The Chicago School of Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 5th, 2012

Economics 101

Monetarists believe in Laissez-Faire Capitalism and Fiat Money

Keynesian economics supports hands-on government management of the economy.  Using fiscal and monetary policy to move the aggregate demand curve at will to end business cycles.  The boom bust cycles between inflation and recession.  Leaving only the inflationary boom times.   Using tax and spend fiscal policies.  Or simply printing money for government expenditures.  For in Keynesian economics consumption is key.  The more of it the better.  And when people stop buying things the government should step in and pick up the consumption slack.

The Austrian school is a more hands-off approach.  The markets should be free.  Laissez-faire capitalism.  And the business cycle should remain.  For it is a necessary part of the economy.  Part of the automatic pricing mechanism that adjusts supply to meet demand.  When people demand more prices go up.  Encouraging businesses to expand production to sell at these higher prices (inflationary expansion).  Then when supply exceeds demand businesses have excessive inventory that they can’t sell anymore at those higher prices.  So they cut their prices to sell off this excessive supply (deflationary recession).  Also, that hands-off approach means no playing with monetary policy.  Austrians prefer a gold standard to prevent central bank mischief that results in inflation.

The Chicago school of economics takes a little from each of these schools.  Like the Austrians they believe that government should take a hands-off approach in the economy.  Markets should be free with minimum government intervention.  But unlike Austrians, they hate gold.  And blame the gold standard for causing the Great Depression.  Instead, they believe in the flexibility of fiat money.  As do the Keynesians.  But with a strict monetary policy to minimize inflation (which is why proponents of this school were also called monetarists).  Unlike the Keynesians.  For monetarists believe only a government’s monetary policy can cause runaway inflation.

(This is a gross simplification of these three schools.  A more detailed and comprehensive study would be a bit overwhelming as well as extremely boring.  But you get the gist.  At least, for the point of this discussion.)

We used Gold and Silver for Money because it was Durable, Portable, Divisible, Fungible, Scarce, Etc.

At the heart of the difference between these schools is money.  So a refresher course on money is in order.  Money stores wealth temporarily.  When we create something of value (a good or a service) we can use that value to trade for something we want.  We used to barter with other creative people who made value of their own.  But as the economy got more complex it took more and more time to find people to trade with.  You had to find someone who had what you wanted who also wanted what you had.  If you baked bread and wanted shoes you had to find a shoemaker who wanted bread.  Not impossible.  But it took a lot of time to find these people to trade with.

Then someone had a brilliant idea.  They figured they could trade their good or service NOT for something THEY wanted but something OTHER people would want.  Such as tobacco.  Whiskey.  Or grain.  These things were valuable.  Other people would want them.  So they could easily trade their good or service for one of these things.  And then later trade it for what they wanted.  And money was born.  For various reasons (durable, portable, divisible, fungible, scarce, etc.) we chose gold and silver as our money of choice.  Due to the inconvenience and danger of carrying these precious metals around, though, we stored our precious metals in a vault and used ‘receipts’ of that deposit as currency.  And the gold standard was born.

To understand the gold standard think of a balance scale.  The kind where you put weights on one side to balance the load on the other.  When the scale balances the weight of the load equals the sum of the weights needed to make the scale balance.  Now imagine a scale like this where the VALUE of all goods and services (created by talented people) are on one side.  And all the precious metal in the gold standard are on the other.  These must be in balance.  And the sum of our currency must equal the amount of precious metal.  (Because they are ‘receipts’ for all that gold and silver we have locked up someplace.)  This prevents the government from creating inflation.  If you want to issue more money you have to put more precious metal onto the scale.  You just can’t print money.  For when you do and you don’t increase the amount of precious metal on the scale you depreciate the currency.  Because more of it equals the same amount of precious metal.  For more currency to equal the same amount of precious metal then each unit of currency has to be worth less.  And when each unit is worth less it takes more of them to buy the same things they bought before.  Thus raising prices.  If a government prints more currency without adding more precious metals on the scale they increase the value of that precious metal when MEASURED in that currency.  It becomes worth more.  In other words, you can trade that precious metal for more of that depreciated currency than before they depreciated it.  You do this too much and eventually people will prefer the precious metal over the currency.  They’ll lose faith in the currency.  And when that happens the economy collapses.  As people move back towards a barter system.

Milton Friedman wanted the Responsibility of the Gold Standard without Gold’s Constraint on increasing the Money Supply

A healthy economy needs a stable currency.  One that people don’t lose faith in.  Imagine trying to shop without money.  Instead, taking things to trade for the groceries you need.  Not very efficient.  So we need a stable currency.  And the gold standard gives us that.  However, the thing that makes gold or silver a stable currency, its scarcity, creates a liability.  Let’s go back to that balance scale.  To the side that contains the value of all goods and services.  Let’s say it increases.  But the precious metal on the other side doesn’t.  Which means the value of that precious metal increases.  The currency must equal the value of that precious metal.  So the value of the currency increases.  And prices fall.  It takes less of it to buy the same things it bought before.  Not a bad thing for consumers.  But it plays havoc with those who borrowed money before this appreciation.  Because they now have to repay money that is worth more than when what is was worth when they borrowed it.  Which hurt farmers during the 1920s.  Who borrowed a lot of money to mechanize their farms.  Which helped to greatly increase farm yields.  And increased food supplies while demand remained unchanged.  Which, of course, lowered farm prices.  The supply increased on the scale.  But the amount of gold didn’t.  Thus increasing the value of the gold.  And the currency.  Making prices fall.  Kicking off the deflationary spiral of the Great Depression.  Or so say the monetarists.

Now the monetarists wanted to get rid of the gold supply.  The Keynesians did, too.  But they wanted to do it so they could print and spend money.  Which they did during the Seventies.  Creating both a high unemployment rate and a high inflation rate.  Something that wasn’t supposed to happen in Keynesian economics.  For their solution to fix unemployment was to use inflation to stimulate aggregate demand in the economy.  Thus reducing unemployment.  But when they did this during the Seventies it didn’t work.  The Keynesians were befuddled.  But not the monetarists.  Who understood that the expansion of the money supply (printing money to spend) was responsible for that inflation.  People understood this, too.  And had rational expectations of how that Keynesian policy was going to end.  Higher prices.  So they raised prices before the stimulus could impact unemployment.  To stay ahead of the coming inflation.  So the Keynesian stimulus did nothing to reduce unemployment.  It just caused runaway inflation.  And raised consumer prices.  Which, in turn, decreased economic activity.  And further increased unemployment.

Perhaps the most well known economist in the Chicago school was Milton Friedman.  Who wanted the responsibility of the gold standard.  But without gold’s constraint on increasing the money supply to meet demand.  The key to monetarism.  To increase the money supply to match the growth in the economy.  To keep that scale balanced.  But without gold.  Instead, putting the money supply directly on the scale.  Printing fiat money as needed.  Great power.  But with great power comes great responsibility.  And if you abuse that power (as in printing money irresponsibly) the consequences of that abuse will be swift.  Thanks to the rational expectations of the people.  Another tenet of the Chicago school.

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Business Cycle

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 13th, 2012

Economics 101

When you have a Captive Audience you can Charge whatever Prices you Want

Go to a football game lately?  Hockey?  Basketball?  Baseball?  It’s a pretty expensive day out.  Especially if you eat while in the stadium.  Those concession prices are pretty steep.  In fact, people say that stadium food is some of the most expensive food anywhere.  I don’t.  I say it is some of the highest quality and some the most fairly priced food you’ll find anywhere…in the stadium.

Stadium food is convenient food.  And that’s what you’re paying for.  Convenience.  Because it’s too great of an inconvenience to leave the stadium to buy a more reasonably priced hotdog someplace else.  And despite what the critics say of concession pricing, those concessions have long lines.  Because people may say the prices are too high.  But deep down they know what a bargain they are.  Delicious food cooked and sold only steps away from their seat.  It’s better than at home.  And there’s no cleanup.

When you have a captive audience you can pretty much charge what you want.  Because the market is fixed.  Stadiums charge a fortune for those concession spaces.  Because running a big stadium is expensive.  And it’s not really used all that often.  I mean, there are only 8 home games in the regular season in football.  Doesn’t give the stadiums much time to earn revenue to pay for these expensive things.  So they charge high fees wherever they can.  So the concessioners have to pass that cost on to the customer.  As all businesses do.  And when you have a captive audience it’s a whole lot easier to do this.  Because, where else are the people going to go?

Competition Increases Quality and Lowers Prices for Consumers

Let’s look at this in another way.  Say you have a friend who works for a catering company.  He drives a ‘roach coach’.  He stops at the factories and local construction site to sell food to hungry workers.  He sees the money these trucks make.  Considers his paycheck.  And thinks he’s tired of making his boss rich.  So he buys a truck for himself.  And looks for his own territory.

