Bretton Woods System, Quasi Gold Standard, Inflation, Savings, Nixon Shock and Monetizing the Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 4th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published 2/5/2013)

The Bretton Woods System was a quasi Gold Standard where the U.S. Dollar replaced Gold

Government grew in the Sixties.  LBJ’s Great Society increased government spending.  Adding it on top of spending for the Vietnam War.  The Apollo Moon Program.  As well as the Cold War.  The government was spending a lot of money.  More money than it had.  So they started increasing the money supply (i.e., printing money).  But when they did they unleashed inflation.  Which devalued the dollar.  And eroded savings.  Also, because the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard this also created a problem with their trade partners.

At the time the United States was still in the Bretton Woods System.  Along with her trade partners.  These nations adopted the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency to facilitate international trade.  Which kept trade fair.  By preventing anyone from devaluing their currency to give them an unfair trade advantage.  They would adjust their monetary policy to maintain a fixed exchange rate with the U.S. dollar.  While the U.S. coupled the U.S. dollar to gold at $35/ounce.  Which created a quasi gold standard.  Where the U.S. dollar replaced gold.

So the U.S. had a problem when they started printing money.  They were devaluing the dollar.  So those nations holding it as a reserve currency decided to hold gold instead.  And exchanged their dollars for gold at $35/ounce.  Causing a great outflow of gold from the U.S.  Giving the U.S. a choice.  Either become responsible and stop printing money.  Or decouple the dollar from gold.  And no longer exchange gold for dollars.  President Nixon chose the latter.  And on August 15, 1971, he surprised the world.  Without any warning he decoupled the dollar from gold.  It was a shock.  So much so they call it the Nixon Shock.

To earn a Real 2% Return the Interest Rate would have to be 2% plus the Loss due to Inflation

Once they removed gold from the equation there was nothing stopping them from printing money.  The already growing money supply (M2) grew at a greater rate after the Nixon Shock (see M2 Money Stock).  The rate of increase (i.e., the inflation rate) declined for a brief period around 1973.  Then resumed its sharp rate of growth around 1975.  Which you can see in the following chart.  Where the increasing graph represents the rising level of M2.

M2 versus Retirement Savings

Also plotted on this graph is the effect of this growth in the money supply on retirement savings.  In 1966 the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard.  So assume the money supply equaled the gold on deposit in 1966.  And as they increased the money supply over the years the amount of gold on deposit remained the same.  So if we divide M2 in 1966 by M2 in each year following 1966 we get a declining percentage.  M2 in 1966 was only 96% of M2 in 1967.  M2 in 1966 was only 88% of M2 in 1968.  And so on.  Now if we start off with a retirement savings of $750,000 in 1966 we can see the effect of inflation has by multiplying that declining percentage by $750,000.  When we do we get the declining graph in the above chart.  To offset this decline in the value of retirement savings due to inflation requires those savings to earn a very high interest rate.

Interest Rate - Real plus Inflation

This chart starts in 1967 as we’re looking at year-to-year growth in M2.  Inflation eroded 4.07% of savings between 1966 and 1967.   So to earn a real 2% return the interest rate would have to be 2% plus the loss due to inflation (4.07%).  Or a nominal interest rate of 6.07%.  The year-to-year loss in 1968 was 8.68%.  So the nominal interest rate for a 2% real return would be 10.68% (2% + 8.68%).  And so on as summarized in the above chart.  Because we’re discussing year-to-year changes on retirement savings we can consider these long-term nominal interest rates.

Just as Inflation can erode someone’s Retirement Savings it can erode the National Debt

To see how this drives interest rates we can overlay some average monthly interest rates for 6 Month CDs (see Historical CD Interest Rate).  Which are often a part of someone’s retirement nest egg.  The advantage of a CD is that they are short-term.  So as interest rates rise they can roll over these short-term instruments and enjoy the rising rates.  Of course that advantage is also a disadvantage.  For if rates fall they will roll over into a lower rate.  Short-term interest rates tend to be volatile.  Rising and falling in response to anything that affects the supply and demand of money.  Such as the rate of growth of the money supply.  As we can see in the following chart.

