Four Trillion Yuan of Keynesian Stimulus Spending provided an Economic Recovery in China that lasted about 2 Years

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 22nd, 2012

Week in Review

Before the early 20th century we looked at economics differently.  We looked at it correctly.  We understand the importance of savings to capital formation.  And we understood the stages of production.  How economic recovery didn’t happen until it reached the higher stages.  Those stages the farthest away from retail sales.  The raw material industry.  The manufacturing industry.  Who make the components the assembly plants use to build consumer goods.  When these higher stages businesses recover then there is an economic recovery.  Because it takes time for those higher stages goods to make it down to the retail level.  So they don’t invest until they know there is a real economic recovery.

This is why Keynesian stimulus spending doesn’t work.  When central banks increase the monetary base it can create a surge of economic activity.  But it also depreciates the currency.  And raises prices.  Higher prices lead to an economic slowdown.  It’s just a matter of time.  Which is why the higher stages of production don’t respond to economic stimulus because by the time their new goods reach the retail level the higher prices will already be slowing down economic activity.  Meaning there will be no demand for their expanded production.  So they will have to lay off employees and shutter facilities.  Resulting in another recession.  Or just a resumption of the previous one.  Only worse.  Because the depreciated currency leaves consumers with less purchasing power.  So they can’t buy as much as they once did.  Creating further excess capacity.  Further layoffs.  And a worsening of the recession they tried to end with that Keynesian stimulus spending.

The Chinese are all Keynesians when it comes to economic policy.  So when their economic activity slowed they went to the go-to Keynesian solution.  Expand the monetary base (see China Slowdown Seen Longer Than 2009 by Government Researcher by Bloomberg News posted 9/20/2012 on Bloomberg).

With the 2008 crisis, China enacted a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion at the time) stimulus and opened up bank lending to revive expansion. Year-over-year growth, after decelerating for seven quarters, bottomed at 6.2 percent in the first quarter of 2009 and accelerated to 11.9 percent a year later…

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who pledged last week to employ monetary and fiscal policies to spur growth, has accelerated infrastructure-project approvals while refraining from introducing a stimulus package on the scale of the one during the financial crisis.

There was a burst of economic activity following the stimulus.  Something all Keynesians in the United States point to.  Saying the reason why the American stimulus didn’t work was because it wasn’t big enough.  Like it was in China.  (They say this even though the Chinese spent less than the Americans.)  Where it worked so well that they need to spur growth with new monetary and fiscal policies this year.  After the new economic growth that began about 2 years ago fizzled out.  Which was far better than the American stimulus that provided no economic growth.  Even though they spent more.  Proving that Keynesian stimulus policies don’t end recessions.  They just offer false hope.

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Argentina adds 15% Tax on all Out of Country Credit Purchases

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 2nd, 2012

Week in Review

Argentina has a problem.  They have depreciated their currency so much that no one wants to hold on to it.  And they are taking aggressive measures to that end (see Argentine tax agents to track all credit card buys by MICHAEL WARREN, Associated Press, posted 8/31/2012 on Yahoo! News).

Argentina just made it more expensive for its people to use credit cards outside the country, and more dangerous for cardholders who aren’t paying all the taxes they should.

One measure published in Friday’s official bulletin adds a 15 percent tax every time people make a purchase outside the country using a card issued by an Argentine bank. Another requires the banks to report every credit card purchase, home or abroad, to the tax agency.

The moves target Argentines who have discovered that by using credit cards outside the country, they can get around increasingly tight currency controls and shelter their money from soaring inflation. Purchases outside Argentina using peso-denominated cards soared 48 percent in June compared to the year before, obligating the central bank to send $289 million out of the country in just one month. Overall capital flight soared to $23 billion in 2011.

Argentina likes to print money.  Which means Argentine pesos don’t hold their value.  If you don’t spend them this week they will buy less next week.  So Argentines don’t want to hold on to them for long.  They’d rather buy stuff while the buying is good (before their pesos loose too much of their purchasing power).  Or quickly exchange their pesos for a currency that holds its value longer.  Like U.S. dollars.  And out of country credit purchases help Argentines minimize the effects of runaway inflation on their earnings.   But when Argentine banks have to settle these international accounts it takes a lot of a depreciated currency to do that.  Hence the soaring capital flight.