Now let’s say you go on an evening bike ride on weekends.  And you come across your friend.  He’s found some prime real estate to park his roach coach on.  In the median of a boulevard across from an automobile assembly plant gate.  Where he has a captive audience.  Hungry workers working the midnight shift with no place else to buy delicious food.  Business is good.  You stop by on your bike ride and buy a snack and chat.  Then one night you noticed a beat up Ford Pinto pull up in the median not far from your friend’s truck.  He pops the hatch.  And you start smelling something.  Something good.  Fresh pizzas.  And hot fresh subs.  This guy owns a pizzeria.  And just closed for the night.  After filling his car with fresh pizzas, hot fresh subs and soda.  And just like that business wasn’t so good for your friend anymore.  For fresh pizza and hot fresh subs are more delicious than the sandwiches and cans of stew your friend was selling.  But one thing the Pinto didn’t have that your friend did.  Ice.  He was selling warm soda.  Or trying to.  Your friend had cold soda.  And that was just what the doctor ordered on a hot, humid, summer night.  Your friend was now sharing his captive audience.  Selling less than he was.  And at lower prices because of this new competition.  But he was still able to turn a profit and make his truck payment.

Then the Pinto guy took it up a notch.  One night, as the workers headed out into the median on break, he pulled out a tub filled with ice.  And soda.  “Cold soda,” he barked.  “Ice cold soda.”  This squeezed your friend’s sales even more.  He had nothing left to compete with but price.  So he lowered his prices even further.  Barely breaking even.  Then one night someone else pulled up on the median.  A beat up AMC Gremlin.  Some kid just out of high school got out.  Popped the hatch.  And started barking, “Fresh McDonald Big Macs.  French fries.”  And, of course, ice cold soda.  The kid didn’t have a lot.  But what he had he was selling at a nice markup.  Which was enough for him.  Because he had no overhead.  And made enough to by some beer later that night.  A very modest sales goal.  But it split that captive audience three ways.  Soon your friend was losing money.  Then the economy went into recession.  And they discontinued the midnight shift.  Your friend lost his truck.  And went back to driving a truck for his former boss.  The Pinto guy increased his pizzeria’s delivery radius to make up for the loss business.  And hired the Gremlin kid to help with those deliveries.

The Business Cycle is a Natural and Necessary Part of the Economy and is the Only Way Supply adjusts to Demand 

From the perspective of the workers increasing competition made things better.  Competition gave them more variety.  Higher quality.  And lower prices.  Over time that competition gave them more value for their money.  This microcosm of the economy was booming for awhile.  Others jumped in.  Making investments.  Increasing their inventories.  But eventually they expanded too much.  Supply exceeded demand.  Some inventory went unsold.  Prepared food not being something you can return these people had no choice but to cut their prices.  To reduce those burgeoning inventories.  The guy with the highest overhead, your friend with the catering truck, was the first to fail.  Then the market collapsed completely with the elimination of the midnight shift.  So the other two had to shutter their operations there.

We call this the business cycle.  It’s the boom-bust cycle of the economy.  From good economic times (boom) to recessions (bust).  It’s the natural ebb and flow of economic exchange.  When the market presents a demand to be met supply flows into it.  At first prices and profits are high.  Like at a stadium with a captive audience.  Then competition moves in.  Unlike at a stadium.  That demand is now split between the competition.  Each sells less.  And profits less.  To try and increase sales they try to offer better value for the money.  Tastier food.  Colder soda.  Etc.  When that doesn’t work any longer they start lowering prices.  But because supply built up so much as eager competitors joined in get a piece of that action supply grew so much it exceeded demand.  And no amount of price cutting can fix that.  Only a recession.  To reset prices and supply to meet market demand.  Which means some businesses fail.  Those who don’t lay off employees.  To reset their prices and production to levels that meets demand.

Monetary and fiscal policy tries to massage this business cycle.  By softening the recession part of it.  By lowering interest rates.  To encourage businesses to invest and expand production.  And hire more employees.  Or by increasing government spending.  Creating jobs by building roads and bridges.  Or by simply giving more money to consumers (via tax cuts or stimulus checks) to encourage them to buy more.  Thus encouraging businesses to hire more workers.  To meet this ‘higher’ demand.  Of course, in our example, this wouldn’t have helped our three businesses.  None of them would have borrowed cheap money to increase supply.  Not when supply already exceeded demand.  In fact no amount of monetary or fiscal policy action would have helped.  It certainly wouldn’t have added back that midnight shift.  Unless the government started buying cars for people.  Which might have put people back to work on that midnight shift.  But such an expansion of government spending would have increased taxes.  So high that it would have reduced economic activity elsewhere.  As it transferred this money out of the private sector and into the public sector.  Saving a few jobs at the cost of consumers everywhere paying higher taxes.

The business cycle is a natural and necessary part of the economy.  It’s how supply adjusts to demand.  And the only way supply adjusts to demand.  Thanks to prices.  That automatic mechanism that tells businesses exactly where supply should be.  And by interfering with this you make markets operate blindly.  Unable to know when supply exceeds demand.  So supply keeps increasing even after it already exceeds demand.  Creating bubbles.  And when the bubble bursts prices plummet.  To unload those burgeoning inventories.  Making recessions longer and more painful than they need be.

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War Debt, Seven Years War, Revolutionary War, Articles of Confederation, U.S. Constitution, Central Government, Federal Spending and Fiscal Policy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 7th, 2012

History 101

Americans don’t like Paying Taxes

Americans don’t like paying taxes.  A dispute over taxation without representation led to American independence from British rule.  For Britain had been fighting for many years in many wars.  And ran up an enormous war debt.  Which they had to repay.  Because some of that debt was incurred protecting the American colonists from the French and Indians during the Seven Years War, some had a bright idea.  “Here’s a thought,” they said, “Let’s have the Americans pay their fair share.  I mean, fair is fair, right?  Besides, it’ll be a lot easier getting money from the Americans than it will be getting it from Parliament, eh wot?” 

The Seven Years War, though, was a world war.  Fought in many countries and on many seas.  Costing lots of money.  Which Parliament was financing with lots of taxes.  But the British taxpayer had tax fatigue.  And felt they had no more taxes to give.  Or wanted to give.  As they had a say in Parliament raising taxes further was a nonstarter.  But the Americans had no representation in Parliament.  So what could they do?  Turns out they could do a lot.  Now the Americans weren’t unreasonable.  They just didn’t appreciate the, “Oh, by the way, here’s your share of the war debt.  We’ll tax you accordingly.”  Which the British did.  Without so much a by-your-leave.  Rubbed the Americans the wrong way.  If the British had shown them the numbers and gave them a chance to agree on what their ‘fair share’ was they probably would have paid.  And stayed loyal to the Crown.  But the British didn’t.  So the Americans didn’t.

Now fighting wars is expensive.  Especially long ones.  And the Revolutionary War was a long one.  Eight years until they penned their names to the Treaty of Paris (1783) officially ending it.  In these eight years the Americans ran up a great war debt.  And needed to repay it.  Just like the British.  The very thing that started the Revolutionary War.  Now it was the Americans’ turn to raise taxes.  They tried taxing whiskey.  Which led to another tax rebellion.  The Whiskey Rebellion.  For Americans still didn’t like paying taxes.  This time, though, it was a tad different.  Because those they were taxing had representation.  And the new ‘nation’ (a confederation of ‘equal’ states) had the legal authority to impose this tax.  And to put down the rebellion.  Which General Washington did.  To the howls of liberty-loving patriots everywhere.  The tax quietly went away.  But it didn’t solve the nation’s problems.  They were broke.  Needed money.  And they had to get a handle on the massive sums they owed for the world of nations to take them seriously.

Hamilton thought both Jefferson and Burr were Scoundrels but at least Jefferson was a Principled Scoundrel

The new ‘nation’ (that confederation of ‘equal’ states) was the problem.  Just as the world of nations didn’t take the Americans seriously these ‘equal’ states didn’t take the new national government seriously.  There was no taxing authority.  So the federal government could only ask for contributions from the states.  Which often came in late.  And when they did they were often less than they requested.  Some states even refused to pay anything.  Worse, the states were making their own treaties with other nations as well as the Indian Tribes.  Or reneging on the treaties the federal government made with other nations and the Indian Tribes.  The confederation wasn’t working.  They needed something new.  And once George Washington was onboard they called a meeting in Philadelphia (1787) to rework the Articles of Confederation.

