From Commodity Money to Representative Money to Fiat Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 8th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published November 8th, 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hard Money versus Paper Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 17th, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published April 1st, 2013)

Money would have No Value if People with Talent didn’t Create things of Value

Money is a temporary storage of wealth.  We created it because of the high search costs of the barter system.  It took a lot of time for two people to find each other who each had what the other wanted.  And we started trading things to have things we couldn’t make efficiently for ourselves.  Someone may have been a superb potter but was a horrible farmer.  So, instead, the potter did what he did best.  And traded the pottery he made for the things he wanted that he was not good at making.  Or growing.  Before that we were self-sufficient.  Whatever you wanted you had to provide it yourself.

As we go back in time we learn why money is a temporary storage of wealth.  For it was the final piece in a growing and prosperous economy.  And at the beginning it was people with talent, each creating something of value.  Something of value that they could trade for something else of value.  It’s the creative talent of people that has value.  And we see that value in the goods and/or services they make or provide.  Money temporarily held that value.  So we could carry it with us easier to go to market to trade with other talented and creative people.  Who may not have wanted what we made or did.  But would gladly take our money.

So we took our goods to market.  People that wanted them traded for them.  They traded money for our goods.  Then we took that money and traded for what we wanted elsewhere in the market.  Trade grew.  With some people becoming professional traders.  By trading money for goods from distant lands.  Then trading these goods for money at the local market.  People who didn’t spend time creating anything.  But bought and sold the creative talent of others.  Who were able to do that because of money.  The creative talent came first.  Then the goods.  And then the money.  For money is a temporary storage of wealth.  Which has no value if no one is making anything of value.  Because if you can’t buy anything what good is having money?

There were no more Gold Certificates in Circulation than there was Gold in the Vault to Exchange them For

These early traders used a variety of things for money.  Pigs, tobacco, grain, oil, etc.  What we call commodity money.  Which was valuable by itself.  As people consumed these commodities.  Which is what gave them the ability to store value.  But because we could consume these they did not make the best money.  Also, they weren’t that portable.  And not easy to make change with.  Which is why we turned to specie.  Such as gold and silver.  Hard money.  It was durable.  Portable.  Divisible.  Fungible.  For example, all Spanish dollars were the same while all pigs weren’t.  One pig could weigh 30 pounds more than another.  So pigs weren’t fungible.  Or durable.  Portable.  And, though divisible, making change wasn’t easy.

So in time traders big and small turned to specie as the medium of exchange.  For all the reasons noted above.  If you worked hard to produce fine pottery you trusted in specie.  You would accept specie for your pottery goods.  Because you knew this hard money would hold its value.  And you could use it in the future to buy what you wanted.  No matter how long that may be.  Why?  Because the money supply remained relatively constant.  As it took a lot of work and great expense to mine and refine ore to make specie out of it.  So there was little inflation when using hard money.  Which meant if you saved for a rainy day that hard money would be there for you.

Gold and silver could be heavy to carry around.  Anyone struggling under the weight of their specie were targets for thieves.  Who wanted that money.  Without creating anything of value to bring to market.  So we found a way to improve a little on using gold and silver.  By locking our gold and silver in a vault.  And carrying around receipts for our gold and silver to use as money.  These gold certificates were promises to pay in gold.  People could continue to use them as money.  Or they could take these receipts back to the vault and exchange them for the gold inside.  These gold certificates were as good as gold.  And there were no more gold certificates in circulation than there was gold in the vault to exchange them for.

Governments Today use nothing but Paper Money because it gives them Privilege, Wealth and Power

Some saw advantages of expanding the money supply with paper currency.  Money that isn’t backed by gold or any other asset.  Money easy to print.  And easy to borrow.  Allowing rich people to borrow large sums of money to buy more assets.  And get richer.  Giving them more power.  And if you were the one printing and loaning that money it gave you great wealth and power.  So having a bank charter was a way to wealth and power.  You could make it easy for those who can help you to borrow money.  While making it difficult for those who oppose you to borrow money.  So there were those in business and in government that liked un-backed paper money.  Because a select few could borrow it cheaply and get rich and powerful.

