Keynesian Policies gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Solyndra and Inflation while the Free Market gives us Jobs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 30th, 2011

The Problem with Washington is that there are too many Elitists who Think they are Smarter than Us

Now we know why we have slow economic growth.  Apparently it’s par for the course after a financial crisis (see Phony Fear Factor by Paul Krugman, Keynesian Economist, posted 9/29/2011 on The New York Times).

We might add that major financial crises are almost always followed by a period of slow growth, and U.S. experience is more or less what you should have expected given the severity of the 2008 shock.

So why do any spending?  Why have any stimulus to stimulate growth that won’t come.  Because “major financial crises are almost always followed by a period of slow growth…”  If true then we could have gotten here without that $800 billion stimulus bill.  And we could have avoided that debt ceiling debate.  And the subsequent downgrading of U.S. sovereign debt.  All because we were spending money trying to alter slow growth that was going to happen anyway.

But the Keynesian will say, “Just think how bad things would have been if we didn’t spend that $800 billion.  And how better things would be if we had just spent more.”  How do you argue with that?  When spending fails it’s because we didn’t spend enough.    By this logic, then, spending as a policy can never fail.  Even when it fails.

If slow growth is more or less what you get were they then lying?  When they said they would keep the unemployment rate below 8%?  If Congress passed the stimulus bill?  Or did they just not understand how bad things were?  Because their understanding of economics is that bad?  Or was George W. Bush so much smarter than them that he was able to hide how bad things were?

And it also, of course, reflects the political need of the right to make everything bad in America President Obama’s fault. Never mind the fact that the housing bubble, the debt explosion and the financial crisis took place on the watch of a conservative, free-market-praising president; it’s that Democrat in the White House now who gets the blame.

But good politics can be very bad policy. The truth is that we’re in this mess because we had too little regulation, not too much. And now one of our two major parties is determined to double down on the mistakes that caused the disaster.

Who was it that pushed subprime lending to get people who couldn’t afford a house into a house?  Whose policies were those that made home ownership available to everyone, not just those with good-paying jobs that could pay their mortgage payments?  Who was it that brought suits and protests against lenders for ‘redlining’ poor and minority communities by not approving mortgages for those who could not qualify for a mortgage?  The Republicans?  The so-called servants of the wealthy?  Or the Democrats?  The so-called champion of the poor and disenfranchised?

Buying risky mortgages from banks allowed banks to make risky loans.  And who was buying those risky mortgages?  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  That was government policy.  Keynesian policy.  Keeping interest rates low and removing risks from the normal risk takers in the mortgage industry.  There could not have been a Subprime Mortgage Crisis without these Keynesian government policies in place.  And we know that conservative Republicans aren’t Keynesians.  That’s why Keynesians hate conservative Republicans.  Especially when they hold up further stimulus spending in Congress.

The problem with Washington is that there are too many elitists who think they are smarter than us.  And these elitists want to double down on the mistakes that caused this crisis.  Already the Obama administration has been talking about boosting subprime lending.  Incredible.  This after that very same policy caused the worst recession since the Great Depression.

After the Benefit of a Cheap Euro runs its Course the Depreciated Euro turns into a Liability

The Keynesian’s answer to everything is more spending.  And when someone warns about igniting inflation with all of their easy monetary policy they call those people misinformed.  Monetary policy doesn’t cause inflation.  Greedy business people do.  By raising prices.  And supply shocks.  Like the OPEC oil embargo of the Seventies.  They point to the Eurozone and say, “See?  Their central banks have been keeping rates low to stimulate spending.  And where is the inflation?”  Here, apparently (see Euro-Zone Inflation Surges by Paul Hannon, Dow Jones Newswires, posted 9/30/2011 on NASDAQ).

The annual rate of inflation in the 17 countries that share the euro surged to its highest level in almost three years in September, while the number of people without work fell slightly.

The European Union’s official statistics agency Eurostat Friday said consumer prices rose 3% in the 12 months to September, up from 2.5% in August and was well above the European Central Bank’s target of just below 2%.

Prices rose faster than at any time since October 2008, and more rapidly than economists had expected. Those surveyed last week by Dow Jones Newswires had estimated that prices rose 2.5%. The last rise in the annual rate from one month to the next that was of a similar scale was in March 2010, when it picked up to 1.6% from 0.8%.

With a depressed economy businesses haven’t been able to raise their prices.  But what they couldn’t do their central bank has.  Put so much cheap money into the economy that they depreciated the Euro.  Which is another way to cause inflation.  Eventually.  After the benefits of a cheap Euro (making cheap exports) run its course.  And the depreciated Euro turns into a liability (higher input prices in the manufacturing process).