Interest Rate - Real plus Inflation and 6 Month CD

The average monthly interest rates for 6 Month CDs tracked the long-term nominal interest rates.  As the inflationary component of the nominal interest rate soared in 1968 and 1969 the short-term rate trended up.  When the long-term rate fell in 1970 the short-term rate peaked and fell in the following year.  After the Nixon Shock long-term rates increased in 1971.  And soared in 1972 and 1973.  The short-term rate trended up during these years.  And peaked when the long-term rate fell.  The short term rate trended down in 1974 and 1975 as the long-term rate fell.  It bottomed out in 1977 in the second year of soaring long-term rates.  Where it then trended up at a steeper rate all the way through 1980.  Sending short-term rates even higher than long-term rates.  As the risk on short-term savings can exceed that on long-term savings.  Due to the volatility of short-term interest rates and wild swings in the inflation rate.  Things that smooth out over longer periods of time.

Governments like inflationary monetary policies.  For it lets them spend more money.  But it also erodes savings.  Which they like, too.  Especially when those savings are invested in the sovereign debt of the government.  For just as inflation can erode someone’s retirement savings it can erode the national debt.  What we call monetizing the debt.  For as you expand the money supply you depreciate the dollar.  Making dollars worth less.  And when the national debt is made up of depreciated dollars it’s easier to pay it off.  But it’s a dangerous game to play.  For if they do monetize the debt it will be very difficult to sell new government debt.  For investors will demand interest rates with an even larger inflationary component to protect them from further irresponsible monetary policies.  Greatly increasing the interest payment on the debt.  Forcing spending cuts elsewhere in the budget as those interest payments consume an ever larger chunk of the total budget.  Which governments are incapable of doing.  Because they love spending too much.

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Bretton Woods System, Quasi Gold Standard, Inflation, Savings, Nixon Shock and Monetizing the Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 5th, 2013

History 101

The Bretton Woods System was a quasi Gold Standard where the U.S. Dollar replaced Gold

Government grew in the Sixties.  LBJ’s Great Society increased government spending.  Adding it on top of spending for the Vietnam War.  The Apollo Moon Program.  As well as the Cold War.  The government was spending a lot of money.  More money than it had.  So they started increasing the money supply (i.e., printing money).  But when they did they unleashed inflation.  Which devalued the dollar.  And eroded savings.  Also, because the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard this also created a problem with their trade partners.

At the time the United States was still in the Bretton Woods System.  Along with her trade partners.  These nations adopted the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency to facilitate international trade.  Which kept trade fair.  By preventing anyone from devaluing their currency to give them an unfair trade advantage.  They would adjust their monetary policy to maintain a fixed exchange rate with the U.S. dollar.  While the U.S. coupled the U.S. dollar to gold at $35/ounce.  Which created a quasi gold standard.  Where the U.S. dollar replaced gold.

So the U.S. had a problem when they started printing money.  They were devaluing the dollar.  So those nations holding it as a reserve currency decided to hold gold instead.  And exchanged their dollars for gold at $35/ounce.  Causing a great outflow of gold from the U.S.  Giving the U.S. a choice.  Either become responsible and stop printing money.  Or decouple the dollar from gold.  And no longer exchange gold for dollars.  President Nixon chose the latter.  And on August 15, 1971, he surprised the world.  Without any warning he decoupled the dollar from gold.  It was a shock.  So much so they call it the Nixon Shock.

To earn a Real 2% Return the Interest Rate would have to be 2% plus the Loss due to Inflation

Once they removed gold from the equation there was nothing stopping them from printing money.  The already growing money supply (M2) grew at a greater rate after the Nixon Shock (see M2 Money Stock).  The rate of increase (i.e., the inflation rate) declined for a brief period around 1973.  Then resumed its sharp rate of growth around 1975.  Which you can see in the following chart.  Where the increasing graph represents the rising level of M2.

M2 versus Retirement Savings

Also plotted on this graph is the effect of this growth in the money supply on retirement savings.  In 1966 the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard.  So assume the money supply equaled the gold on deposit in 1966.  And as they increased the money supply over the years the amount of gold on deposit remained the same.  So if we divide M2 in 1966 by M2 in each year following 1966 we get a declining percentage.  M2 in 1966 was only 96% of M2 in 1967.  M2 in 1966 was only 88% of M2 in 1968.  And so on.  Now if we start off with a retirement savings of $750,000 in 1966 we can see the effect of inflation has by multiplying that declining percentage by $750,000.  When we do we get the declining graph in the above chart.  To offset this decline in the value of retirement savings due to inflation requires those savings to earn a very high interest rate.

Interest Rate - Real plus Inflation

This chart starts in 1967 as we’re looking at year-to-year growth in M2.  Inflation eroded 4.07% of savings between 1966 and 1967.   So to earn a real 2% return the interest rate would have to be 2% plus the loss due to inflation (4.07%).  Or a nominal interest rate of 6.07%.  The year-to-year loss in 1968 was 8.68%.  So the nominal interest rate for a 2% real return would be 10.68% (2% + 8.68%).  And so on as summarized in the above chart.  Because we’re discussing year-to-year changes on retirement savings we can consider these long-term nominal interest rates.