While some liked these banks and that paper money there were others who bitterly opposed them.  Some who didn’t like to see so much power in so few hands.  And the hard money people.  Who wanted a money that held its value.  The common people.  People who couldn’t borrow large sums of cheap money.  But people who had to get by on less as the inflation from printing all those paper dollars raised prices.  Leaving them with less purchasing power.  Making it harder for them to get by.  Often having to turn to the hated banks to borrow money.  Again and again.  Such that the interest on their loans consumed even more of their limited funds.  Making life more tenuous.  And more bitter between the classes.  The rich who benefited from the cheap paper money.  And the common people who paid the price of all that inflation.

Rich people, on the other hand, loved that inflation.  It helped them make money.  When they bought something at a lower price and sold it at a higher price they made a lot of money.  The greater the inflation the greater the selling price.  And the more profit.  Also, the money they owed was easier to pay off with money that was worth less than when they borrowed it.  Allowing rich people to get even richer.  While the common people saw only higher prices.  And the value of their meager savings lose value.  So this cheap paper money fostered great class warfare.  The hard money people hated the paper money people.  Debtors hated creditors.  The middling classes hated the large landowners, merchants, manufacturers and, of course, the bankers.  And those who had talent to create things hated those who just made money with money.  The greater the inflation the greater the divide between the people.  And the greater wealth and power that select few acquired.  This is what paper money gave you.  Privilege.  Which is why most governments today use nothing but paper money.

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Capital Flows and Currency Exchange

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 10th, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published July 30th, 2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 4th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published 2/5/2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

M2 versus Retirement Savings

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

Interest Rate - Real plus Inflation

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

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

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

Interest Rate - Real plus Inflation and 6 Month CD

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

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

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The Minimum Wage isn’t a Living Wage because the Federal Reserve devalued the Dollar

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 1st, 2014

Week in Review

The Democrats like to talk about income inequality.  Which they say isn’t good.  So they want to raise the minimum wage.  To reduce income inequality.  Even President Obama said during the State of the Union address that he wanted to raise the minimum wage.  To $10.10.  To give them a living wage.  Because they can’t make it on the current minimum wage.  Of course, there’s a reason for this.   And it’s not because of the wage rate.  It’s about the depreciation of the dollar (see Hiking wages with worthless dollars by Seth Lipsky posted 1/29/2014 on the New York Post).

The most startling thing about President Obama’s State of the Union message is what he failed to say about the minimum wage. “Today the federal minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here,” he declared Tuesday night.

But wait, wasn’t the minimum wage $3.35 an hour throughout Reagan’s two terms? Isn’t it now $7.25 an hour? How does that add up to a drop in value by 20 percent? The president glided right past that point. Maybe he thought nobody would notice.

It strikes me that the president owed the country more of an explanation. After all, he spoke exactly on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Federal Reserve System. The central bank is about to begin its second century. Obama made no reference to any of that history.

Yet a century ago Congress refused to agree to a Federal Reserve until there was a promise about the value of the dollar: It insisted on having the Federal Reserve Act state that it would not lead to an end of the convertibility of the dollar into gold.

That legislative promise came to an end in a series of defaults that started in the Great Depression and ended under President Richard Nixon. By the mid-1970s, America had moved to a fiat currency, meaning a dollar that is not redeemable by law in anything of value. Only what one critic calls “irredeemable electronic paper ticket money.”

The minimum-wage crisis is a sign that fiat money is not working. It’s not, after all, that the nominal minimum wage has failed to go up (it’s been raised seven times since Reagan). It’s that the value of the dollar has collapsed. Today it has a value of only a 1,250th of an ounce of gold, a staggering plunge from an 853rd of an ounce on the day Obama took office.