This always happens in Keynesian economics.  Yet the Keynesian ignores this reality and doubles down on the failed policies of the past.

Government Policies Favor Green Energy over Oil and Gas because Government Elitists are in Control

Keynesian economic thought is the prevailing though in most governments.  For a reason.  They’re expansionary policies.  And put government in control of that expansion.  Government officials don’t care if they work.  They just like the power it gives them.  The control over the economy.  And an open checkbook to buy votes.  So governments everywhere put Keynesians into their administrations.  Which give the Keynesians legitimacy.  People accept what they say.  Because if government adopts what they say they must know what they’re saying.

But Keynesian thought is wrong.  History has shown this.  The Austrian School of economics has a far better track record of success.  But that is not a popular school among expansionists.  Because it leaves the economy to the free market.  Not to elitists in government.  Who think they know better than the free market.

An example of this elitist intervention into the free market is government’s choice of green energy as the smart investment of the future.  Which has been failing even with heavy subsidies.  While the hated oil and gas industry, on the other hand, is creating jobs (see Gassing Up: Why America’s Future Job Growth Lies In Traditional Energy Industries by Joel Kotkin posted 9/27/2011 on Forbes).

But the biggest growth by far has taken place in the mining, oil and natural gas industries, where jobs expanded by 60%, creating a total of 500,000 new jobs…

Nor is this expansion showing signs of slowing down. Contrary to expectations pushed by “peak oil” enthusiasts, overall U.S. oil production has grown by 10% since 2008; the import share of U.S. oil consumption has dropped to 47% from 60% in 2005.  Over the next year, according to one recent industry-funded study, oil and gas could create an additional 1.5 million new jobs.

What makes this growth even more remarkable is that the month of August posted zero new jobs.  So if there were no new jobs while oil and gas was creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, hundreds of thousands of jobs in other industries must have been disappearing.  Such as in that government-backed green energy sector.

How about those “green jobs” so widely touted as the way to recover the lost blue-collar positions from the recession? Since 2006, the critical waste management and remediation sector — a critical portion of the “green” economy — actually lost over 480,000 jobs, 4% of its total employment…

The future of the rest of the “green” sector seems dimmer than widely anticipated. One big problem lies in cost per kilowatt, where wind is roughly twice as expensive and solar at least three times as expensive as electricity produced with natural gas. Given the Solyndra  bankruptcy  and their inevitable impact on the renewables industry, it’s also pretty certain that the U.S., at least in the near term, will not be powered by windmills and solar panels.

Natural gas is a clean burning fuel.  It’s so clean we use it in our homes.  In our stoves.  And our furnaces.  It’s cheap.  And it’s plentiful.  We’re getting it out of American ground that can put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work.  Without loan guarantees.  And they can bring it to market at market prices.  Without any subsidies.  It’s the hanging softball of energy policy.  But what are we pursuing?  Green energy.  A sector that is bleeding jobs.

The relative strength of the energy sector can be seen in changes in income by region over the past decade. For the most part, the largest gains have been heavily concentrated in the energy belt between the Dakotas and the Gulf of Mexico. Energy-oriented metropolitan economies such as Houston, Dallas, Bismarck and Oklahoma City have also fared relatively well. In energy-rich North Dakota there’s actually a huge labor shortage, reaching over 17,000 — one likely to get worse if production expands, as now proposed, from 6000 to over 30,000 wells over the next decade.

Why are we subsidizing green startups when we have an energy belt almost the size of the Louisiana Territory?  A labor shortage of 17,000?  And a plan to increase wells from 6,000 to 30,000 (an increase of 400%) in one state?  This is real economic growth.  Created with no government help.  I mean, if there is one thing the Obama administration isn’t known for it’s being a friend to the oil and gas industry.

So this is an industry government doesn’t help.  If anything government hinders it with heavy regulation.  And yet the gas and oil industry is blowing government-subsidized green energy away.  There’s a lesson here.  Free market works.  And when government intervenes into the market you can bet on them picking a loser.

Industry experts say that the shift in energy exploration is moving from the Middle East to the Americas, with rich deposits of oil and gas uncovered from Brazil to the Canadian oil sands.

Much of the new action is on the U.S. mainland, including the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming. Increasingly, there’s excitement about finds in long-challenged sections of the Midwest such as Ohio. The Utica shale formation, according to an estimate by Chesapeake Energy, could be worth roughly a half trillion dollars and be, in the words of CEO Aubrey McClendon, “the biggest to hit Ohio, since maybe the plow.”

