosing which businesses to expand.  And often choosing wrong.  Because those decisions were based on political reasons.  Or just a poor understanding of business in general.

The Asian Tigers served as a model for other nations.  Who followed their lead.  And got onto the export bandwagon.  Some even attracted foreign capital to build an export economy with high interest rates.  And pegged their currencies to the U.S. dollar.  To further encourage foreign investors to invest in their countries.  And it worked.  International investment capital poured into Southeast Asia.  Spreading the Asian Miracle beyond the Asian Tigers.

The Asian Tigers recovered the quickest thanks to their Laissez-Faire Economic Policies and their High Savings Rate

Then came the 1997 Asian financial crisis.  Starting in Thailand.  A nation that had a lot of foreign investment.  And a currency pegged to the U.S. dollar.  Then came a massive speculative attack on the currency.  Speculators were trying to force a devaluation of the Thai currency (the baht) by selling mass holdings of the baht.  In hopes of profiting by entering into agreements to repay a debt in baht at a later date.  If the baht devalued they could repay that debt with a cheaper baht.  Thus making a profit.  Thailand fought this devaluation, though.  By selling their foreign reserves to buy baht to maintain the peg to the U.S. dollar.  But they eventually ran out of foreign reserves to sell.  And had to let the baht float.  Causing a massive devaluation.  Making all that foreign debt much more expensive to repay.  Leading to defaults.  And bankruptcies.

Worried foreign investors started pulling their money out of Southeast Asia.  As they sold their holdings they flooded the foreign exchange market with these devalued currencies.  Putting additional pressure on exchange rates.  At the same time the United States was raising their interest rates to head off inflation there.  Those nations that pegged their currency to the U.S. dollar had to strengthen their currencies, too.  Raising the price of their exports.  Making them less competitive.  So exports fell.  Those higher U.S. interest rates made investment there more attractive.  Increasing the capital flight from these countries.  To try and stop this capital flight countries raised their interest rates.  Which further hurt their economies.  As it was more difficult and more costly to borrow money.

Before it was all said and done currencies, stock markets and other assets lost a lot of value in countries hit by the crisis.  Including the Asian Tigers.  But thanks to their laissez-faire economic policies and their high savings rate (except for South Korea) they recovered faster from the crisis than the other Southeast Asian countries.  Of the Four Asian Tigers South Korea suffered the most.  Thanks to a high level of foreign investment.  And numerous corporate bankruptcies.  Because of those malinvestments.  The causes of the 1997 Asian financial crisis are still debated today.  However what can’t be disputed is that those who suffered the least were those nations that embraced laissez-faire economic policies the most.  And those who interfered with market forces to stimulate an export economy tended to suffer more.  Something China (PRC) is doing.  Interfering with market forces to stimulate an export economy.  And making a lot of malinvestments.  As they try to bring their economy up to the standard of Taiwan (ROC).  Only without the laissez-faire economic policies the ROC used.  All but guaranteeing another financial crisis in the region.

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