Back in 1907 some people tried to manipulate the stock price of a copper company and long story short the Knickerbocker Trust Company collapsed and caused a panic in the banking system.  Enter the Federal Reserve System (the Fed).  A central bank that can inject liquidity during a banking crisis.  And forever eliminate these banking crises.  Or so went the theory.  But central banks have a nasty habit of devaluing their currency.  Because they can print money.  Fiat currency.  Well, the deal with the Fed was that they would not succumb to the central bank disease.  But, alas, they did.  Which is why minimum wage workers have less purchasing power today than they did during the Reagan administration.  Even though they are paid more dollars.

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Jesus, Joseph, Mary, Nazareth, Galilee, Bethlehem, Roman Occupation, King Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 24th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published December 25th, 2012)

If Jesus were to pick up His Mortal Life where He left it He would go to the Nearest Synagogue

Some on the Left have tried to advance their agenda by appealing to the religion they hate.  Christianity.  Or, rather, the many religions based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, the New Testament and the Old Testament.  They hate the religions of Christianity because they frown on a more fun and libertine lifestyle.  And judge those who participate in a more fun and libertine lifestyle.  In particular those who use birth control and abortion to engage in sex outside of marriage.

So they are no fans of these Christian religions.  But they do try to use Jesus to advance some of their causes.  Such as their campaign to get rid of the gas-guzzling and air-polluting SUV.  Where they ask, “What car would Jesus drive?”  With the implication that Jesus would choose to drive a car that would not pollute the planet that He created.  Or, if you don’t believe in the Trinity (where Jesus is Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the planet His Father created.  Which is a silly question to ask Christians as they believe that Jesus is everywhere as well as within them and would not need to drive anywhere.  Still, they ask the question to try and make Christians feel that they are doing something that would make Jesus sad.  Driving an SUV.

Here’s a question for the Left.  If Jesus was walking the planet today as the man He was before His crucifixion which Christian church would He attend?  An Orthodox church?  A Catholic church?  Or a Protestant church?  The answer?  None of the above.  For this is a trick question.  If Jesus were to pick up His mortal life where He left it He would go to the nearest synagogue as Jesus Christ was a practicing Jew.  And a rabbi.

The Roman Province of Judea was a Complicated Place between the Roman Occupation and King Herod

It was being Jewish that got Jesus into so much trouble.  From the moment of his birth.  Joseph, Jesus’ father, came from Bethlehem.  While engaged to Mary she became pregnant.  Before their wedding.  And not by him.  Turns out God blessed her to bring Jesus into the world.  Joseph had some trouble believing that but after a visit by an angel Joseph was convinced that she did not cheat on him.  That the Immaculate Conception story was legitimate.  At least according to the Gospels.  Written many years later and may not be a literal historical narrative.  But they do include historical fact.  Where history becomes more a matter of faith is difficult at times to determine for the historical record is rather sparse at times.

Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth.  In Galilee near the border with Samaria.  During the time of the Roman occupation.  Who were pagans.  Herod was an Edomite.  Born in the Kingdom of Edom just south of the Kingdom of Judah.  Though he practiced Judaism he was not considered Jewish by the powers-that-be in Judea, the Jewish lands that became a Roman province.  Herod was governor of Galilee.  With Rome’s approval.  He lost his throne.  Rome helped him get it back.  The Roman Senate then voted him King of the Jews.  Three years later he and the Romans conquered Jerusalem.  And elevated him to king of all of Judea.

So the Roman province of Judea was a complicated place.  The Romans tolerated the Jews as long as they did not cause too much trouble.  The Jews did not like living under Roman occupation.  And they were none too keen with King Herod who wasn’t religiously pure, lived a decadent lifestyle and was a brutal tyrant.  It was this world Mary was about to bring Jesus into.