Ohio now has over 64,000 wells, with five hundred drilled just year. Recent and potential finds, particularly in the Appalachian basin, could transform the Buckeye State into something of a Midwest Abu Dhabi, creating more than 200,000 jobs over the next decade.

A Midwest Abu Dhabi?  Creating 200,000 new jobs?  And that’s just in the oil and gas business.

The energy boom also has sparked a spate of new factory expansions, including a $650 million new steel mill to make pipes for gas pipelines. Other local firms are gearing up to make up specialized equipment like compressors.

This is real economic growth.  Created and sustained by the private sector.  Without any stimulus funding or subsidies.  The way of the Austrian School of economics.  But is anathema to expansionist Keynesians.  That’s why government policies favor green energy.  Like they favored subprime lending.  Because government elitists are in control.  Not the free market.

The Genius Elite have given us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Solyndra and Inflation in the Eurozone

The government bet wrong on green energy.  As smart as they are.  And as smart as their Keynesian advisers are.  Is there a lesson here?  Yes.  They are not that smart.

The oil and gas industry is booming.  Why?  Because there is enormous demand for oil and gas.  For all the Keynesians’ lament over the lack of demand you’d think they’d jump on this.  But no.  They ignore it.  Instead they impose oppressive regulations.  Impose moratoriums on Gulf drilling.  And do more to impede this industry than to help it.  To please the environmentalists.  And their friends in green energy.

The genius elite have given us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Solyndra and inflation in the Eurozone.  The Keynesian way.  Whereas the free market is finding domestic sources of real energy and creating jobs.  The Austrian School way.  Which was also the American way.  Once upon a time.  And it can be again.  If we listen more to the market.  And less to the Keynesian elites.


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Economic Recovery Requires less Keynesian Spending and more Cutting the Cost of Employment

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 26th, 2011

The Structural Defect in Keynesian Economics is that Sustained Inflation Creates Asset Bubbles that Must Burst

More bad news for the housing market.  And the American economy (see New-home sales fell in August for 4th month by Derek Kravitz posted 9/26/2011 on the Associated Press).

Sales of new homes fell to a six-month low in August. The fourth straight monthly decline during the peak buying season suggests the housing market is years away from a recovery…

New-homes sales are on pace for the worst year since the government began keeping records a half century ago…

Last year was also the fifth straight year that sales have fallen. It followed five straight years of record highs, when housing was booming.

The housing market is bad.  There’s no denying that.  And this affects everyone.  Not just homeowners.  Because where the housing market goes the economy follows.

While new homes represent less than one-fifth of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Jobs and taxes.  Both of which the government is having trouble generating these days.  That’s why they are desperately trying to stimulate the housing market with all that easy monetary policy.  Getting interest rates to their lowest in years.  If not of all time.  Because new houses equals jobs.  And tax revenue.  Especially when housing values increase over time.

Home prices have dropped more since the recession started, on a percentage basis, than during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It took 19 years for prices to fully recover after the Depression.

But not so much when they don’t.

Worse than the Great Depression.  Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.

One of the missions of the Federal Reserve was to prevent another Great Depression.  In particular, preventing a devastating deflationary spiral.  Such as we’re seeing in home prices now.  Looks like they’ve failed.  Or rather, Keynesian Economics has failed.

The problem is the dependence on Keynesian Economics.  Which uses monetary policy to maintain economic growth.  By having permanent but ‘sustainable’ inflation.  But the structural defect in this model is that sustained inflation creates asset bubbles.  As people bid up the prices of these assets.  Like houses prior to the subprime mortgage crisis.  And when these bubbles burst these asset prices have to fall back to market levels.  Like house prices are doing right now.  And apparently will do for another 19 years.  Give or take.

It is the High Cost of Labor that is Hurting the Advanced Economies

Manufacturing has been better than the housing market.  But it’s not looking too promising right now (see U.S. manufacturing slowdown: 4 cities at most risk posted 9/26/2011 on CNN Money).

U.S. manufacturing has been one of the rare bright spots in an otherwise annoyingly slow economic recovery…

But expectations of slower growth could threaten the rebound and cities that have gained from it. The ongoing European debt crisis and efforts to curb worries over inflation in China have analysts predicting lower demand for everything from American-made electronics to machinery.