Just as Inflation can erode someone’s Retirement Savings it can erode the National Debt

To see how this drives interest rates we can overlay some average monthly interest rates for 6 Month CDs (see Historical CD Interest Rate).  Which are often a part of someone’s retirement nest egg.  The advantage of a CD is that they are short-term.  So as interest rates rise they can roll over these short-term instruments and enjoy the rising rates.  Of course that advantage is also a disadvantage.  For if rates fall they will roll over into a lower rate.  Short-term interest rates tend to be volatile.  Rising and falling in response to anything that affects the supply and demand of money.  Such as the rate of growth of the money supply.  As we can see in the following chart.

Interest Rate - Real plus Inflation and 6 Month CD

The average monthly interest rates for 6 Month CDs tracked the long-term nominal interest rates.  As the inflationary component of the nominal interest rate soared in 1968 and 1969 the short-term rate trended up.  When the long-term rate fell in 1970 the short-term rate peaked and fell in the following year.  After the Nixon Shock long-term rates increased in 1971.  And soared in 1972 and 1973.  The short-term rate trended up during these years.  And peaked when the long-term rate fell.  The short term rate trended down in 1974 and 1975 as the long-term rate fell.  It bottomed out in 1977 in the second year of soaring long-term rates.  Where it then trended up at a steeper rate all the way through 1980.  Sending short-term rates even higher than long-term rates.  As the risk on short-term savings can exceed that on long-term savings.  Due to the volatility of short-term interest rates and wild swings in the inflation rate.  Things that smooth out over longer periods of time.

Governments like inflationary monetary policies.  For it lets them spend more money.  But it also erodes savings.  Which they like, too.  Especially when those savings are invested in the sovereign debt of the government.  For just as inflation can erode someone’s retirement savings it can erode the national debt.  What we call monetizing the debt.  For as you expand the money supply you depreciate the dollar.  Making dollars worth less.  And when the national debt is made up of depreciated dollars it’s easier to pay it off.  But it’s a dangerous game to play.  For if they do monetize the debt it will be very difficult to sell new government debt.  For investors will demand interest rates with an even larger inflationary component to protect them from further irresponsible monetary policies.  Greatly increasing the interest payment on the debt.  Forcing spending cuts elsewhere in the budget as those interest payments consume an ever larger chunk of the total budget.  Which governments are incapable of doing.  Because they love spending too much.

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LESSONS LEARNED #74: “When negotiating it’s important to understand the ‘time value’ of promises. The longer out in time something is promised the less likely that promise will be kept.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 14th, 2011

Slaying the Inflation Beast

In Washington promises would make a poor currency.  Because they’re very inflationary.  Politicians make a lot of promises.  And they break almost as many as they make.  Promises just don’t hold their value over time.  Especially when it comes to spending cuts.  Any promise for future spending cuts will be worthless by the time that ‘future’ arrives.  Because things change.  The economic picture may change.  And they’ll write new legislation to eliminate those spending cuts.  To adjust for these unforeseen changes in the economy.  Just as those promising those spending cuts knew they would.  That’s why politicians (i.e., Democrats) can be generous when offering future spending cuts in any budget debate.  Because they have no intention of ever keeping those promises.  So Democrats can be very generous in offering ‘future’ spending cuts.  In exchange for tax hikes in the here and now.  It’s a con.  And one of the biggest such cons was the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 that Ronald Reagan fell for.

Reagan’s poor economy had its roots in the Sixties and LBJ‘s Great Society.  LBJ was a tax, borrow, print and spend liberal.  And he spent.  He exploded government spending for his Great Society.  On top of the massive war spending for Vietnam.  The economy limped into the Seventies.  A bad economy and high taxes left few options to pay for that spending.  So the Fed just printed money.  Which devalued the dollar.  The dollar then was still convertible to gold at $35/ounce.  With the depreciation of their dollar assets, foreign nations converted their dollars to gold, depleting U.S. gold reserves.  To stem this loss of gold Nixon suspended the dollar’s convertibility into gold (the Nixon Shock).  Free from the restraint of a quasi gold standard, Nixon turned the printing presses on high.  Devaluing the U.S. dollar in the process, giving us high inflation. Then the 1973 oil embargo came and made everything worse.