Of course they didn’t rework the Articles of Confederation.  They replaced them with a new U.S. Constitution.  And a new nation.  The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution began with “We the people.”  The sovereignty of the new nation wasn’t with the states.  It wasn’t with the new federal government.  It was with the people.  It was a nation of the people, by the people and for the people.  To borrow some words from Abraham Lincoln.  Which meant that although the thing they created had more power than the confederation of states it replaced, its power was limited.  Very limited.  The Framers designed it to do only those things the states could not do well individually.  National defense.  Coin uniform money.  Establish post offices and post roads.  Make national treaties with other nations and Indian Tribes.  Declare war.  Create a standard of weights and measures.  But little more.  In fact, the Constitution listed more things the new government couldn’t do than listed what it could do.  To quell everyone’s fear that they just replaced one far away central power (the British Crown) with another far away central power (the central government of the United States).  Especially when it came to taxes.  Raising taxes required approval by two houses of Congress and by the President.  Making it difficult to raise taxes.  The way Americans liked it.  For Americans didn’t like paying taxes.  And still don’t.

Getting the new Constitution ratified wasn’t a walk in the park.  The size and power of the new central government appalled those Patriots who worked so hard during the Revolution.  James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, joined forces with Alexander Hamilton and wrote a series of articles arguing for ratification.  The Federalist Papers.  And were successful.  Then when Alexander Hamilton was putting the Constitution into action as Secretary of the Treasury in the Washington administration, Madison didn’t like what he saw.  For Hamilton wanted to use the power of government to make the United States an economic superpower like Britain.  His opponents, though, saw a man who wanted to be king.  So Madison joined the opposition.  Led by Thomas Jefferson.  And the politics got ugly.  Before it was done the Jefferson camp would write about an affair Hamilton had.  And the same muckraker who exposed this affair would later write about a Jefferson affair with a slave.  Sally Hemming.  The people in the different camps hated each other.  Especially Hamilton and Jefferson.  They hated each other with a passion.  But they were principled men.  For when the election of 1800 came down to either Thomas Jefferson or Aaron Burr, Hamilton backed his archenemy.  Thomas Jefferson.  Both Jefferson and Burr were scoundrels as far as Hamilton was concerned.  But at least Jefferson was a principled scoundrel.  Burr took great offense to some things Hamilton said about him around this time.  And challenged him to a duel.  In which Hamilton suffered a mortal wound.  Pity.  For Hamilton was a true Patriot.  And perhaps the greatest treasury secretary the United States ever had.

It’s not the Spirit of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison that lives on in Politics but Aaron Burr

Funny how things change.  The new nation almost didn’t survive because of the opposition towards a strong central government.  And towards federal taxes.  Now federal spending includes just about everything under the sun.  Most of which the Framers excluded from the Constitution.  And the taxes!  They have reached a level none of the Founding Fathers thought would ever be possible.  Even Hamilton.  He was ‘big government’ for his day but he would be disgusted to see what became of his beloved Treasury Department.  And the money they pull out of the private sector economy.  Not to make America an economic superpower.  But to buy votes.  And for personnel gain.  The true underbelly of democracy.  Where people come to public service not to serve.  But to enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayer.  Like that scoundrel that killed him.  Aaron Burr.

Even worse they use fiscal policy to further their spending ways.  The federal debt grows.  And now whenever a recession rolls around they use Keynesian fiscal policy to ‘lessen’ the affects of the recession.  Which is just a clever way to keep on spending after they’ve run out of money.  Because this spending is now stimulus.  And if the government stops spending it will make the recession worse.  Clever.  And it’s just coincidental that friends of the administration benefit most by this Keynesian stimulus spending.

It would appear it’s not the spirit of Alexander Hamilton that lives on in Washington.  Or Thomas Jefferson.  Or James Madison.  It’s the spirit of Aaron Burr.  Scoundrel extraordinaire.  And role model for the political elite.

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Fiscal Policy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 6th, 2012

Economics 101

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (1787) was about Money and Unity at the National Level 

Once upon a time in America federal taxes were small.  As was federal spending.  The Constitution called for little.  The only big ticket items being an army and a navy.  To protect the new nation.  But Americans didn’t like paying taxes then any more than they do now.  There wasn’t even a federal income tax until the 16th Amendment (1913).  So even maintaining an army and a navy was difficult.  Which led to a lot of problems.  For a nation that couldn’t protect herself got pushed around in the rough and tumble world.  And the U.S. took its share of swirlies and wedgies in her infancy.  Figuratively, of course.

Just as kings needed money to maintain their kingdoms, the Americans needed money to maintain their new nation.  Which was the point of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (1787).  It was about the money.  And unity.  Which the new nation (that just gained its independence from Britain) had little of.  So we got a new constitution.  And a new nation.  And the federal taxing and spending began.  Which was small at first.  Too small for Alexander Hamilton.  But far too much for Thomas Jefferson.  In fact, Jefferson thought any federal spending above zero was too much.  And when he was president he slashed government spending.  To the point that it hurt the safety of the United States.  But he also bought the Louisiana Territory.  And used the Navy and the Marine Corps to protect American interests abroad.  These two items alone required enormous amounts of federal spending.  And borrowing.  Another thing Jefferson was dead set against.  And we’re talking sums of money that not even Alexander Hamilton had proposed.  Yet here was Jefferson, the limited-government president, spending and borrowing unlimited funds. Being more Hamilton than Hamilton himself.

Of course, things change.  Even for Jefferson.  The Louisiana Purchase was a deal that no president should have passed up.  Thankfully, Jefferson took that opportunity to more than double the size of the United States.  Without a war.  Unlike Napoleon who was conquering Europe.   But he was burning through money.  And he needed money more than he needed the Louisiana Territory.  Hence the Louisiana Purchase.  Which turned out to be quite the bargain in the long run for the U.S.  And the antimilitary Jefferson flexed America’s might by teaching the Barbary pirates a lesson.  By deploying the U.S. Navy and Marines to the Shores of Tripoli.  The first U.S. victory on foreign soil.  Giving the U.S. respect.  And a cessation of those swirlies and wedgies.

Keynesian Stimulus Spending may lessen the Severity of Economic Recessions

These things cost money.  And the lion’s share of the federal budget was defense spending.  Per the Constitution.  For that was one of the main things the several states could not do well.  Maintain an army and a navy.  Because they needed unity.  One army.  And one navy.  To protect one nation.  So the states and their people could pursue happiness without foreign aggressors molesting them.  So this is how federal spending began.  But you wouldn’t know it by looking at fiscal policy today.

Fiscal policy is the collection of policies that government uses to tax and spend.  But it’s more than just defense spending these days.  Federal spending had grown to include things from business subsidies to Social Security to Medicare to food stamps to welfare to income redistribution to farm subsidies.  And everything else you can possibly imagine under the sun.  None of which was included in the Constitution.  Because neither Jefferson nor Hamilton would have agreed to these expenditures.  But it doesn’t end with this spending.

Fiscal policy also ‘manages’ the economy.  Or tries to.  By trying to maintain ‘full employment’.  Which means they adjust tax and spend policies so that anyone who wants a full time job can have one.  Based on Keynesian economics.  And the business cycle.  The business cycle is the cyclic economic transitions between economic expansions and contractions.  The inflationary and recessionary boom-bust cycles.  No one likes recessions.  Because people lose their jobs.  And have to get by on less money.  So Keynesian economists say to lessen the severity of recessions the government can take action to stimulate economic activity.  They can cut taxes.  Because when people pay less in taxes they have more disposable income to spend on economic activity.  Which they say will keep people from losing their jobs.  And create new jobs.  Or the government can spend money.  Picking up the slack from consumers who aren’t spending money.  Thus saving and/or creating jobs.  Which stimulus depends on the political party in office.  In general, Republicans favor tax cuts.  And Democrats favor spending.

All Keynesian Stimulus Spending is Deficit Spending

But it’s not as simple as that.  Because during recessions tax revenues fall.  When people earn less they pay less in taxes.  Far less.  Especially if an interruption in their income puts them into a lower tax bracket.  And if you run through all of your unemployment benefits, it will.  So there’s more to economic stimulus than meets the eye.  For to stimulate a government must borrow money.  Or print money.  Because all stimulus spending is deficit spending.

Keynesians say this deficit spending is not a problem.  Because once the stimulus turns the economy around there will be plenty of new tax revenues to pay back the money they borrowed.  But that rarely happens with a tax and spend government.  Because they like to spend.  As is evident by the ever increasing federal debt.  And when they get more tax revenue they spend that tax revenue.  On anything and everything you can possibly imagine under the sun.  Often times cutting defense spending to help pay for all that other spending.  Despite defense spending being one of the few things enumerated in the Constitution.

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Japan Raising their Consumption Tax may not have Caused their 1997-98 Economic Slump but it sure didn’t Help

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 20th, 2011

Week in Review

Poor Japan.  Always used as the example of what not to do (see Two things to remember about Japan posted 11/14/2011 on The Economist).