U.S. manufacturing grew 6% during the economic recovery after declining 13% following the financial crisis in 2007. IHS Global Insight economist Tom Runiewicz says the industry has grown 4.5% so far this year. While that’s still robust growth, he expects manufacturing growth to slow to 2.9% next year.

The American consumer may not have been buying but consumers in other countries were.  A good example of American exports is the delivery of the first Boeing 787 to ANA.  And Boeing’s 747-8, too.   Though the largest U.S. exporter, Boeing won’t be able to fix the economy alone.  Especially when they’re competing against Airbus.

It is the high cost of labor that is hurting the advanced economies.  The Europeans subsidize some of their industries to make up for this economic disadvantage.  Boeing charges Airbus with getting subsidies that lets them compete unfairly.  And Airbus, of course, accuses Boeing of the same.   To help gain a competitive edge over Airbus, Boeing wanted to expand production in South Carolina.  A right to work state.  Which the Obama administration has opposed.  In support of their union donors.

The lesson of the Boeing-Airbus rivalry is this.  They’d be able to sell more planes if they could cut their labor costs.

Listening to the Private Sector turned around the German Economy and is why they can Bail Out the Euro

Germany’s high cost of labor was crippling her economy.  BMW and Mercedes-Benz built plants in America to escape their high cost of labor.  But things are different in Germany these days.  In fact, the country is so rich that the hopes of saving the Euro common currency falls on the German economy.  The only European economy rich enough to save the Euro.  So how did they make this turnaround?  Through reforms (see Getting People Back to Work by Matt Mitchell posted 9/26/2011 on Mercatus Center at George Mason University).

Germany’s unemployment rate is only 6.2 percent today. This is pretty remarkable given the severity of the recent recession, the slow growth of Germany’s trade partners (including the U.S.) and the unfolding fiscal crisis in the Eurozone.

NPR’s Caitlin Kenney attributes Germany’s relative success to a number of reforms adopted a decade ago. Kenney reports:

To figure out how Germany got where it is today, you need to go back 10 years. In 2002, Germany looked a lot like the United States does now, they had no economic growth and their unemployment rate was 8.7 percent and climbing. The country needed help, so the top man in Germany at the time, Gerhard Schroder, the German chancellor, made in an emergency call to a trusted friend.

So who did he turn to?  A government bureaucrat?  Or someone from the private sector?

The friend was Peter Hartz, a former HR director whom Schroder knew from his VW days. Schroder put Hartz in charge of a commission, the mission of which was to find a way to make Germany’s labor market more flexible. The Hartz commission made it easier to hire someone for a low-paying, temporary job, a so-called “mini job”:

A mini-job isn’t that great of a deal for workers. In these jobs, they can work as many hours as the employer wants them to, but the maximum they can earn is 400 Euros per month. On the plus side, they get to keep it all. They don’t pay any taxes on the money. And they do still get some government assistance.

He went to the private sector.  To get advice of how to create jobs in the private sector.  And he listened to what they said.  The cost of labor and regulatory costs were crippling job creation.

Generous unemployment insurance and regulations that add to the cost of employment tend to make for a static, unhealthy labor market. Though designed to make life better for workers, these policies may do them more harm than good.

Listening to the private sector turned around the German economy.  Made it the dynamo it is today.  And it is why that the German economy is the only economy that can bail out the Euro.

Economic Recovery Requires New Jobs

The economy still looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  Whereas the Germans are doing so well that they may single-handedly bailout the Eurozone from their sovereign debt crisis.  And a lot of Americans are saying that should be us.  Not the bailing out the Eurozone part.  But having the ability to do that.

And that could have been us.  And should have been.  Like it used to be.  When America led the world in creating jobs.  So what happened?  The same thing that had happened in Germany.  The cost of employment grew.  And as it grew new job creation declined.

Economic recovery requires new jobs.  The Germans understood that.  And they did something about it.  So should we.  And the sooner we do the sooner we will see that economic recovery.


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Keynesian Governments play with Interest Rates giving us Asset Bubbles and Crises

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 5th, 2011

Subprime Mortgage Lending – Qualifying the Unqualified

Housing has led the economy since World War II.  Home ownership.  The magical elixir.  So the government policy has been to put as many people into homes as possible.

They pushed mortgage lenders to approve mortgages.  And threatened them when they didn’t.  Especially to minorities in depressed inner cities.  Worse, activists were protesting.  Accusing them of redlining.  All this pressure forced the lenders to come up with ways to qualify the unqualified.  And the vehicle of choice was the subprime mortgage.

Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs).  Interest only mortgagesNo-documentation mortgages.  Etc.  These were putting people into houses like never before.  Even if they couldn’t afford a house.  They got in at low interest rates.  Kept low by easy monetary policy.  To get as many people approved for these dirt-cheap mortgages as possible.

Bad Government Policy caused a Housing Boom, a Housing Bubble and a Crisis

But that’s not all the government did.  Via Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they guaranteed these subprime mortgages.  And bought them from the mortgage lenders.  Removing these highly risky mortgages from their balance sheets.  Removing all risk from the lender.  And passing it on to the taxpayer.  And as you would guess such a policy would do, the lenders approved more of these risky subprime mortgages.  And why not?  They made money.  And were insulated from all risk. 

Then Fannie and Freddie chopped and diced these risky subprime mortgages.  Created mortgage-backed securities (MBS).  And collateralized debt obligations (CDO).  And sold them on Wall Street.  They were high yield.  But super safe.  Because they were backed by historically the safest of all debt.  Mortgages.  Only these weren’t safe mortgages.  They were very risky subprime mortgages.  And why were they so risky?  Because when interest rates go up, so do their monthly payments.  Likely more than the home owner can pay.  And when those interest-only mortgages had to be refinanced, the new higher interest rates made the new mortgages more costly than the old.  More than a subprime borrower could afford.  Which meant one thing.  Default.

So all this bad government policy (to put as many people into homes as possible) caused a housing boom.  And a housing bubble.  The economy was overheating.  So the Federal Reserve tapped the monetary brakes.  By raising interest rates.  And all hell broke loose.

Government enabled Risky Subprime Mortgage Lending

The government’s housing policy gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  And spread this contagion around the globe.  Thanks to Fannie and Freddie.  Enabling all that bad mortgage lending.  Giving us the Great Recession.  That appears more depression-like than recession.  Now the go-to government policy of boosting economic activity won’t work.  Because the housing market is in shambles.  And it will get worse before it gets better (see Uncle Sam is a reluctant landlord of foreclosed homes by Lorraine Woellert and Clea Benson, Bloomberg Businessweek, posted 9/5/2011 on MSNBC).

For sale or rent by distressed owner: 248,000 homes. That’s how many residential properties the U.S. government now has in its possession, the result of record numbers of people defaulting on government-backed mortgages. Washington is sitting on nearly a third of the nation’s 800,000 repossessed houses, making the U.S. taxpayer the largest owner of foreclosed properties. With even more homes moving toward default, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration are looking for a way to unload them without swamping the already depressed real estate market.

The U.S. taxpayer is the largest owner of foreclosed properties.  Because government enabled risky subprime mortgage lending.  They guaranteed or bought risky mortgages.  So risky that no mortgage lender would have approved them if they had to carry the risk on their own balance sheets.  Which makes the government incompetent.  Or devious.

The government caused this problem.  By putting as many people as possible into homes.  Whether they could afford it or not.  And now they have a big problem on their hands.  Or, rather, the taxpayers do.  For government’s problem is ultimately the taxpayers’ problem.  It is our money after all that they are playing with.

Since the 2008 financial collapse, the government has spent billions of dollars trying to extricate borrowers from high-cost loans, aid delinquent homeowners and stabilize neighborhoods. The results have been disappointing. The Obama Administration’s signature loan-modification program has helped about 657,000 homeowners — far short of its goal of 3 to 4 million. The program was a victim of its complexity and its inability to cope with overwhelming demand.

Yes, they’re good at creating BIG problems.  But not very good at fixing them.  To put it mildly.  And yet we keep turning to government for help.  Go figure.

Selling High-Risk Securities Masquerading as Safe High-Yield Investments 

And it’s not only the U.S that made a mess of their mortgage market.  Europe has her own subprime problems.  On top of their sovereign debt crisis.  As if they didn’t have enough to worry about already (see Europe banks slide to 29-month low on multiple headwinds by Simon Jessop, Reuters, posted 9/5/2011 on Yahoo! Finance).

European bank shares slid to a 29-month low on Monday, leading the broader market down on fresh sub-prime mortgage woes, fears of recession and yet more evidence of political disunity that could hamper efforts to solve the region’s debt crisis…

“The chances of a near-term recovery remain slim as euro zone debt concerns, structural reform and a lawsuit for allegedly mis-selling mortgage debt all weigh heavy on the sector,” Manoj Ladwa, senior trader at ETX Capital said.