Gerald Ford did little to change things.  Or Jimmy Carter.  They were little more than Keynesians themselves.  And believed in the power of government spending to stimulate the economy out of recession.  So their policies remained Keynesian.  Tax rates were high.  As was government spending.  And then another oil crisis came thanks to the Iranian Revolution.  Things just went from bad to worse for Carter.  Inflation was killing the economy.  Until Paul Volcker came on board after a cabinet shakeup.  He slew the beast.  Eventually.  Starting in the Carter administration.  And finishing the job in the Reagan administration.  For one of the tenants of Reaganomics was a sound currency.  Which Volcker gave him by slaying the inflation beast.

Reagan was not a Keynesian

Inflation is the great big bad side affect of Keynesian economics.  For it’s the only economics system that tells governments that counterfeiting money is a good thing.  So governments do.  And find justification for their actions by the sweet nothings Ivy League economists whisper in their ears.  But once the inflation beast is unleashed it is not easily subdued.  Because the only true antidote for runaway inflation is a good, deep recession.  And a bit of a deflationary spiral to put prices back to normal.  So this was where the economy was in 1982.  In deep recession.  With high unemployment.  And double digit interest rates (reaching as high as 20% on occasion).

Tax receipts fell.  As you would expect them to during a deep recession.  Which increased the deficit.  And this was just a calamity.  The country was facing economic ruin.  They just had to raise taxes.  For it was the only cure.  And the Democrats demanded that Reagan do just that.  Raise taxes.  But being that it went against another tenant of Reaganomics, Reagan refused.  He was not a Keynesian.  His Reaganomics was more of the Austrian School variety.  Low taxes.  Less regulation.  Sound money.  And little government spending.  He believed that the massive government spending was the problem.  And you didn’t fix that problem by giving the government more money to spend.  No, Reagan wasn’t going to abandon principles easily.  They needed something to sweeten the deal.  To make him abandon his principles more easily.  And they came up with a pretty sweet lie.

“Okay,” they said to Reagan.  “You’re right.  We need to cut spending.  We’re all in agreement here.  But the recession is hurting the people.  We can’t hit them with spending cuts now.  We’ll have to ease them in over time.  To make it easier on the people.  So we’ll give you your spending cuts.  A lot of them.  Just not right now.  In the future.  When the people are back on their feet.  You win.  All we ask for in return is that we increase taxes now before this deficit causes some damage that we won’t be able to walk away from.”

Democrats are Liars

And they made a deal.  Tax hikes now.  For spending cuts later.  And a lot of them.  For every new dollar in taxes they would cut $3 of spending.  It was some unprecedented spending cuts.  So Reagan accepted the deal.  Tax hikes now for spending cuts later.  He signed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 into law.  He only made one mistake.  He trusted the Democrats.  And didn’t see them twisting their evil mustaches while they were making their deal.  Nor did he see them rub their hands together as they made a sinister laugh.

A Democrat’s promise to cut taxes isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.  For it starts to depreciate before the ink even dries.  And the numbers prove this.  According to CBO, tax revenue in 1982 (the year of the tax hikes) was $617.8 billion dollars.  At the end of Reagan’s second term in 1988, tax revenue rose to 909.1 billion.  For an increase of $291.5 billion.  Supply-siders (of the Austrian School) will say it was Reagan’s massive tax cuts in 1981 (Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981) and 1986 (Tax Reform Act of 1986) that that generated this tax revenue by creating more taxpayers.  Keynesians will say it was the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 that generated this revenue by taking more from each taxpayer.  For the sake of argument, let’s say the Keynesians are right.  And all that new tax revenue is from the higher taxes.  So, according to the deal he made with Democrats to get this tax increase, government spending for the same period should have gone down by three times this amount, bringing total outlays at the end of that period to a negative $128.8 billion. 

Now we know that didn’t happen.  Government spending didn’t go to less than zero.  So if they didn’t honor their 3-1 pledge, how much did they cut spending?  Well, in 1982 government outlays were $745.7 billion.  In 1988 that increased to $1.06 trillion.  For an increase in spending of $318.8 billion.  Clearly something is amiss here.  For this is not spending reduction.  It’s a spending increase.  For every new tax dollar Congress collected they increased spending by $1.10.  That’s not the promised spending reduction.  It’s quite the opposite.  More spending.  A lot more spending.  That $3 gain in spending cuts turned out to be a $4.10 loss.  The Democrats lied.  And Reagan would never fall for this trick again.  For he learned the hard way that there are no such things as future spending cuts with Democrats.  And that Democrats are liars.