The Last Thing you want to tell the Current King of the Jews was the Location of the New King of the Jews

According to the Gospels Roman emperor Augustus ordered a census.  The Census of Quirinius.  Requiring all residents of Judea to return to their ancestral lands for counting in a census.  Though this may not have been Roman custom they may have called for this in Judea.  That complicated place where the Jews kept their religion and customs.  So Joseph had to return to Bethlehem.  Worried about leaving Mary behind in a land where others may not be so open minded about her Immaculate Conception he took her along.  Which is why she made that great trek so close to her delivery time.

With everyone else returning to Bethlehem the only shelter they could find was in a stable.  Mary gave birth and they placed Jesus in a manger.  A food trough for the animals.  As the word got out about the son of God being born it attracted a lot of attention.  Some were overjoyed that the prophecy in the Old Testament was being fulfilled.  Some were not quite that happy.  Some in the Jewish hierarchy.  Who didn’t foresee this event.  And King Herod.  Who when he heard that a new king had been born to rule over mankind felt nothing but a challenge to his power.  So when the three wise men from the East, the Magi, came to Herod to ask where this new king was King Herod couldn’t tell them.  But when they found Him they were to send word back so he could come and worship Jesus himself.

Of course the last thing you want to tell the current King of the Jews was the location of this new King of the Jews, this son of God.  Jesus Christ.  Because he would want to kill Him.  Well, the Magi got the message in a dream and went back East without telling Herod after delivering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  (The frankincense and myrrh were aromatic gum resins used as incense.)  King Herod took this betrayal as another challenge to his power.  So to protect his power he ordered that all male children in the Greater Bethlehem area 2 years old and younger were to be slaughtered.  The Massacre of the Innocents.  There is no record of this outside the Gospels.  Though it would be something King Herod would have done.  For he killed his own children when they were a threat to his power.  Based on the size of Bethlehem the number of children falling in Herod’s criteria may have been about 20.  The slaughter of which would be a tragedy.  But the number may not have been large enough to enter the historical record.

An angel warned Joseph of Herod’s plan in a dream.  Telling him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt until the dust settled.  Returning to Galilee after Herod’s death.  Where he grew up.  Jesus of Nazareth.   But his problems with the politically connected Jewish hierarchy and the Romans weren’t over.  He would have about 30 years on earth, though, before that trouble would catch up with Him.

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The Price of Gold falls as Responsible Monetary Policy appears Imminent

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 14th, 2013

Week in Review

You can print paper dollars.  And create dollars electronically.  Which is why governments love fiat money.  Money that has no intrinsic value.  Just the government saying ‘let it have value’ gives it value.  Which is why they love it.  Because they can print it to spend when they have no further room to raise taxes.

But printing money creates inflation.  And devalues the dollar.  Which is why some like to buy gold.  Because you can’t print gold.  Or create it electronically.  So it holds its value.  Especially when the dollar doesn’t.  And the price of gold has been on the rise all during the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing (i.e., ‘printing’ money).  The more the Fed ‘prints’ money the more they devalue the dollar.  And inflate the price of gold.  But once it looks like the Fed is going to taper back on their ‘printing of dollars’ gold investors stop buying gold (see Gold suffers biggest one-day loss since October by Myra P. Saefong and Sara Sjolin posted 12/12/2013 on Market Watch).

Gold futures took a hit on Thursday as concerns that the Federal Reserve could scale back its stimulus next week pulled prices down by more than $30 an ounce for their biggest one-day loss since October.

Investors stopped buying gold not because gold has lost value.  But because they think the dollar will stop losing its value.  For if the Fed stops their quantitative easing the devaluation of the dollar will halt.  As will the rise in the price of gold priced in dollars.  So it will no longer take more dollars to buy the same amount of gold that it once bought.  Like it did under the Fed’s quantitative easing.  And those who bet on a further irresponsible monetary policy that devalued the dollar want to unload some of their higher-priced gold before responsible monetary policy takes effect.

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Powerful Government Forces suppressing the Economic Principles of Friedrich Hayek in China and America

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 16th, 2013

Week in Review

Large governments like to control their economies.  And their people.  Because those in power always want one thing.  More power. 