Subprime mortgage woes.  And a debt crisis.  All caused by activist Keynesian governments.  Playing with interest rates.  To stimulate the economy with an artificial demand.  Which always ends the same way.  Asset bubbles.  And crises.  In Europe.  The U.S.  And everywhere where activist governments think they can outsmart the free market.

Royal Bank of Scotland…

… is among the worst-placed of European lenders facing a multi-billion-dollar U.S. regulatory lawsuit accusing them of misrepresenting the checks they made on mortgages before securitising them.

So Europe, too, has been dabbling in mortgage-backed securities (MBS).  And collateralized debt obligations (CDO).  Doesn’t look like things ended any better for the Europeans.  They sold high-risk securities masquerading as safe high-yield investments.  Because of those ‘safe’ mortgages underlying these investments.  That were anything but safe.

“The banks’ cost of funding goes up in tandem with the country’s cost of funding, and eventually they get denied access to the credit market.”

That relationship was once again thrown into focus on Monday as both Italian and Spanish 10-year yields rose to near 1-month highs. Peripheral euro zone sovereign CDS yields also rose, with French yields at a record high.

The financial crisis is not only hurting investors, it’s hurting countries.  By raising borrowing costs.  Which is a BIG problem for countries that like to spend beyond their means.  Because they have to borrow to pay today’s bills.  As well as borrow to pay yesterday’s bills. 

As bonds come due they have to borrow money to redeem them.  And all this new borrowing is at higher and higher interest rates.  So high that governments even have to borrow to pay the interest on the money they’ve borrowed.  And the interest on their debt becomes an ever growing line item on their budgets.  Which makes it harder to pay retirement benefits.  Health care benefits.  Education benefits (i.e., free college tuition).  Etc.  Eventually requiring budget cuts.  And austerity.  Which the people often respond to with riots.

Adding to growing concern over a return to recession in the developed world, data showed euro zone services sector growth eased for the fifth consecutive month in August.

Recent data showed a world economy growing at “near stall speed,” analysts at Societe Generale (Paris: FR0000130809 – news) said in a note, although they did not believe the world would return to recession as it needed a trigger, “which we believe will remain absent.”

“Taming burgeoning public debts on both sides of the Atlantic (Stuttgart: A0J3C9 – news) will take time and we forecast a prolonged period of low growth for both the US and Europe,” they add.

All this government spending is paid for (in part) with high taxes.  As the borrowing costs grow governments turn to raising tax rates.  Which puts the brakes on economic activity.  Which, in turn, reduces the amount of tax dollars collected by the government.  Making a bad problem worse.

You Never Want a Serious Crisis to go to Waste

This is Keynesian economics.  Keep interest rates low.  Depreciate your currency.  And keep on spending.  Their rationale is that governments can do anything they want.  For it’s their fiat money.  They can always print more.  And the resulting inflation will make yesterday’s debt easier to pay tomorrow.  We call it screwing our creditors.  I mean, monetizing the debt.

But debt has consequences.  The European sovereign debt crisis is a crisis because they can’t borrow any more money to continue their excessive government spending.  Standard and Poor’s just downgraded U.S. bonds because of excessive debt.  The tax and spend Keynesians say poppycock.  Keep spending.  And raise taxes.

But the responsible people say, “Wait a minute.”  For they see these crises as debt crises.  And they think ‘what if’ there wasn’t excessive debt.  Would there be a crisis then?  And the answer is, of course, no.  So they understand that too much debt is a bad thing.  And if it’s a bad thing, adding more of it will only make it more of a bad thing.  And unless you think a crisis is a good thing, you don’t want more of one.

But if you think a crisis is a good thing.  That “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”  Then you probably want more of a bad thing.  And you’re probably a Big Government Keynesian liberal Democrat.  Using that crisis to advance an agenda you couldn’t through the normal legislative process.


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Obama’s Economic Policies have Failed because they’re Keynesian Economic Policies

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 2nd, 2011

Government Spending and Easy Monetary Policy haven’t created any Jobs 

The new jobs report is in.  It’s not good.  Surprise, surprise (see ‘No confidence’ sparks rush to safety by Blake Ellis posted 9/2/2011 on CNNMoney).

The Labor Department reported that the economy added no jobs in August, while the unemployment rate remained at 9.1%. That was the worst reading since September 2010, when the economy lost 27,000 jobs.

Economists had been expecting a weak report given the recent debt ceiling gridlock, plunging consumer confidence and the downgrade of the United States’ credit rating in August. But what they got was even worse than expected.