Don’t trust Democrats when they Promise to make Spending Cuts 

Of course, we could say that the supply-siders were right in regards to that increase in tax revenue.  The reason the Democrats failed to follow through on their promise was due to the success of Reagan’s tax cuts.  It just created so much money above and beyond what the tax hikes brought in.  They may have delivered their promised cuts but you can’t see them looking at the aggregate numbers.  Because Reaganomics created such great economic activity that it showered Washington with dollars.

It is an interesting choice.  Either the Democrats are liars and renege on their promises.  Or they are incompetent and follow failed Keynesian economic policies.  Perhaps it’s a little of both.  They’re both liars.  And incompetent.  For it would explain a lot.  Such as how their policies never make the economy any better.

Either way the lesson learned is for certain.  Don’t trust Democrats.  Especially when they promise to make spending cuts.  Because whatever may happen, one thing is clear.  What won’t happen are the spending cuts.

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Government as Usual, Making a Bad Financial Situation Worse

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 8th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here Comes National Health Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPEC not increasing Oil Production, no Help for Depressed Economies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monetary Policy doing more Harm than Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

People need Disposable Income and Responsible Government

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

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

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

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

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

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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Demand-Side Slump or Government caused Supply-Side Recession?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 4th, 2011

The Arrogance and Condescension of Liberal Elite Academics

The problem with liberal academics running the country is that they think like liberal academics.  They have no business experience.  But they know how to run businesses better than business owners who’ve been running businesses for years.  It’s the height of arrogance and condescension.  But these liberal elite academics don’t see people.  They see charts and grafts.  Which are religious icons to them.  Holy.  They accept them on faith.  They never question them.  And always make excuses for them when the policies they beget fail.  While pointing at successful policies with successful track records and calling them failures.  Because these policies are heretical.  And conservative.

Here is a liberal academic talking down to the American people with all-knowing condescension.  And if you want to know how the current administration thinks, all you have to do is read this arrogance and condescension (see Fatal Fatalism by Paul Krugman posted 6/4/2011 on The New York Times).

We are not, after all, suffering from supply-side problems…This is a demand-side slump; all we need to do is create more demand.

So why is this slump, like most slumps following financial crises, so protracted? Because the usual tools for pumping up demand have reached their limits. Normally we respond to demand-side slumps by cutting short-term nominal interest rates, which the Fed can move through open-market operations. But we now have severely depressed private demand thanks to the housing bust and the overhang of consumer debt, so even a zero rate isn’t low enough…

The answer seems obvious. We should be using fiscal stimulus; we should be using unconventional monetary policy, including raising the inflation target; we should be pursuing aggressive measures to reduce mortgage debt. Not doing these things means accepting huge waste and hardship.

But, say the serious people, there are risks to doing any of these things. Well, life is full of risks. But it’s simply crazy to put a higher weight on the possibility that the invisible bond vigilantes might manifest themselves, or the inflation monster emerge from its secret cave, over the continuing reality of enormous human and economic damage from doing nothing.

The housing bubble was created by too much unconventional monetary policy.  Money was dirt cheap to borrow.  And people borrowed.  To buy houses they couldn’t afford.  With subprime mortgages.  That they defaulted on when interest rates went up.  Causing the subprime mortgage crisis.  Which happens when you stimulate demand beyond normal market demand.  Why?  Because you don’t create healthy economic growth with easy money.  You create bubbles.

The Fed has done too much.  All their easy monetary policy to stimulate the economy has only devalued the dollar.  Making an important and scarce commodity more costly.  Because the world prices this most important of all commodities in U.S. dollars.  Oil.  Which makes diesel and gasoline.  The energy we use to bring food to market.  Which is why prices are up.  Across the board.  Especially food and energy.  That hit consumers the hardest.  Because of inflation.  Caused by monetary policy.  Which has failed to produce jobs.  Lower the misery index.  Or end the recession.

Their answer?  More of the same.  It’s always more of the same.  Jimmy Carter‘s ‘more of the same’ did not end the malaise of his stagflationRonald Reagan‘s economic policies did.  His conservative, supply-side economic policies.  That created real economic growth.  And doubled tax receipts to boot.  But his policies were heretical.  They went against everything liberals hold sacred.  Their Keynesian charts and graphs.  That look at business activity as an aggregate thing.  And not as people.  So liberals attack the success of Reaganomics.  Despite its soaring success.