The United States became the world’s number one economic power before the federal government grew into the thing it is today.  Way too big.  Reaching way too far into the private sector economy.  Before Keynesian economics became all the rage to empower the growth of governments there was classical economics.  With simple principles.  Thrift.  People thought long-term and saved their money instead of buying everything they wanted today.  Banks collected their savings and transformed them into investment capital.  The more people saved (i.e., the thriftier they were) the more capital there was available to loan to entrepreneurs.  Thus lowering interest rates.  There was also sound money.  Backed by gold.  In various forms of the gold standard.  That held the value of money over time.  And the federal government taxed little.  Regulated little.  And spent little.  These classical economic principles stimulated strong economic growth.  (Principles similar to the Austrian school of economics championed by Friedrich Hayek.)  And it is these principles that we have moved away from as we turned to Keynesian economics.  And a form of state-capitalism that we have today.

During the Nineties China turned to classical economic principles.  As they slowly allowed people some economic liberty.  But just a taste of it.  For the ruling Chinese communists did not want what happened during the collapse of the Soviet Union to happen in China.  The Chinese Communist Party would not collapse like it did in the former Soviet Union.  While there were free thinkers that embraced the principles of Friedrich Hayek the state kept them on a short leash.  A leash that appears to be even shorter these days (see A Lonely Passion: China’s Followers of Friedrich A. Hayek by DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW published 10/30/2013 on The New York Times).

Hayek believed that economic planning by the state leads to a loss of individual liberty, and that a private economy run by people whose rights are protected and enlarged by good laws delivers the best life.

‘‘There is some distance between Hayek and the current realities’’ in China, Gao Quanxi, a prominent Chinese Hayekian and law professor at Beihang University in Beijing, said in an interview this week.

Mr. Gao was probably choosing his words carefully. The gap is enormous, as he explained last Friday in a talk at the Unirule Institute of Economics, a think tank in Beijing…

In his talk, titled ‘‘Reconsidering Hayek’s Theoretical Legacy,’’ Mr. Gao did not mince words: China is less free now than 10 years ago, at the end of the Jiang Zemin era. There is no ‘‘free market of ideas’’ in universities. Publishing on topics the authorities disapprove of has become more difficult. The state is on the march…

Capitalism, several participants said, functions in China according to the unwritten rules created by the power holders, not by good laws, as Hayek urged.

‘‘Communism has failed. Socialism has failed. What we have here is statism. And Hayek really opposed that. So how should we understand Hayek in the context of today’s China?’’ asked Mr. Gao…

Many economists, scholars and politicians believe that China is facing deep challenges to its economic model, that it needs to shift from a fixed investment-fueled economy, where the hand of the state is heavy, to one with more private enterprise and market forces.

President Obama and the Chinese communists share something in common.  They both are trying to move their economies in the same direction.  Only the Chinese communists don’t publicly bash capitalism as much as President Obama and his fellow Democrats do.

When China was enjoying double digit GDP growth the liberals in the United States wanted to do what the Chinese were doing.  To manage the economy more.  As they thought they were even more brilliant than communist state planners in China.  And could even outperform the Chinese economy.  If they could only control it.  Decide what we make.  Like solar panels.  And electric cars.  Of course, most of China’s economic growth produced exports.  And they sold well because of China’s low wages.  Which is pretty much all they had going for them.  Their middle class did not grow.  And with the worldwide decline in economic activity thanks to Keynesian economic policies by state planners everywhere who think they are smarter than the market their export market cooled.  As it cooled so did their GDP growth.

China is suffering a little economic malaise now because they don’t have a thriving middle class of entrepreneurs starting small businesses.  All they have are large state-run factories.  That produce exports.  Because they don’t have a thriving middle class to buy these products.  Which is what happens when you don’t have individual liberty.  Friedrich Hayek understood this.  Pity the Chinese communists don’t.  Or President Obama and his fellow Democrats.  Then again, perhaps they do.  But they know the price of individual liberty is less government power.  And that’s just something anathema to communists.  President Obama.  And Democrats.