Between 1994 and 2008 American GDP grew 3% a year while Japan’s grew 1.1%… Japan’s working-age population at that time began a long decline, shrinking 0.4% per year over the period while America’s grew 1.2% according to the OECD. That 1.6 point differential can explain most of the difference in growth.

This means that the Japanese population was aging more than the American population.  More people growing older and retiring.  Pulling out of the workforce.  And maintained by the taxes paid by the decreasing number of those still working.  Similar to the projections in the U.S. about Social Security going bankrupt for the same reasons.  Only Japan appears to be further down that road than America.  Which means things will only get worse in America.  If we keep doing what the Japanese are doing.

In April, 1997, the government raised Japan’s consumption tax. That is now routinely cited as a cautionary tale against premature fiscal tightening since it was followed by a steep recession.  But a closer examination suggests the tax increase alone cannot explain the length and depth of the 1997-98 slump… In July, Thailand devalued, touching off the Asian crisis, a major negative for Japanese exports. Then, in November, a series of banks and investment banks collapsed: Sanyo Securities, Hokkaido Takushoku Bank, Yamaichi Securities and Tokuyo City Bank.

This is what happens when you play by Keynesian economics.  First of all you’re in a tax and spend mentality.  And this tax and spend mentality is what destroys economies.

Raising taxes is the worst way to reduce your deficits.  Because your tax policy didn’t cause your deficit.  Your spending did.  If you want real fiscal tightening decrease your SPENDING.  Do that and you’ll see real deficit reduction.

As far as currency manipulation?  Well, if you want to play by Keynesian economics this is what’s going to happen.  For the Keynesian way to work requires the honor system.  To have responsible fiscal policy.  And not to cheat with monetary policy when you don’t.

If you want to prevent currency manipulation then make it harder to manipulate your currency.  Bring back the gold standard.  If you don’t want to do that than just quit bitching about currency manipulators.  Because this isn’t a perfect world.  And cheaters are going to cheat because the game rules make it easy to cheat.

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Keynesian Tax and Spend Monetary Policy will Never Overcome Ruinous Fiscal and Regulatory Policy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 23rd, 2011

No Theory is Sacrosanct in the Scientific Method, Even if it’s Albert Einstein’s Theory

Albert Einstein‘s Theory of Relativity has held in the scientific community for some 106 years.  It hasn’t been accepted as a matter of faith, though.  It has been tested thousands of times in attempts to debunk it.  Right up to today.  Where it now appears we may be close to debunking it (see “Faster than light” particles may be physics revolution by Robert Evans posted 9/23/2011 on Reuters).

“It is premature to comment on this,” Professor Stephen Hawking, the world’s most well-known physicist, told Reuters. “Further experiments and clarifications are needed…”

“When an experiment finds an apparently unbelievable result and can find no artifact of the measurement to account for it, it is normal to invite broader scrutiny….it is good scientific practice,” he said…

Einstein’s theory has been tested thousands of times over the past 106 years and only recently have there been just slight hints that the behavior of some elementary particles of matter might not fit into it…

Ereditato, a physicist who also works at the Einstein Institute in the University of Berne, said the potential impact on science “is too large to draw any immediate conclusions or attempt physics interpretations…”

“Only when the dust finally settles should we dare draw any firm conclusions,” said Professor Forshaw. “It is in the nature of science that for every new and important discovery there will be hundreds of false alarms.”

This is the scientific method.  No theory is sacrosanct.  Even one by the great Albert Einstein.  Even if it’s been around for 106 years.

Quite the contrast to the theory of global warming.  Accepted by government scientists as indisputable fact.  Even though it has never been given serious scientific scrutiny like that given to one of the world’s greatest scientist.  Albert Einstein.

Considering the Economics, Only a Fool would Bet Against the Chinese in the area of Solar Panels

But Al Gore is smarter than Albert Einstein.  For he says that global warming is a scientific fact.  Even though we still call Einstein’s Theory of Relativity a theory after 106 years.  But not the theory of global warming.  No.  That theory is not a theory.  It’s fact.  So certain a fact that world governments have been killing economic activity everywhere to stop the ravishes of global warming.  Even investing in companies that promise to give us renewable green energy of the future.  Like that one that just ripped off the American taxpayer to the tune of half a billion dollars (see Solyndra haunts other government-backed solar firms by Steve Hargreaves posted 9/23/2011 on CNN Money).

At least three other government-backed solar firms face the same challenging market conditions that brought down Solyndra, the now bankrupt solar panel maker that could cost taxpayers over $500 million…

The company’s downfall is generally thought to have been caused by the declining price of silicon.

Solyndra didn’t use silicon. But many of its competitors did — traditional solar firms like Sunpower (SPWRA), Trina Solar (TSL), Yingli (YGE) and Jinkosolar (JKS). Solyndra was banking that high silicon prices would give it a competitive advantage…

Are they also doomed? Experts say that if they can further develop their technology they may have a fighting chance but market conditions in the near-term are working against them…

An Energy Department spokesman said the agency was not worried about these companies failing, saying it conducts rigorous reviews of all the ventures it funds.

Of course.  There’s nothing to worry about these other companies failing.  Because the Energy Department conducts a rigorous review of all the ventures they fund.  Except Solyndra apparently.  Or they did review them rigorously.  And the Energy Department just sucks at its job.

China’s investment in silicon as well as its huge investments in solar panel makers, combined with weaker demand worldwide as subsidies expire in Europe, caused the price of traditional solar panels to plummet.

In the last year alone they fell some 40%.

All across the globe, solar panel makers, especially ones that were developing more advanced technology, are finding it hard to compete with the Chinese as the price of solar panels drops.

I guess the Energy Department just sucks at its job.  I mean, imagine you’re an investor for a moment.  And you want to invest in a store that sells home improvement stuff.  Do you invest in the Home Depot?  Or the mom and pop hardware store?  The Home Depot is much bigger.  Has a greater variety of stuff.  And sells that stuff for 40% less than Mom and Pop.  Which store would you invest in?  Of course, you would invest in the Home Depot.  But the Energy Department, the geniuses that they are, would invest in Mom and Pop.  And then act shocked when they go belly up in the face of that fierce competition.

Considering the economics, only a fool would bet against the Chinese in the area of solar panels.  Then again, no one in Washington seems to understand economics in the least.

Cheaper panels mean more people will switch to the clean technology. Work has been booming for solar installers, project developers, and financiers. Just this week the industry said solar power capacity in the United States jumped 69% in the second quarter compared to the same time last year.

The Energy Department, as part of its plan to fund R&D and commercialization of renewable and clean energy technology, has backed or is considering backing loans to 42 firms across the sector totaling $39 billion in funding.

The manufacturers are taking it on the chin.  But the installers are installing these cheap Chinese solar panels like there’s no tomorrow.  You’d think the Energy Department would be happy that these silly things are being installed and get out of the investment business.  But no.  They’re going to piss away another $39 billion to fund firms that won’t be able to compete against the Chinese either.

By a show of hands who wants the Republican president to abolish the Energy Department in 2013?

One Gets the Feeling that Government Likes Wasteful Spending as it Adds to the Deficit

We really need to cut the government off.  They just aren’t responsible with our money.  If it ain’t throwing money away on solar panels, they’re throwing it away on dead people (see Gov’t paid $600 million in benefits to dead people by Sam Hananel posted 9/23/2011 on the Associated Press).

The federal government has doled out more than $600 million in benefit payments to dead people over the past five years, a watchdog report says.

Such payments are meant for retired or disabled federal workers…

In one case, the son of a beneficiary continued receiving payments for 37 years after his father’s death in 1971. The payments – totaling more than $515,000 – were only discovered when the son died in 2008.

If you owe a dollar in taxes you can bet the IRS will find you wherever you are.  But when it comes to spending our money it’s a different story.  As they are probably afraid of any close scrutiny that might show other mishandled funds.

Last year, government investigators found that more than 89,000 stimulus payments of $250 each from the massive economic recovery package went to people who were either dead or in prison.

There’s another $22 million pissed away by Uncle Sam.  $22 million here.  $600 million there.  And $16 muffins.  Where does it stop?  They are so ruthless when it comes to taxing us.  But once they get our money they apparently don’t give a damn about what happens to it then.

One gets the feeling that they like this waste.  As it adds to the deficit.  And the greater the deficit is the greater the need for new revenue.  Higher tax rates.  And getting the rich to pay their fair share.  I say let’s raise the tax rates on those doing such a poor job handling our money.  If they have such a cavalier attitude about taxpayers’ money, let them belly up to the bar and pay for their waste with their own damn money.

If You Want Real Stimulus Repeal Dodd-Frank.  That Alone will Create 30,000 Jobs at One Bank.