You see, Reaganomics created jobs.  It made a favorable business climate.  So business people could do what they know how to do.  Create business. Expand business.  Make more things.  And create jobs.  Which drives all consumer spending.  Which makes up over 70% of the economy.  Because a consumer needs a job to spend.  And this kind of spending will sustain itself.  Unlike Keynesian tweaking.  Which is by definition only temporary.  To fill the gap until the private market restores itself.  Which makes Keynesian economics itself a paradox.  Using policies that hinder the private market to stimulate the private market.

The Inflation Monster is out and Squeezing Consumers

And while some will mock conservatives about letting loose the inflation monster from its secret cave, the inflation monster is already out.  And wreaking consumer havoc (see Tightening our belts: Americans lower income expectations by John Melloy, CNBC, posted 6/4/2011 on USA Today).

With consumers squeezed on both sides by stagnant wages and rising prices, the number who believe they will bring home more money one year from now is at its lowest in 25 years, according to analysis of survey data by Goldman Sachs.

The inflation monster has devalued the dollar.  And when you devalue the dollar you need more of them to buy the same amount of things you did before.  Because, thanks to inflation, those things have higher prices.  Consumers have to pay these higher prices.  Leaving them less money to spend.  And their employers have to pay them.  Leaving them less money to spend on wages.  So few people think they will bring more money home next year.  Because things are so bad this year.

A typical recovery pattern goes like this: stock market bottoms, economic growth bottoms and then hiring and wage increases return. What’s unique and scary about this recovery is that the last piece of the recovery is not there.

For a simple reason.  Intervention.  It’s all that Keynesian tweaking.  Like that trillion dollar stimulus bill.  If it wasn’t for all that government spending the economy may have actually recovered by now.  Now we have recession and inflation.  Thanks, liberal elite academics.

In the 2001 recession, the country lost 2 percent of jobs from peak employment and then made that back in a 48- month cycle, according to data from money management firm Trutina Financial. In 1990, the jobs lost during the recession were recovered in 30 months.

Right now, about 38 months from peak employment during the housing boom, there are still six percent fewer jobs out there. Making up that amount of jobs in 10 months or less would be unprecedented, if not impossible.

“The crawl out of this economic ditch is going to be long and slow,” said Patty Edwards, chief investment officer at Trutina. “Even if they’re employed, many consumers aren’t earnings what they were two years ago, either because they’re in lower-paying jobs or not getting as many hours.”

Jobs are everything.  And to create jobs you have to understand people.  Not look at sacred charts and graphs.  You have to understand what motivates the individual.  Not hypothesize about what will move aggregate curves on a graph.  Of course, liberal elite academics chose not to do this.  Because they are gods.  Infallible.  Who live in a world where paradoxes exist.  And can deny reality at will.

Small Business sees the Government as Adversarial

If jobs are everything, then why won’t there just be more jobs?  You’d think the gods could make them.  And no doubt are wrathful and miffed that their policies haven’t made them.  All because of those dirty, greedy, little business owners.  Heretics.  Sitting on cash instead of using it to hire people. 

Of course, the greatest job creators out there are small business owners.  Who don’t have big legal staffs or legions of tax accountants.  And these Keynesian polices are just overwhelming them.  As related in a conversation on a plane with a Yale law professor.  Who asked point blank why this small business owner didn’t hire more people (see Carter: Economic Stagnation Explained, at 30,000 Feet by Stephen L. Carter posted 5/26/2011 on Bloomberg).

“Because I don’t know how much it will cost,” he explains. “How can I hire new workers today, when I don’t know how much they will cost me tomorrow?”

He’s referring not to wages, but to regulation: He has no way of telling what new rules will go into effect when. His business, although it covers several states, operates on low margins. He can’t afford to take the chance of losing what little profit there is to the next round of regulatory changes. And so he’s hiring nobody until he has some certainty about cost.

It’s interesting listening to a person.  Because you learn something different than you do from moving a curve on a graph.

“I don’t understand why Washington does this to us,” he resumes. By “us,” he means people who run businesses of less- than-Fortune-500 size. He tells me that it doesn’t much matter which party is in office. Every change of power means a whole new set of rules to which he and those like him must respond. ‘‘I don’t understand,” he continues, “why Washington won’t just get out of our way and let us hire.”

Get out of our way?  And let us hire?  You mean they would be hiring more people if it wasn’t for all the policies encouraging them to hire more people?  Interesting.  So what should government do?  How should they be in this business-government relationship?

“Invisible,” he says. “I know there are things the government has to do. But they need to find a way to do them without people like me having to bump into a new regulation every time we turn a corner.” He reflects for a moment, then finds the analogy he seeks. “Government should act like my assistant, not my boss.”