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Obamacare and the Laws of Supply and Demand

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 30th, 2013

Economics 101

A Scarce Thing has a Higher Price because Everyone that Wants One can’t Have One

Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources.  Scarce resources that have alternative uses.  For example, we can use corn for human food.  Animal feed.  We can make bourbon from it.  And we can even use it for fuel to power our cars.  So there are alternative uses for corn.

And corn is scarce.  There is not an unlimited supply of it.  During the drought the United States suffered in 2012 farmers brought in a greatly reduced corn harvest.  Which caused corn prices to rise.  Per the laws of supply and demand.  If demand remains relatively constant while the supply falls the price of corn rises.  Why?

Scarce things always have a higher price.  A painting by Vincent van Gogh has a very high price because each painting is a one of a kind.  And only one person can own it.  So those who want to own it bid against each other.  And the person who places the greatest value on the painting will get the painting.  Because they will pay more for it than anyone else.  Whereas no one would pay for a cartoon in a newspaper.  Because they are not scarce.  As they appear in every newspaper.  Newspapers we throw away or put in the recycling tub every week.  Something that would never happen with a Vincent van Gogh painting.

Price Controls fail because People won’t Change their Purchasing Habits when Buying Scarce Resources

Government spending exploded during the late Sixties and early Seventies.  Paid for with printed money.  A lot of it.  Igniting inflation.  Causing a great outflow of gold from the country.  And with inflation spiking prices soared.  Rising prices reduced the purchasing power of American paychecks.  Add in an oil shock and the people were reeling.  Demanding relief from the government.

With the price of gasoline going through the stratosphere President Nixon stepped in to fix that problem.  Or so he thought.  First he decoupled the dollar from gold.  So they could print more dollars.  Causing even more inflation.  And even higher prices.  Then to solve the high prices Nixon implemented price controls.  Setting a maximum price for gasoline.  Among other things.  Sounds nice.  Wouldn’t you like to see gas prices held down to a maximum price so it consumed less of your paycheck?  But there is only one problem when you do this.    People won’t change their purchasing habits when it comes to buying scarce resources.

Why is this a problem?  Because the oil shock caused a reduction in supply.  With the same amount of gas purchasing with a reduced supply the supply will run out.  Which is what happened.  Gas stations ran out of gas.  Which they addressed with gas rationing.  Which led to long gas lines at gas stations.  With people pushing their cars to the pump as they ran out of gas in line.

Obamacare will Fail because no matter how Good the Intentions you cannot Change the Laws of Supply and Demand

Obamacare is increasing the demand for health care.  By providing health care for millions who didn’t have health insurance before.  So demand is increasing while supply remains the same.  There is only one problem with this.  With more people consuming the supply of health care resources those health care resources will run out.  Leading to rationing.  And longer wait-times for health care resources.  Just like gasoline in the Seventies.

One of the stated goals of Obamacare was to lower health care costs.  But what happens when you increase demand while supply remains relatively constant?  Prices rise.  Because more people are bidding up the price of those scarce resources.  Obamacare may try to limit what doctors and hospitals can charge like they do in Medicare, but everything feeding into the health care industry will feel that demand.  And raise their prices.  Which will trickle down to the doctors and hospitals.  And if they can’t pass on those higher prices to whoever pays their bills they will have to cut costs.  Which means fewer doctors, fewer nurses, fewer technicians and fewer tests and procedures.  Which means rationing.  And longer wait-times for scarce health care resources.

President Obama may say he’s going to provide health care to more people while cutting health care costs but the laws of supply and demand say otherwise.  In fact the laws of supply and demand say Obamacare will do the exact opposite.  So whatever rosy picture they paint no one will be linking arms and singing Kumbaya.  Unless they like paying higher taxes, waiting longer and traveling farther to see a doctor.  Which is what is happening in the United Kingdom.  And in Canada.  Which is why Obamacare will fail. Because no matter how good the intentions you cannot change the laws of supply and demand.