So the government is horrible at picking investment winners.  And is about as responsible as a teenager with money.  But Obama is looking to spend another $450 billion in stimulus.  To create jobs.  Unlike that $800 billion stimulus that failed to create jobs.  So they don’t know how to create jobs either.  Worse, they only thing they seem to be good at is destroying jobs (see The Dodd-Frank Layoffs posted 9/13/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

Bank of America appears to have provided part of the answer by announcing yesterday that the nation’s largest bank will cut 30,000 jobs between now and 2014…

The Fed dutifully ordered banks to cut their fees almost in half. Bank of America disclosed in its most recent quarterly report that this change will reduce the bank’s debit-card revenues by $475 million in just the fourth quarter of this year. The new rules take effect on October 1, so BofA seems to have sensible timing as it begins to shed workers from a consumer business that has become suddenly less profitable by federal edict…

But given the real-world results for bank employees, politicians should not be allowed to pretend that there are no consequences when they deliberately reduce the profitability of employers. Mr. Obama proposed last week to spend some $450 billion more in outlays or tax credits to create more jobs, but it would have cost a lot less to save these 30,000.

If they want real stimulus they should repeal Dodd-Frank.  That alone will create 30,000 jobs.  At one bank.  If this happens at other banks you’re looking at hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Now that’s stimulus.

If they really want to create jobs they ought to go big.  Abolish the EPA.  And the Energy Department.  For a start.  With that kind of uncertainty removed just think of the explosion in economic activity.  Creating jobs galore.  Hundreds of thousands.  Perhaps millions.  The oil and coal industries alone would probable wrest this country from recession.

The Economy is not Just Monetary Policy.  It’s Fiscal and Regulatory Policy, too.

So it’s clear the government doesn’t know the first thing about stimulating economic activity.  They just can’t figure that out.  But what they can do is destroy jobs.  They’re real good at that.  And the reason for all of this is that they’re Keynesians.  They worship at the altar of Keynesian Economics.  Despite its horrendous track record.  Almost three years and counting for the current administration.  But they refuse to lose faith.  Instead, when they fail, they just choose to fail again.  By pursuing more of the same failed policies (see Markets tumble after Fed says it will buy longer-term bonds to try to boost economy by Neil Irwin posted 9/23/2011 on The Washington Post).

The announcement that the Fed would buy $400 billion in long-term Treasury bonds immediately achieved its intended effect, pushing rates on these securities and other investments to their lowest level in decades.

But the stock market rendered a sharply negative verdict. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index tumbled almost 3 percent on the Fed’s discouraging statement that its leaders see “significant downside risks” for the economy. Asian markets closed down between 2 and 4.85 percent, and key European indexes were trading more than 4 percent lower at midday.

No one wants to borrow money.  Businesses.  Or consumers.  Because there is just too much economic uncertainty with the Obama administration.  Everybody is hunkering down.  Deleveraging.  And hoarding cash.  Until better economic times.  Times with less uncertainty.  Probably starting sometime after 2012.  When there’ll be a new Republican president.  And hopefully a Republican House and Senate.  To undo those things causing all of this uncertainty.  Dodd-Frank.  Obamacare.  Etc.

The Fed action, which capped a two-day meeting, is focused squarely on lowering mortgage rates in an effort to strengthen the ailing housing market and lighten the load of the tremendous debt weighing on consumers. The move could also make it cheaper for businesses to borrow money for investments and push more dollars into the stock market.

The housing bubble create a surplus of houses that’ll be around for a long, long time.  The country is dotted with empty homes that banks have foreclosed on.  And the banks own a whole bunch more that will be hitting the market soon.  It’s a buyer’s market out there.  But it sure sucks to be a seller.  Especially if your mortgage is under water.  Homes have lost so much value after that bubble burst that anyone selling now will lose tens of thousands of dollars.  So they’re not selling.  Or buying.  No matter how cheap mortgage rates are.

The bond-buying program that ended in the summer, though massive in scale, failed to keep economic growth from sputtering. The disappointing result showed the limits of what the Fed can accomplish at a time when consumers are struggling with enormous debts and the U.S. banking system remains traumatized. The new initiative could face the same constraints.

Quantitative easing 2 failed.  And there’s no reason to think that quantitative easing 3 won’t fail as well.  So why do it?  Because they’re Keynesians.  And their scripture says that’s what you do.  Weak demand?  Why you fix that with cheap money.  But they don’t understand that the economy is not just monetary policy.  It’s fiscal policy, too.  And their fiscal policy is killing the economy.  And what their fiscal policy doesn’t kill their regulatory policy will.

The Only Way to Fix this Economy is to Get Rid of Keynesian Policies

Tax and spend Keynesian policies are strangling the economy.  Stimulus spending doesn’t work.  If it did the economy would be reaching record heights due to that record spending.  But it’s not.  The tax and spend Keynesians explanation for this record of dismal failure?  They didn’t spend enough.

The economic malaise has a lot more to do with uncertainty than weak demand.  It’s that out of control spending.  You eventually have to pay for it.  And every business owner knows that ultimately you pay for spending with taxes.  And they see the Obama administration is hell-bent on raising taxes on anyone earning more than $200,000 a year.  Which will be a tax hike on most small business as their earnings pass through to their personal tax return.

And while they’re waiting for punitive taxes to come down the pike they’re being hammered by regulatory compliance costs.  The big one scaring the bejesus out of them is Obamacare.  And Dodd-Frank is not just for Wall Street bankers.  Not to mention the EPA’s enormous impact on business operations.  They’re being bitch-slapped left and right by these regulations.  And they are terrified by what’s next from this administration.

You see, Big Government Keynesian politicians don’t understand economics.  Or business.  They see business as cash piñatas.  That they can whack at their pleasure.  They have no idea how they make money.  But they assume that they will go on making money no matter what they do in Washington.  And being the Keynesians they are, they believe that businesses make money for government first.  And then, after government takes what they want, what they deem fair, then and only then can they use whatever they earn for their own selfish wants and pleasures.  The selfish rich bastards they are.  Those contemptible business owners.

This is how Big Government Keynesians think.  And this is why they fail miserably at creating jobs.  And economic activity.  The only way to fix this economy, then, is to get rid of Keynesian policies.  And the only way to do that is to get rid of the Keynesians.  At the voting booth.  By voting conservative.  And in our two-party system, that means voting Republican.

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Debt Ceiling Debate is Masking the Horrific Economic News

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 29th, 2011

The Meaning of Bipartisan Depends on your Point of View; on the Right it means Compromise whereas on the Left it means Unconditional Surrender.

In the budget debate to raise the debt ceiling, both sides have dug in.  The Left says the Right is being intransigent.  Saying they are unwilling to compromise.  Even though they have done far less in the compromise department themselves.  They want to raise taxes.  They want to borrow more.  And they will not compromise on these positions.  They refuse to pass any Republican bill in the Senate (and President Obama says he will veto any bill that makes it through the Senate) unless it completely gives way to the Democrat position. 

All the while this theatre is playing out credit rating agencies are lining up to downgrade U.S. sovereign debt due to excessive deficits, debt and out of control government spending.  Unless they see at least $4 trillion in real spending cuts (not promised cuts that never happen or baseline ‘spending cuts’ that still increase spending), the downgrades are a fait accompli.  At least according to an S&P report.

If they’re that Bad at Analyzing Data do we really want them Tweaking the Economy?

As cheerful as all that is at least we can look forward to some upbeat economic news.  Just like Obama, Biden, Bernanke, Geithner, et al have been promising with all their economic tweaks to win the future.  And the result of all that vey extensive and very expensive tweaking?  Hmm.  What would be a good choice of words?  How about abject failure (see Economy in U.S. Grows Less Than Forecast After Almost Stalling by Shobhana Chandra posted 7/29/2011 on Bloomberg)? 

Revisions to GDP figures going back to 2003 showed that the 2007-2009 recession took a bigger bite out of the economy than previously estimated and the recovery lost momentum throughout 2010. The world’s largest economy shrank 5.1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the second quarter of 2009, compared with the previously reported 4.1 percent drop. The second-worst contraction in the post-World War II era was a 3.7 percent decline in 1957-58.

The Fed’s preferred price gauge, which is tied to consumer spending and strips out food and energy costs, climbed at a 2.1 percent pace, the most since the last three months of 2009, compared with 1.6 percent in the first quarter, as higher oil and food costs pushed up the prices of other goods and services. The central bank’s longer-term projection is a range of 1.7 percent to 2 percent.

“This is the worst of all worlds for investors, certainly the worst of all worlds for the Fed,” John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “A little too much inflation, not enough growth, that is a tough scenario in the U.S.”

Of course, they’ll say it was even worse than they thought.  Again.  Blame George W. Bush.  Again.  Which doesn’t fill one with a lot of confidence.  For if they’re that bad at analyzing data, do we really want them tweaking the economy?