These Keynesian economists have been predicting every kind of wonderful they could with every new Keynesian policy.  But government spending and easy monetary policy haven’t created any jobs.  If they did we’d have them.  Jobs.  But we don’t have them.  After close to 3 years of trying.  I mean, the economy is so bad that oil prices are falling.

Since a healthy economy typically spurs demand for oil, fears that another recession is around the corner are causing traders to worry about waning demand, said Flynn.

“Crude oil is looking at demand destruction right now,” he said. “With a lack of people going back to work and economic data as a whole as it is, it’s just not a supportive environment for higher prices.”

So the Obama administration has spent the U.S. to record deficits.  And record debt.  But because so many people are unemployed demand for oil is destructing.  What a terrible tradeoff for cheaper oil.

Oil is the lifeblood of a healthy economy.  So you know an economy is not healthy when people aren’t buying oil.  In a country where chronically insufficient domestic supplies once raised the price of gasoline to over $4/gallon.  Now any spikes in gas prices seem to have more to do with a depreciating dollar (thanks to all that easy monetary policy) than demand.

Keynesians see no Downside to Excessive Government Spending or Inflation

Still there are some who say the problem is not excessive spending.  But spending that was not excessive enough (see Fatal Distraction by Paul Krugman posted 9/2/2011 on The New York Times).

Zero job growth, with unemployment still at nosebleed levels. Meanwhile, the interest rate on 10-year US bonds is down to 2.04%, and it’s negative on inflation-protected securities.

Aren’t you glad we pivoted from jobs to deficits a year and a half ago?

Krugman is a Keynesian.  So by ‘jobs’ he means government spending.  And by ‘deficits’ he means responsible government.  He sees no downside to excessive government spending.  Or inflation.  As if the 1970s never happened.

A lot of People hate the Rich and Successful, especially Ivy League Elitists

But the 1970s did happen.  And we had double-digit inflation at the end of that decade.  Didn’t help.  It didn’t make a dent in the unemployment numbers.  Yet there are those who want to take that very dangerous road again (see View: Inflation Is Easy to Free, Hard to Control by the Editors posted 9/1/2011 on Bloomberg).

…But now, a growing number of voices, mainly on the left wing of the Democratic Party but also in the Federal Reserve, are calling for what is in effect default in slow motion. It goes by the name of inflation.

Inflation decreases the value of debts, like the $14 trillion owed by the federal government to lenders such as the government of China (and a lot of ordinary American savers, too), and it increases the value of assets, like houses. Thus it helps all debtors, from the federal government to individual homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages. Inflation has been running at an average of 2.4 percent over the past decade. After a couple of years of, say, 6 percent inflation, that $14 trillion would be worth closer to $12 trillion in current dollars. A $400,000 mortgage would be worth about $350,000.

Some may say, shrinks debt?  Increases asset value?  Well where’s the problem with that? 

We call it class warfare.  Of the worse kind.  Creditors versus debtors.  The poor versus the rich.  The poor hate the rich because they have to borrow from them to buy a house.  And they would love to not pay them back.  But if you start doing this eventually the rich won’t loan their money anymore.  So there will eventually be no more home ownership.  Except for the rich. 

It’s a story as old as time.  And the U.S.  The states were passing debtor laws.  Favoring debtors.  Harming creditors.  And destroying legal contracts in the process.   Which a nation built on the rule of law could not have.  For if there are no contracts there is only force.  Where the most powerful get what they want.  And those not powerful enough to fight them off simply lose what they have. 

This is one of the reasons why the Founding Fathers called for the Philadelphia Convention in 1787.  To save what they just fought 8 years to get.  A nation where no man is above the law.  And contracts are legal binding.  Still, there are a lot of people who hate the rich and successful.  Who think contracts are merely suggestions.  Especially Ivy League elitists who have no ability but arrogance and condescension.  Who could never become rich and successful on their own.  Preferring privilege over hard work.  And have no problem trampling over people’s contract rights.  Or Constitutional rights, for that matter.  But that’s another story.  For another time.

As it happens, a couple of years of 6 percent inflation is exactly what the leading economist advocating this approach — Kenneth Rogoff at Harvard — recommends. He is joined by Paul Krugman and by a growing number of economic journalists and commentators. Some of these people have been saying that inflation is no threat worth worrying about, because it has not appeared despite circumstances that ordinarily would have produced it. Now they say inflation is no threat because a little of it would actually be a good thing.