If printing so much money causes so many problems why do they print so much money?  Because Argentina governments like to use class warfare.  They like to tax the rich.  And give to the poor.  As well as pay for a lot of big government projects to employ highly compensated union workers.  All to help their shirtless.  Their descamisados.  The poor laborers who work so hard that they must remove their shirts.  But they have so little because of the evil rich people running companies.  And their foreign investors.  So the Argentines gear their whole economic system to favor the unions. And the descamisados.

Argentines don’t have to declare their income unless they are salaried and make more than $20,000 a year or are self-employed and make more than $30,000, so many register with the tax authorities as if they make less than the limit, dealing in cash and trying to keep their income and purchases off the books.

But Argentina also taxes accumulated wealth, giving the government license to scrutinize people’s private property to an extent that foreigners are ill-accustomed to. People whose incomes don’t match their lifestyles can find themselves closed out of the financial system until they come clean.

Since November 2011, Argentina’s government has sought to stem capital flight by closing down nearly every avenue people have to legally trade their inflationary pesos for U.S. dollars. The black-market peso price has spiked as a result, trading now at 6.37 pesos to the dollar, compared to the official rate of 4.65. That 37 percent gap represents what people with undeclared pesos have to lose in order to convert their cash to dollars inside Argentina.

Credit cards, meanwhile, are paid at the official rate, and many cardholders have figured out ways to use them to avoid this loss. The 15 percent tax raises the effective cost of purchases to 5.35, reducing the gap by nearly half.

Of course if you try to implement massive transfers of wealth those with wealth will do everything within their power to keep what is theirs.  So the government has to do everything within their power to let as few as possible to escape their wealth-destroying policies.  Hence the clampdown on out of country credit card purchases.  While the government clamps down it’s the simple workers who ultimate suffer.  The descamisados.  For it is their savings that are made worthless over time.  Making their retirement more difficult.  And less enjoyable.

Argentina has pursued the same polices since Juan Peron in the Forties and Fifties.  And little has changed over time.  Other than a great debt default.  Meanwhile their neighbor, Chile, is doing quite well.  Thanks to a different set of economic policies implemented by a dictator.  Who had help from a great economist.  Milton Friedman.  Who worked with the brilliant Chilean economists known as the Chicago Boys.  Who did things very un-Argentina-like.  And how did that work out for their retirees?  Suffice it to say their pension plan is a better model than the U.S. Social Security program.

Argentina is a great country.  Filled with people just waiting to exploit their human capital.  And the only thing in their way are the bad policies of their government.  Which must be so frustrating for Argentineans.  Because they could explode their economy if only they were allowed to.  And the only thing preventing them are the class warfare policies of their government.  As the class warfare polices of so many previous governments have denied previous generations lives of comfort and plenty.  Lives that were just out of reach.  Of the middle class.  And the descamisados.

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The Gold Standard

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 12th, 2012

Economics 101

As long as Imports equal Exports the Balance in the Trade Account is Zero and there is no Trade Deficit or Surplus 

Imagine two wine shops in an affluent suburb.  Let’s call one Fine Wines.  And the other The Wine Shoppe.  They both feature a wide selection of wines from around the world.  And each specializes in wines from a specific region.  So they sell much of the same wines.  But some of the most exclusive and most expensive wines can only be found at one store or the other.  Now wine retailers typically have a loyal clientele.  There is a relationship between proprietor and customer.  To enhance the wine drinking experience.  So proprietors will cater to their customers to keep them as customers.  And provide whatever wine they wish.  Even if they don’t stock it.  Or don’t have a normal purchasing channel to the wine they wish to buy.

Both stores have similar relationships with their clientele.  And they share something else in common.  The wines one seller doesn’t sell the other seller sells.  Which produces a special relationship between these two stores.  They buy and sell wines from each other as needed to meet the needs of their customers.  So customers at either store can purchase any wine they sell in both stores.  Allowing each store to maintain their special proprietor-customer relationship.  Without losing customers to the other store.

Most of the time the value of the wine they buy and sell from each other in these inter-store sales net out.  Sometimes one store owes the other.  And vice versa.  But it usually isn’t much.  And the stores take turns owing each other.  The overall cost for this inter-store trade is negligible.  And pleases customers at both stores.  So maintaining this trade is a win-win.  With no negative impact on either store’s business.  As long as ‘imports’ equal ‘exports’.  And the balance in this ‘trade account’ is kept close to zero.  So they continue to ‘trade’ bottles of wine.  Without exchanging any money.  Most of the time, that is.  Until a trade deficit develops.  