Still, they keep telling us how bad things would have been if they didn’t act?  Why, there’d be dingoes running in the streets eating our babies.  To be honest, we’re tired of hearing about how many jobs they created and saved.  We’d probably be further ahead today if we’d taken the chance with the dingoes and they left the economy alone.

The Obama Social Engineering is giving us Carter Stagflation

Inflation.  And low GDP growth.  That is a horrible combination.  But it’s what you get when you try to use monetary policy to fix fiscal problems (see Forget About The Debt Ceiling Debate, Where’s The Economic Growth? by Kevin Mahin posted 7/29/2011 on Forbes). 

I recognize that the debt ceiling debate may make for interesting political theatre for some.  I also recognize that the spending and revenue issues underlying the debate need to be addressed sooner than later.  However,  the heightened threat of stagflation*, now present in the system, is of paramount concern to me.

*Stagflation is a financial term often used to describe an environment where inflation (i.e. prices) is high and economic growth is low.  Periods of stagflation have historically been accompanied by high unemployment as well.

We are fast approaching the malaise of the Carter stagflation.  We need fiscal policy that is conducive to creating jobs.  Instead, this administration is more concerned about social engineering at the expense of job creation.

Killing the American Automotive Industry and Killing Americans

For all the talk about the auto bailouts to save American jobs, the latest policy appears to want to kill American jobs.  When the auto industry is suffering anemic growth, the Obama administration just made it harder to be in the auto industry by raising fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 (see Obama to unveil auto fuel rule deal by David Shepardson posted 7/29/2011 on The Detroit News). 

The deal would extend a May 2009 agreement that boosted fuel efficiency standards to 34.1 mpg by 2016, costing the auto industry $51.5 billion over five years.

In the current budget debates, Obama keeps saying that because of the slow economic recovery we shouldn’t go on a cost cutting spree.  That would only pull consumer spending out of the economy.  Of course he has no such empathy for the struggling auto industry.  He’s more than willing to raise their cost of doing business.  Killing jobs in the process.

Incidentally, there are only two ways to squeeze this kind of mileage out of a car.  Making it so light that it (and its passengers) would probably not survive most accidents.  Or being unable to build a car to meet this standard.

Gas Prices must Rise to between $4.50-$5.50 for the Electric Car to Succeed

But what on earth would be the reason to enact standards that automakers can’t meet?  Well, how about this (see Gas must hit $4.50 to make electric cars cost-effective by Joel Gehrke posted 7/29/2011 on the Washington Examiner)? 

Gas prices must rise to between $4.50-$5.50, the study authors suggest, for electric vehicles to become less expensive to own than gas-powered vehicles…

Of course, this omits the other method of making electric cars competitive — enact fuel efficiency standards that make gas-powered vehicles illegal to make or impossibly expensive. Given President Obama’s announcement today that fuel economy standards are set to rise to 54.5 mpg between 2017 and 2025, it seems that the electric vehicle industry is getting the government props necessary to make consumers buy the cars.

This is not how you increase domestic auto output.  Or create jobs.  This is how you change human behavior.  By forcing people to act against their will.  And in the process making us all poorer by increasing the cost of food.  How?  Gasoline and diesel are a big component of food costs.  For it takes fuel to grow food.  And to bring it to market.

The One Thing the Obama Administration is Good At

It makes you think.  Is all of this debt ceiling debate pure theatre to distract us from the destruction of the economy?  Because this destruction is pretty good as far as destruction goes.  You probably couldn’t have done a better job if you tried.  Which begs the question was this all planned?  A social reengineering of the United States brought about by the destruction of the U.S. economy? 

If so, at least you can say there was one thing the Obama administration was good at.

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Can’t see the Fiscal Forest for the Monetary Trees

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 24th, 2011

He won’t Drill but he will Draw from the Strategic Reserve

The Great Recession lingers on.  As high oil prices hit consumers hard.  Gas prices are back to $4/gallon territory.  Leaving consumers with less disposable income.  Home values are declining in a deflationary spiral.  Wages are stagnant.  Unemployment is high.  And there’s inflation in food and consumer goods.  All driven by the high price of oil.  And all that quantitative easing (QE) that has depreciated the U.S. dollar (which we buy and sell oil with in the global market).

The demand for oil is soaring.  And yet President Obama put a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  In fact, the U.S. isn’t drilling anywhere.  Which has forced the U.S. to import more foreign oil.  Because of this squeeze on supply.  Economics 101 tells you when demand increases supply should increase to meet that growing demand.  When it doesn’t, prices rise.  Like they are.  And the QE just compounded that problem.  When the dollar is worth less it takes more of them to buy the same amount of oil it used to.  Which means higher prices at the pump.  From demand outpacing supply.  And a weaker dollar.

The president’s solution to the high gas prices?  Blame the oil companies.  Because their profits were too high.  It had nothing to do with his policies that restricted the supply of oil on the market.  Of course, with an election coming up and gasoline prices too close to $4/gallon, he’s changed his position on that (see Loss of Libya oil bigger disruption than Katrina: IEA by Simon Falush and Zaida Espana posted 6/24/2011 on Reuters).

On Thursday, the International Energy Agency which represents the major oil consumers agreed to release 60 million barrels from emergency stockpiles, sending crude prices tumbling.

Imagine that.  Increase supply.  And prices fall.  For awhile, at least.  Because once these 60 million barrels are gone, the prices will just go back up where they were.  Unless there is a real increase in supply.  Like more drilling in the Gulf.  The Atlantic.  The Pacific.  In Alaska.  We know it works.  Increase supply.  And prices fall.  So why not just increase supply with more drilling?  Instead of drawing down our strategic reserves (America’s share being 30 million of the 60 million barrels).  Which, incidentally, we’ll have to replace.

Energy Policy Driven by the 2012 Election

Even the White House is all but admitting this move is purely political (see The wrong reason for depleting the strategic oil reserve posted 6/23/2011 on The Washington Post).

So on Thursday Obama administration spokesman Jay Carney argued that oil demand is likely to rise over the summer. In other words: It’s vacation season, and the White House is worried about high prices through the summer driving months.

Therein, perhaps, is a political emergency, at least in the White House view: President Obama’s reelection prospects will be harmed if national discontent over high gasoline prices continues. The oil release could be seen as a way for the president to take credit for gas prices that are falling anyway, or as an indirect, pre-election stimulus.

Personally, the president doesn’t have a problem with the high cost of gasoline.  His administration wants it high.  The higher the better.  They’d like to see it European high (see Times Tough for Energy Overhaul by Neil King Jr. and Stephen Power posted 12/12/2008 on The Wall Street Journal).

In a sign of one major internal difference, Mr. Chu [who became Obama’s Energy Secretary] has called for gradually ramping up gasoline taxes over 15 years to coax consumers into buying more-efficient cars and living in neighborhoods closer to work.

“Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” Mr. Chu, who directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in September.

To make the more expensive green energy less expensive in comparison.  And an easier sell to the American people.  Pleasing his liberal base.  But there’s an election coming.  And high gas prices don’t help you win elections.  Especially during record long-term unemployment.  Even though it goes against every fiber in his body to act to bring down the cost of gasoline, he will.  If it’ll help his reelection chances.  It’s not like he’s going to lose his liberal base.  Who else are they going to vote for?  The conservative?  Not likely.  They’re always going to vote for the most liberal candidate in the race.  And that will still be him.  Despite encouraging more oil consumption.

The Fed doesn’t know why the Economy is in the Toilet

The president needs to get the price down at the pump.  Where people really feel the full weight of his economic policies.  Because the economy isn’t going to get better anytime soon (see Serial disappointment posted 6/23/2011 on The Economist).

THE Fed attracted attention this week for downgrading its forecast not just for this year, but for 2012, as well. More striking is how often it does this. As my nearby chart shows [follow the above link to see chart], the Federal Open Market Committee has repeatedly ratcheted down its forecasts of out-year growth. The latest downward revision is particularly large, and in keeping with the pattern: when the current year disappoints, they take a bit out of the next, as well.

There’s been a steady downward progression of economic projections.  Despite the stimulus.  And the quantitative easing.  Nothing has worked.  When the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, was asked why the economy was not responding to the government’s actions his reply was rather Jeff Spicoli: I don’t know.  And he’s supposed to be an expert in this field.

Mr Bernanke does not need lessons about the painful deleveraging that follows crises. His pioneering work with Mark Gertler on the Great Depression introduced the “financial accelerator”, the mechanism by which collapsing net worth crushes the real economy. This concept has been rechristened the “balance sheet recession” by Richard Koo. Stephen Gordon admits he is new to the term and notes (with some nice charts contrasting America with Canada) “it’s not pretty”. (HT to Mark Thoma). Yet until now Mr Bernanke seemed to think America had learned enough from both the 1930s and Japan to avoid either experience. Reminded by a reporter for Yomiuri Shimbun that he used to castigate Japan for its lost decade, Mr Bernanke ruefully replied, “I’m a little bit more sympathetic to central bankers now than I was 10 years ago”…

Mr Koo has argued that quantitative easing cannot help in a balance sheet recession; only fiscal policy can. Does Mr Bernanke secretly agree? He may believe as strongly as he did a decade ago that sufficiently aggressive monetary policy can prevent deflation, but not that it can create enough demand to restore full employment. This does not rule out QE3; it only means it will be pursued with less hope about the results than a year ago.