At Bloomberg View, we think that doing anything to encourage increased inflation is a very bad idea. People who advocate it are either too young or too old to remember our last adventure with inflation, in 1979 and 1980…

You can’t easily pencil in two years of 6 percent inflation and then go on your merry way. Inflation is self-feeding and takes on a life of its own. And it works only by surprise. If lenders all know that the government is going to induce or at least tolerate something like 6 percent inflation, they will demand something like 8 percent interest from borrowers. There goes the grease on the wheels. And it’s not just lenders: Labor negotiators will have their backs stiffened if they know that any dollar figure they negotiate will buy less and less. Manufacturers who know their inputs are going to be getting more expensive, in dollar terms, will raise their prices in anticipation, thus making inflation a self-fulfilling prophecy. Long-term planning becomes difficult to impossible.

This is what happened in the Seventies.  It’s why there were double-digit interest rates.  Inflation was depreciating the dollar so fast that it took near usury rates before anyone would loan money.  It was great for people with money to loan.  But horrible for people who had to borrow.

There is no Record of increasing Taxation and Regulation increasing Economic Activity

This is not just a condemnation of the Obama economic policies.  This is a condemnation of Keynesian economics as a whole.  They only lead to a bloated federal government.  That grows at the expense of the job-producing private sector (see Needed: A Reagan Moment To Stop Our Decline by Lawrence Kudlow posted 9/2/2011 on Investors).

During the Bush years, the federal government increased from 18% of GDP to 21%. The debt went up $2.5 trillion, from roughly 32% of GDP to 40%. And now, during the Obama period, spending has moved even higher to at least 24% of the economy, while total federal debt has ballooned near 100% of GDP.

It’s almost a mirror image: The expansion of the public sector and the decline of the private sector. This is completely inimical to the American peacetime experience…

And all while jobs, the economy and stocks slumped over the past 10 years, the dollar dropped 37% and gold increased by nearly 500%, from $250 to nearly $1,900 an ounce.

We don’t have the kind of inflation today that we experienced in the 1970s. But it is certainly worth noting that a collapsing currency and a skyrocketing gold price are key barometers of a loss of confidence in the American economic story.

But the Keynesians aren’t worried.  Mr. Paul Krugman belittles those ‘responsible’ people who worry about phantom demons like inflation.  When it comes to spending, their constant refrain is to flame on.  And only worry when inflation is burning white hot.  Then they can simply tap their monetary breaks and make everything good again.  Or so they think.

But there is a bigger problem.  This ‘limited’ government of the Founding Fathers is growing into a leviathan. 

My key thought is that the U.S. in the last decade has adopted a wrongheaded policy of government expansion — primarily spending and regulating — financed by ultra-easy monetary policy and rock-bottom interest rates.

Tax rates haven’t moved much. But the whole tax system is badly in need of pro-growth flat-tax reform and simplification. However, the expansion of spending and regulating is robbing the private sector of its entrepreneurial vitality. Here’s the new fear: More big-government spending stimulus from Obama’s jobs plan. More EPA. More NLRB. More Dodd-Frank. More ObamaCare.

And as the policy mantle for growth has swung to Federal Reserve stimulus, we are learning once again what Milton Friedman taught us 40 years ago: The central bank can produce new money, but there is no permanent production of jobs and growth from that pump-priming.

Big government financed by easy money is a lethal economic combination. It must be reversed. We should be reducing the regulatory and spending state while keeping money predictably stable (and even re-linked to gold).

The supply-side nostrum that worked so well for 20 years, beginning with Ronald Reagan, was low tax rates, light regulation, limited government, and a hard dollar. Gold collapsed between 1980 and 2000 as stocks, jobs, and the economy roared. The last ten years? We’ve gotten the policy mix completely backwards. The results show it.

And that’s something that the Keynesians can’t point to.  When they had full legislative power (as they had since the Democrats won the House and Senate back in 2006), they can’t point to a historical record of success.  Like the tax-cutting supply-siders can. 

JFK cut taxes and saw economic growth.  Reagan cut taxes and saw economic growth.  George W. Bush cut taxes and saw economic growth.  But there is no record of increasing taxation and regulation increasing economic activity.  You know why?  Because it doesn’t.  If it did the economy would be booming now because the government has never spent or regulated more.

Let’s hope the Keynesians Concede Failure while there is still an Economy to Save

How many bad economic reports will it take before the Keynesians will finally concede failure?  When will the Ivy League elitists stop hating people who are more talented and successful than they are?  And when will the people that put them into power see that it’s only the power they’re interested in?  Not the economy.  Or our well being?

I hope these people come to their senses soon.  While there is still an economy to save.


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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.


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