In other words, government shouldn’t tell business owners how to better run their businesses.  Because few in government have ever run a business.  They need to stop acting as the authority on something when those they try to help know more than they do.  This conversation gave this Yale law professor some food for thought.

On the way to my connection, I ponder. As an academic with an interest in policy, I tend to see businesses as abstractions, fitting into a theory or a data set. Most policy makers do the same. We rarely encounter the simple human face of the less- than-giant businesses we constantly extol. And when they refuse to hire, we would often rather go on television and call them greedy than sit and talk to them about their challenges.

Recessions have complex causes, but, as the man on the aisle reminded me, we do nothing to make things better when the companies on which we rely see Washington as adversary rather than partner.

And there it is.  Small business sees the government as adversarial.  And there is only one reason why they do.  Because it’s true.

Fiscal Stimulus is the Problem

This is not a demand-side slump.  It’s a supply-side problem.  Caused by the adversarial relationship between business and government.  Otherwise a trillion dollar in stimulus spending would have done something.  Other than give us inflation. 

Fiscal stimulus isn’t the solution.  It’s the problem.  And we need to stop trying to fix this problem with what gave us the problem.  Because they aren’t gods.  And we are individuals.  Not an aggregate to hypothesize about for fun and games.    

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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The Obama Reelection Strategy: Increase Gas Prices to Crash Economy to Lower Gas Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 29th, 2011

The 2nd Largest Oil Reserves in the World

Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world.  Take a guess who has the 2nd largest oil reserves in the world.  Kuwait?  Iraq?  Iran?  Libya?  Nigeria?  Venezuela?  Qatar?  Angola?  Algeria?  Ecuador?  United Arab Emirates?  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  Uh…um, no.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  Could it be the United States?  It could be.  But it’s not.  With so much U.S. land off limits to drilling who knows how much oil they have.  So who has the second largest oil reserves in the world?  Here’s a hint.  Think Wayne Gretzky.  Who used to play on a team called the Oilers.  In the city of Edmonton.  In the province of Alberta.  In, of course, Canada.

Yes, Canada has the second largest oil reserves in the world.  But this oil reserve isn’t in pools underground waiting for someone to pump it up.  It’s in the Athabasca oil sands.  Think of hot oil spilled into sand which then cools into a thick tar.  Once upon a time this type of oil was worthless.  Because you just couldn’t drill for it and pump it.  You have to process this tar into useful oil.  And the cost to do this used to be prohibitive.  But with the price of oil today, this once worthless tar is now a very valuable form of crude oil.

America, the world’s largest economy, imports the majority of her oil from Canada.  In fact, the Canadians export more oil to the U.S. than they consume themselves.  Which is rather interesting when you consider Canadian gas prices are higher than American gas prices.  Now oil is oil.  And one would assume that the Canadians make their gasoline from the same oil we make our gasoline from.  Canadian oil.  Yet their gas prices are higher than in the U.S.  Why?  Because when it comes to their gasoline, they’re a lot like the Europeans.  They tax the bejesus out of it.  Taxes average about a third of the price at pump.

Even with all that Oil Canadian Gas Prices are High

With the world’s second largest oil reserves, one can’t blame the lack of supply for high prices.  They have supply.  So much that they export more than they use.  Could they have a refinery shortage?  If they did, they could fix that easily by building more refineries.  I mean, with the domestic oil reserves, the Canadians are in the driver’s seat when it comes to their gasoline prices.  It would be pretty darn hard for their gas prices to be ‘too high’ to affect their economy.  So how are the little guys doing in Canada?  The small business owners (see Rising fuel costs hit small businesses by Anita Elash posted 4/29/2011 on The Globe and Mail)?

Steak is off the menu, comfort food is in and prices are up by as much as 20 per cent at the Yellow Belly Brewery in St. John’s, Nfld., this spring, partly because of rising fuel costs.

Owner Brenda O’Reilly says her expenses have increased steadily since she opened her micro-brewery and gastro pub three years ago, but the sudden price hike at the gas pumps this year has been “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

In addition to coping with higher labour costs and escalating commodity prices, her main supplier has slapped a steadily rising fuel surcharge, now up to $3.50, on every delivery – a cost that significantly cuts into profits.

I guess the price of Canadian gas can be ‘too high’. 

Forced menu changes and higher restaurant prices are just one of the ways record-high fuel costs are affecting small business this spring. Surveys for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business show that fuel costs are now the biggest concern for small business owners. Seventy-five per cent of members said they’re worried about rising fuel prices, compared to 50 per cent who were worried two years ago.