The Great Depression (during the 1930s) is a complex topic.  And monetary policy played a big role in making a bad situation worse.  In particular, the numerous bank runs and failures can be blamed on the Federal Reserve.  Starving the banks for capital when they most needed it.  But there was a whole lot more going on.  And it wasn’t the stock market crash that caused it.  World War I (1914-1918) is probably more to blame.  That war was so devastating that it took the combatants a decade to recover from it.  And during that time America exploded in economic activity and fed the world with manufactured goods and food.  We call it the Roaring Twenties.  But eventually European manufacturing and farming came back.  Those lucrative export markets went away.  And America had excess capacity.  Which had to go away.  (A similar boom and bust happened in the U.S. following World War II.)  Then all the other stuff started happening.  Including the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Kicking off a trade war.  It was all too much.

Japan’s lost decade (the 1990s) followed their roaring Eighties.  When the government partnered with business.  And interest rates were low.  The economy boomed.  Into a great big bubble.  That popped.  Because they stimulated the economy beyond market demand. 

The lesson one needs to take away from both of these deflationary spirals is that large government interventions into the private market caused most of their woes.  So the best way to fix these problems is by reducing the government’s intervention into the private market.  Because only the private market knows how to match supply to demand.  And when they do, we have business cycles.  That give us only recessions.  Not depressions.

Like a Dog having Puppies

The market is demanding more oil.  But the U.S. is not meeting that demand.  So gasoline prices are up.  To lower those prices we need to bring more oil onto the market.  And you don’t do that by shutting down the oil business.

We have high unemployment.  And excess capacity.  That’s not a monetary policy problem (interest rates).  It’s a fiscal policy problem (tax and regulation).  No one is going to borrow money to add jobs to build more stuff when no one is buying.  But if you cut taxes and reduce regulations to make running a business highly profitable, people will build businesses here.  Create jobs.  And hire people.  Even if they have to ship everything they make halfway around the world to find someone who is buying. 

Running the economy is not rocket science.  Because it runs itself.  Like a dog having puppies.  Everything will be fine.  If greedy politicians just keep their hands out of it.  But they don’t.  And they love printing money.  Because they love to spend.  But the problem is that they can’t see the fiscal forest for the monetary trees.

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Obama Looking less George W. Bush and more Jimmy Carter/LBJ

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 1st, 2011

Construction Spending down despite all those Shovel-Ready Projects

Some days it just sucks to be Obama (see February construction spending down 1.4% by Steve Goldstein posted 1/1/2011 on MarketWatch).

February construction spending fell 1.4% to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of $760.6 billion, the lowest level in more than 11 years, the Commerce Department said Friday. January spending was revised lower to a decline of 1.8% from a previous estimate of a 0.7% fall. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast a 0.1% rise.

Construction is the last to enter recession.  And it’s the last to emerge from recession.  Because it takes a long time to go from design to completion.  But after all those shovel-ready projects bought and paid for by the stimulus bill back in 2009, construction should not be the worse it has been in 11 years.  That means the economy is still a mess.  And it may very well get messier.

First bad Fiscal and Monetary Policy, then Inflation

Yes, we’re still mired in recession.  But recession may soon be joined with something we haven’t seen since the 1970s.  At least, not during a recession (see Fed Is Likely to Raise Rates By End of the Year: Lacker by CNBC.com and Reuters posted 1/1/2011 on CNBC).

Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker told CNBC Friday that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the central bank raised interest rates before the end of the year…

He said his greater concern is rising inflation and controlling it in the next nine months “will be critical for us.”

Jimmy Carter must be smiling.  Many say he was the worst president.  Mainly because of the stagflation of the 1970s.  High unemployment and high inflation.  Normally, you don’t get the two together unless you really managed to make a mess of the economy.  And now it looks like Obama may go all Jimmy Carter on us.  We still have record unemployment.  And the Fed, while they’re still planning to go ahead with more quantitative easing in June:

At its last meeting, the Fed voted unanimously to continue as planned with its $600 billion bond purchase program, designed to lower interest rates and stimulate growth, which is scheduled to end in June.

is already talking about battling the inflation their previous actions have given us.  Which they did in a futile attempt to counter Obama’s job-killing fiscal policies.  No doubt Carter is grateful he has lived to see this day.  When another president has ruined the economy greater than he did.

TARP bails out Libyan Owned Bank

But it gets better.  For Carter, that is (see Libya-Owned Arab Banking Corp. Drew at Least $5 Billion From Fed in Crisis by Donal Griffin and Bob Ivry posted 1/1/2011 on Bloomberg).

Arab Banking Corp., the lender part- owned by the Central Bank of Libya, used a New York branch to get 73 loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve in the 18 months after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed.

The bank, then 29 percent-owned by the Libyan state, had aggregate borrowings in that period of $35 billion — while the largest single loan amount outstanding was $1.2 billion in July 2009, according to Fed data released yesterday. In October 2008, when lending to financial institutions by the central bank’s so- called discount window peaked at $111 billion, Arab Banking took repeated loans totaling more than $2 billion…

Arab Banking reported a loss of $880 million in 2008 as it took a $1.1 billion charge tied to structured investment vehicles and derivative products known as collateralized debt obligations. Arab Banking recovered during the next two years, posting profits totaling $265 million.

So, Arab Banking Corp., part-owned by the Central Bank of Libya, the country we’re currently bombing now to ‘encourage’ regime change, was ‘bailed out’ in our TARP program.  That hurts in so many ways.  Our tax dollars that our Congress authorized to purchase trouble assets (i.e., all those Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac subprime mortgages) not only bailed out Obama’s friends on Wall Street, they bailed out foreign banks.  Even helped a Libyan dictator.  Who we’re now trying to ‘accidentally’ kill.  I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.  Meanwhile, Carter looks like a better president with each day that passes by.  Who’d’ve thunk it?

Liberal Base says Obama is Worse than George W. Bush

And speaking of that Libyan…thing…that’s not a war but has all the bombing and killing of a war…how’s that going?  Not so good with the president’s base (see Liberals outraged by Libya intervention posted 1/1/2011 on UPI).

Liberal Democrats, key to Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president, are some of the loudest critics on his strategy on Libya, a review of reaction indicates…

“In two years we have moved from President [George W.] Bush’s doctrine of preventive war to President Obama’s assertion of the right to go to war without even the pretext of a threat to our nation,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, an anti-war liberal, said Thursday during a House floor speech. “This is a clear and arrogant violation of our Constitution. Even a war launched for humanitarian reasons is still a war — and only Congress can declare war.”

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said Congress and the White House have argued for years over the division of power in wartime, but “the Constitution grants sole authority to the Congress to commit the nation to battle in the first instance.”

That sounds like they’re saying that Obama is worse than George W. Bush.  Wow.  At least Bush had the pretext of weapons of mass destruction.  What’s Obama got?  Well, had he not acted, there may have been another civil war in the world.  As bad as that is, it isn’t an imminent risk to American security.  Which means the president did not have the Constitutional authority to do what he did.  Unlike George W. Bush in Iraq.

The Military doesn’t want Obama’s Libyan War

So he’s losing his liberal base.  But he’s still got the military establishment, doesn’t he?  As the Left well knows, they don’t care about right or wrong.  They just like to kill people and blow things up.  Right?  Not exactly.  You see, actually knowing a thing or two about war, they are not all that eager to go to war (see U.S. Military Not Happy Over Libya by Leslie H. Gelb posted 1/31/2011 on The Daily Beast).

Pentagon civilian leaders and the military brass see nothing but trouble looming as the Obama administration takes one step after another into the Libyan morass. The next step appears to be arming the Libyan rebels, a move that would inevitably entail pressures to send U.S. trainers and even more potent arms—and a move that Defense Secretary Robert Gates flat-out rejected in testimony before Congress on Thursday. “What the opposition needs as much as anything right now is some training, some command and control, and some organization,” Gates said. As for providing weapons, that is “not a unique capability for the United States, and as far as I’m concerned, somebody else can do that.”

Libyan morass?  Wow.  That’s some heavy criticism.  That’s the kind of language they used back in the day of the Vietnam War.  Which was an unwinnable morass.  Interesting, too, that liberal presidents with aggressive domestic agendas created both of these morasses.  But can Obama win his war?  Even though LBJ couldn’t win his?  Or will Obama follow LBJ’s example and not seek nor accept his party’s nomination for a second term as president?  Guess time will tell.