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Quantitative Easing, Inflation and Gold

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 23rd, 2013

Economics 101

The FOMC makes Money out of Nothing to Buy the Bonds for their Quantitative Easing

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decided to keep their quantitative easing.  Their monthly $85 billion purchase of Treasury Securities and mortgage bonds.  To stimulate the economy.  Which hasn’t stimulated the economy.  But it has greatly expanded the money supply.

When people buy Treasury Securities and mortgage bonds they have to first work and save up the money.  Then when they buy these investments they no longer have that money.  It’s how we buy things.  We exchange money for things.  So we can have the money or the things.  But never both.

Unless you’re the federal government.  That has the power to print money.  When they make these monthly $85 million purchases of Treasury Securities and mortgage bonds they pay for them with an electronic transfer of money.  They add money to the account of the holders of the Treasury Securities and mortgage bonds.  And that’s it.  They subtract no money from their ledgers.  Because they ‘printed’ that money.  Just made it out of nothing.  Literally.

The Danger of a highly Inflated and Devalued Currency is that it loses its Purchasing Power and People lose Faith in It

The Secret Service protects our presidents.  Ironically, the president that created the Secret Service was assassinated.  Abraham Lincoln.  Who created it not to protect presidents.  But to combat a great threat to the country.  Counterfeiting.  The scourge of paper money.

During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress had no hard money (i.e., precious metals) to pay the Continental Army.  So they resorted to printing paper money.  Igniting massive inflation.  The more money they printed the greater the inflation.  And the greater they devalued the dollar.  Requiring more and more of them to buy what they once did.  Until no one would accept them in payment anymore.  Forcing the army to take what they needed from the people.  Leaving behind IOUs for the Congress to honor.  Once they figured out how to do that.

This is the danger of a highly inflated and devalued currency.  It loses its purchasing power.  Until it gets so weak that the people lose faith in it.  And refuse to accept it anymore.  Returning to the barter system instead.  Trading things that hold their value for other valuable things.  But the barter system has high search costs.  It takes a lot of time for people to find each other that can trade with each other.  Greatly reducing economic activity.  And crashing a nation’s economy.  Which is what Abraham Lincoln wanted to prevent.  And why a lot of America’s enemies have tried to flood the American economy with counterfeit bills.

The Hard-Money Prices remained Relatively Constant during the Inflationary Periods of the Revolutionary War

With the FOMC’s decision to continue their quantitative easing the stock market soared.  As investors were instead expecting a ‘tapering’.  A reduction in their purchases of Treasury Securities and mortgage bonds.  And if the government stopped creating this money out of nothing to buy bonds from these investors these investors could not continue to buy and sell in the market like they were doing.  Pocketing handsome profits in the process.  Which is why they were so happy to hear the FOMC would continue their currency devaluation to continue buying like they had been.

But this continued currency devaluation has a down side.  For it can’t go on forever.  There will come a point when it ignites inflation.  Causing prices to soar.  Requiring more and more dollars to buy what they once bought before.  So with this possibility on the horizon and with continued currency devaluation some people were taking steps to protect their assets.  Especially their cash.  For there is nothing worse than having a lot of cash when it’s losing its purchasing power at an alarming rate.  So they convert that cash into something that holds it value better.  Such as precious metals.  Which is why when the dollar tanked (after the FOMC decision) the price of gold surged.

So what’s the difference between gold and paper money?  Well, the government can’t print gold.  They can’t create gold out of nothing and add it to someone’s account.  So they can’t devalue gold.  And because of this gold will hold its value during inflationary periods.  Which was why during the Revolutionary War people sold things with two prices.  One was in paper Continental Dollars.  With these prices increasing sometimes daily.  And one in hard money (i.e., precious metals).  The hard money prices remained relatively constant.  Even during the inflationary periods of the Revolutionary War.

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