CFIB chief economist Ted Mallett said wide fluctuations in fuel prices over the past few years have created a lot of uncertainty for business owners and make planning especially difficult. Many have signed contracts or service agreements based on costs several months ago, and “if they guessed wrong about fuel prices, it comes out of their bottom line.”

These are the kind of problems they’re having in the U.S.  Because the Americans have no control over gas prices.  They are at the mercy of the oil exporters.  Exporters like Canada.  Which begs the question.  How can both the United States and Canada have such high gas prices?  If the Canadians are getting rich off of the Americans, they should be able to lower their own gas prices.  If they’re giving the oil away, then the Americans should be able to lower their gas prices.  It’s hard to imagine how the second largest oil reserves in the world results in high prices in both the U.S. and Canada.  Unless they’re both taxing the bejesus out of their gasoline.

High Gas Prices Kill Anemic Economic Recovery

The Canadian consumer is making things hard for Canadian small business.  And it’s no different in the U.S. (see Gas costs siphon off much of March rise in incomes by Martin Crutsinger, Associated Press, posted 4/29/2011 on USA Today).

Consumer spending had been expected to post solid gains this year, helped by stronger employment growth and a two percentage-point cut in Social Security payroll taxes. But Americans are paying more for gas, prompting economists to scale back their growth forecasts…

“The increase in prices is absorbing pretty much all of the windfall from the payroll tax cut,” said Paul Dales, an economist with Capital Economics. “If gasoline prices were to stop rising, real consumption could bounce back in the second quarter. But even then, jobs growth and wage growth are not strong enough to result in a significant and sustained acceleration in consumption growth. This economic recovery is going to continue to disappoint both this year and next.”

Consumers are spending more.  But they’re getting less.  Any extra disposable income is just paying for the higher cost of gasoline.  Which means consumer spending is flat.  And will remain flat.  For another two years.  Or more.  Because of the cost of gasoline.  The environmentalists may be happy.  But high gas prices are making the rest of us make a lot of sacrifices we’d rather not.  And it’s killing off what anemic economic recovery there was.

The Weak U.S. Dollar Increases World Oil Prices

There is a reason gasoline prices are soaring.  And it’s just not demand outpacing supply.  Though that is a huge part of it.  But it’s another government policy that is compounding the supply problem (see Oil edges up, but choppy, as weak dollar supports by Robert Gibbons posted 4/29/2011 on Reuters).

“Oil is reacting to the dollar…,” said Richard Ilczyszyn, senior market strategist at Lind-Waldock in Chicago.

Higher interest rates in Europe compared to the U.S. have undermined support for the U.S. dollar, pushing up the euro by 11 percent so far this year.

The weak dollar also helped push spot gold to a new record as investors continued to seek alternative assets to hedge against inflation.

Thursday’s report that growth in the U.S. gross domestic product slowed more than expected to an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the first quarter from a fourth-quarter pace of 3.1 percent, reinforced the perception that the U.S. central bank will continue with its loose monetary policy.

It’s not the greedy oil companies.  Or their record profits driving up prices.  It’s Federal Reserve policy.  All that quantitative easing.  Printing money.  They just increased the money supply so much that they devalued the dollar.  Which gives us price inflation.  Where everything costs more because our money is worth less.  And we price oil in U.S. dollars in the international markets.  Which means American monetary policy is increasing world oil prices.  Not the oil companies.  Their getting obscenely rich is just a byproduct of loose U.S. monetary policy.

Oil’s price rise could be tempered by increasing evidence that high prices will erode demand.

U.S. consumer spending rose as households stretched to cover the higher cost for food and gasoline as inflation posted its biggest year-on-year rise in 10 months.

But all is not lost.  Oil prices will come down.  Like they did in 2008.  Because that’s what recessions do.  They lower prices.  When people don’t have jobs they don’t buy gas.  Which lowers demand.  And this lower demand will bring down gasoline prices.

If you Like Stagflation and Misery, Vote Obama

Perhaps this is the Obama reelection strategy.  Ramp up inflation to crash the economy.  Thus lowering gas prices.  It may work.  If people don’t mind another ‘worst recession’ since the Great Depression.  As long as gas is more affordable.  It’s a risky plan.  And it hasn’t had a successful track record.  It made Jimmy Carter a one-term president.  But perhaps Obama can succeed where Jimmy Carter failed. 

Interestingly, stagflation and economic misery are not the only things these presidents have in common.  Both were/are engaged in the Middle East, too.  Carter brought peace between Israel and Egypt while Obama has…

Perhaps they should consider another reelection strategy.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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