If the Currency is Backed by Gold the only way to create new Dollars is to put more Gold into the Vault 

Let’s say for whatever reason Fine Wines runs a trade deficit.  Fine Wines sells more of The Wine Shoppe wines than The Wine Shoppe sells of theirs.  Which means Fine Wines imports more from The Wine Shoppe than they export to The Wine Shoppe.  Creating the trade deficit.  They’re not trading bottles for bottles anymore.  Fine Wines delivers one case of wine to The Wine Shoppe and returns with 3 cases.  And now has an outstanding balance owed to The Wine Shoppe.  Which they must settle by sending money to The Wine Shoppe.  If sales continue like this Fine Wines will become a net importer and run chronic trade deficits.  While The Wine Shoppe will become a net exporter.  And have a running trade surplus.

If the clientele of Fine Wines keeps buying the imported wine from The Wine Shoppe instead of the ‘domestic’ Fine Wines, Fine Wines will have cash problems.  Because they owe their distributors for the wine they bought and stocked.  But when they sell The Wine Shoppe’s wine it doesn’t bring any cash into their store.  Because Fine Wines has to give that money to The Wine Shoppe.  For it was, after all, The Wine Shoppe’s wine that Fine Wines sold.  That they sold as a courtesy to their customers.  To keep them loyal customers.  So a portion of their total sales doesn’t even count as income (income = total sales – imports).  And if Fine Wines divides their income by the total number of bottles they sold they see a sad truth.  The impact of those imports has lowered the average price per bottle of wine.  This price deflation will make it very difficult to pay the bills they incurred before this deflation.  As they are now selling wine at lower prices than they paid for it from their distributors.

And that’s similar to how the gold standard works.  We back the money in circulation (i.e., the money supply) by gold.  Which we lock away in some vault.  To increase the money supply you need to increase the gold supply.  To decrease the money supply you need to decrease the gold supply.  This makes it very difficult for governments to be irresponsible and print money.  Because if the currency is backed by gold the only way to create new dollars is to put more gold into that vault.  Ergo, responsible government spending.  And an automatic mechanism to fix trade deficits.

Fixed Exchange Rates based on Gold made International Trade Simple and Fair

This is where our wine stores example comes in.  If a government runs a trade deficit under the gold standard gold moves between countries.  Just like money did between the two wine stores.  And a net exporter of gold (a net importer of goods paying for the resulting trade deficit with gold) will see a reduction in price levels.  Just like Fine Wines did.  (And the net importer of gold will see the opposite).  But here’s what else happens.  Those lower prices now make the importer more cost competitive.  (And the higher prices make the exporter less competitive).  Because people prefer buying less expensive things.  So the net importer’s sales increase thanks to lower prices.  While the net exporter’s sales decrease because of higher prices.  Moving the balance in the trade account back towards zero.  Where it will always try to be under normal market conditions. 

This built-in responsibility didn’t stop governments from misbehaving, though.  And some have printed more money than they had the gold reserves to back it.  For governments like to spend money.  Especially when they’re trying to buy votes.  So they have turned on those printing presses at times.  And increased the money supply.  Without putting more gold into the vault.  The result?  A larger money supply backed by the same amount of gold?  It depreciated the currency by inflating the money supply.  Which can be a problem when the money is backed by gold.  Especially when you have an exchange rate based on gold.

To buy goods from a foreign country you first exchanged your currency for theirs.  Because you buy foreign goods in the foreign currency.  And you based this exchange rate on gold.  And fixed each currency to an amount of gold.  Which made this currency exchange simple.  And fair.  Unless someone was depreciating their currency by printing it without putting more gold into the vault.  But if they did other nations would find out.  And stop exchanging their currency for the depreciated currency which would buy less.  They, instead, exchanged the foreign currency they had for gold instead.  So they could buy more.  Exchanging a depreciated currency at an exchange rate based on a non-depreciated currency.  Leaving the nation with a swollen money supply full of a depreciated currency.  And no gold.  Giving the nation runaway inflation.  And a crashed economy.  A very strong incentive not to depreciate your currency while on a gold standard.

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