U.S. aircraft took the lead in junking a good chunk of the Libyan Air Force and launched devastating attacks against Libyan tanks, artillery, and other ground forces. Despite the severity of these attacks, Libyan forces survived, regained the offensive, and are now moving back toward rebel strongholds in eastern Libya. And the expectation of U.S. intelligence is that without having to face U.S. air power, Gaddafi’s troops will build further momentum. So, U.S. military officials haven’t stopped worrying about being dragged yet again into the air war.

You know, this is a lot like the Vietnam War.  Every time we pulled back the enemy advanced.  Then we’d pound them back with our superior airpower.  Until Congress stopped paying for that superior airpower.  And then you know what happened?  No?  Not familiar with our actions to protect South Vietnam?  Okay.  Look on a current map for South Vietnam to find out how that turned out.  But don’ spend too much time looking for it. Because it’s not there anymore.

The rebels won’t be able to use most arms, even relatively simply ones like anti-tank rockets and rifles, without extensive training…

Remember, underneath everything happening now are the two driving goals that President Obama set: to protect populations and to oust Colonel Gaddafi. In all likelihood, U.S. coalition partners cannot achieve these goals without U.S. jets resuming combat missions. Even with more U.S. air power, it probably won’t be possible to stop Gaddafi without using some coalition ground forces. So, pressures to do more and more will continue to lurk. All the Pentagon can do, then, is to raise tough questions (Who are those rebels we’re determined to help, could they be Muslim extremists?) to diffuse pressures on the U.S. military to do more.

If you ever wondered how Vietnam happened, here’s a good teachable moment.  JFK sent in military advisors to train the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).  These were the ‘good guys’ in South Vietnam.  But when the very well trained and well supported North Vietnamese Army (NVA) threw them back we needed more than advisors.  We started supporting the ARVN.  Then the ARVN started supporting us as we took over more and more of the war.  Next thing we knew hundreds of thousands of U.S. ground troops were fighting it out in the jungles of Vietnam.  And the rest is history.

Barack Obama makes Jimmy Carter look Good

The last month or so hasn’t been too good for our president.  The economy is still mired in recession.  Inflation is about to join those high unemployment numbers to give us some good old-fashioned Jimmy Carter misery.  Our taxpayer TARP money found its way to Libya.  Instead of buying our troubled assets.  The Liberal base is abandoning him.  The Libyan war is less Constitutional than Bush’s Iraq War.  And appears about as winnable as the Vietnam War.

Yup.  Sucks to be him.  When he’s not on vacation, that is.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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Financial Crises: The Fed Giveth and the Fed Taketh Away

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 3rd, 2010

Great Depression vs. Great Recession

Ben Bernanke is a genius.  I guess.  That’s what they keep saying at least. 

The chairman of the Federal Reserve is a student of the Great Depression, that great lesson of how NOT to implement monetary policy.  And because of his knowledge of this past great Federal Reserve boondoggle, who better to fix the present great Federal Reserve boondoggle?  What we affectionately call the Great Recession.

There are similarities between the two.  Government caused both.  But there are differences.  Bad fiscal policy brought on a recession in the 1920s.  Then bad monetary policy exasperated the problem into the Great Depression. 

Bad monetary policy played a more prominent role in the present crisis.  It was a combination of cheap money and aggressive government policy to put people into houses they couldn’t afford that set off an international debt bomb.  Thanks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buying highly risky mortgages and selling them as ‘safe’ yet high-yield investments.  Those rascally things we call derivatives.

The Great Depression suffered massive bank failures because the lender of last resort (the Fed) didn’t lend.  In fact, they made it more difficult to borrow money when banks needed money most.  Why did they do this?  They thought rich people were using cheap money to invest in the stock market.  So they made money more expensive to borrow to prevent this ‘speculation’.

The Great Recession suffered massive bank failures because people took on great debt in ideal times (low interest rates and increasing home values).  When the ‘ideal’ became real (rising interest rates and falling home values), surprise surprise, these people couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore.  And all those derivatives became worthless. 

The Great Depression:  Lessons Learned.  And not Learned.

Warren G. Harding appointed Andrew Mellon as his Secretary of the Treasury.  A brilliant appointment.  The Harding administration cut taxes.  The economy surged.  Lesson learned?  Lower taxes stimulate the economy.  And brings more money into the treasury.

The Progressives in Washington, though, needed to buy votes.  So they tinkered.  They tried to protect American farmers from their own productivity.  And American manufacturers.  Also from their own productivity.  Their protectionist policies led to tariffs and an international trade war.  Lesson not learned?  When government tinkers bad things happen to the economy.

Then the Fed stepped in.  They saw economic activity.  And a weakening dollar (low interest rates were feeding the economic expansion).  So they strengthened the dollar.  To keep people from ‘speculating’ in the stock money with borrowed money.  And to meet international exchange rate requirements.  This led to bank failures and the Great Depression.  Lesson not learned?   When government tinkers bad things happen to the economy.

Easy Money Begets Bad Debt which Begets Financial Crisis

It would appear that Ben Bernanke et al learned only some of the lessons of the Great Depression.  In particular, the one about the Fed’s huge mistake in tightening the money supply.  No.  They would never do that again.  Next time, they would open the flood gates (see Fed aid in financial crisis went beyond U.S. banks to industry, foreign firms by Jia Lynn Yang, Neil Irwin and David S. Hilzenrath posted 12/2/2010 on The Washington Post).

The financial crisis stretched even farther across the economy than many had realized, as new disclosures show the Federal Reserve rushed trillions of dollars in emergency aid not just to Wall Street but also to motorcycle makers, telecom firms and foreign-owned banks in 2008 and 2009.

The Fed’s efforts to prop up the financial sector reached across a broad spectrum of the economy, benefiting stalwarts of American industry including General Electric and Caterpillar and household-name companies such as Verizon, Harley-Davidson and Toyota. The central bank’s aid programs also supported U.S. subsidiaries of banks based in East Asia, Europe and Canada while rescuing money-market mutual funds held by millions of Americans.

The Fed learned its lesson.  Their easy money gave us all that bad debt.  And we all learned just how bad ‘bad debt’ can be.  They wouldn’t make that mistake again.

The data also demonstrate how the Fed, in its scramble to keep the financial system afloat, eventually lowered its standards for the kind of collateral it allowed participating banks to post. From Citigroup, for instance, it accepted $156 million in triple-C collateral or lower – grades that indicate that the assets carried the greatest risk of default.

Well, maybe next time.

You Don’t Stop a Run by Starting a Run

With the cat out of the bag, people want to know who got these loans.  And how much each got.  But the Fed is not telling (see Fed ID’s companies that used crisis aid programs by Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer, posted 12/1/2010 on Yahoo! News).

The Fed didn’t take part in that appeal. What the court case could require — but the Fed isn’t providing Wednesday — are the names of commercial banks that got low-cost emergency loans from the Fed’s “discount window” during the crisis.

The Fed has long acted as a lender of last resort, offering commercial banks loans through its discount window when they couldn’t obtain financing elsewhere. The Fed has kept secret the identities of such borrowers. It’s expressed fear that naming such a bank could cause a run on it, defeating the purpose of the program.

I can’t argue with that.  For this was an important lesson of the Great Depression.  When you’re trying to stop bank runs, you don’t advertise which banks are having financial problems.  A bank can survive a run.  If everyone doesn’t try to withdraw their money at the same time.  Which they may if the Fed advertises that a bank is going through difficult times.

When Fiscal Responsibility Fails, Try Extortion

Why does government always tinker and get themselves into trouble?  Because they like to spend money.  And control things.  No matter what the lessons of history have taught us.

Cutting taxes stimulate the economy.  But it doesn’t buy votes.  You need people to be dependent on government for that.  So no matter what mess government makes, they NEVER fix their mess by shrinking government or cutting taxes.  Even at the city level. 

When over budget what does a city do?  Why, they go to a favored tactic.  Threaten our personal safety (see Camden City Council Approves Massive Police And Fire Layoffs Reported by David Madden, KYW Newsradio 1060, posted 12/2/2010 on philadelphia.cbslocal.com).

Camden City Council, as expected, voted Thursday to lay off almost 400 workers, half of them police officers and firefighters, to bridge a $26.5 million deficit.

There’s a word for this.  And it’s not fiscal responsibility.  Some would call it extortion.

It’s never the pay and benefits of the other city workers.  It’s always the cops and firefighters.  Why?  Because cutting the pay and benefits of a bloated bureaucracy doesn’t put the fear of God into anyone.

Here we go Again

We never learn.  And you know what George Santayana said.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And here we are.  Living in the past.  Again.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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