A Poll of Entrepreneurs shows President Obama as one of the most Anti-Middle Class Presidents Ever

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 19th, 2013

Week in Review

This is the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  And it’s not George W. Bush’s fault.  Despite what he did to increase the size of government.  No.  The anemic recovery is due to President Obama.  And his anti-business policies (see Not open for business posted 10/12/2013 on The Economist).

America is not producing as many start-ups as it did a decade ago and those that have been created are providing fewer jobs—less than five each, compared with an historical average of about seven. Start-ups created 2.7m new jobs in the 2012 financial year compared with 4.7m in 1999.

The financial crisis clearly bears a lot of the blame for reducing America’s stock of capital and animal spirits. But it is only a partial explanation. The decline in the number of firms going public began in 2001. And these problems are continuing to delay the recovery despite the federal government pump-priming the economy and keeping interest rates near zero.

So there you have it.  Federal government pump-priming and near zero interest rates do NOT stimulate economic activity.  As these are the bedrock of Keynesian economics then Keynesian Economics does NOT work.  This is a problem for America.  Because President Obama and the liberal left are dyed-in-the-wool Keynesians.  And why are they Keynesian extremists despite the historical record of Keynesian failure?  Because Keynesian economics empowers Big Government.  That is, Keynesian economics favors those in power.  Not the people.

Three years ago John Dearie and Courtney Geduldig, who both worked for the Financial Services Forum, which represents America’s biggest financial institutions, came up with an inspired idea. Why not ask entrepreneurs themselves what is going wrong? Both big multinationals and established small firms have lots of representatives in Washington, DC. Entrepreneurs are too busy inventing their companies to spend time lobbying. The pair organised meetings and conducted lots of polls. Across a vast and diverse country they heard the same message from everyone they asked: entrepreneurship is in a parlous state. And everyone pointed to the same problems. The result is a new book, “Where the Jobs Are”, which should be dropped onto the heads of America’s squabbling politicians.

The first worry is over human capital. Entrepreneurs repeatedly complain that they cannot hire the right people because universities are failing to keep pace with a fast-changing job market. Small firms lack the resources to provide training and are consequently making do with fewer people working longer hours.

The problem with our educational system is that it teaches our young to become Democrat voters.  Not prepare them for a high-tech economy.  Our public schools teach our children about the evils and unfairness of capitalism while lauding the goodness and fairness of government.  Turning them from their parents who are selfishly destroying the planet with their global warming to the government.  Who is expanding further and further into the private sector to save the polar bears.  And when our kids get to college our system of higher education takes it up a notch.  Attacking the history and the culture that made America the greatest country in the world.  So our college graduates can tell you every bad thing America has ever done but they lack the math and science skills that our high-tech economy so desperately needs.  Forcing businesses to turn to immigrants for those skills.

Immigrants are responsible for launching about half the country’s most successful start-ups and producing a striking number of its patents. But the authorities do their best to drive them out of the country once they have been educated or to break their spirits on the visa treadmill…

The second problem is the complexity and cost of government. Entrepreneurs the world over complain about regulations and taxes. But America’s have lots to gripe about: in 2009-11 the Obama administration issued 106 new regulations each expected to have an economic impact of at least $100m a year. Besides this business founders suffer from the constant political uncertainty generated by a combination of ambitious new legislation, such as Obamacare, and ideological trench warfare. The Vanguard Group, an asset-management firm, calculates that since 2011 Washington’s bickering politicians have imposed, in effect, a $261 billion uncertainty tax that has cost up to 1m new jobs.

Any administration that raises taxes and issues 106 new regulations is no friend of small business, jobs or the middle class.  Therefore President Obama is no friend of small business, jobs or the middle class.  No matter how much he says that he is.  If you want to know why this is the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression it’s because of the Keynesian in the White House.  And the Keynesians in Congress.  That are waging a war on small business, jobs and the middle class.

The financial crisis has worsened the third problem: raising money. Over 70% of new businesses are launched using savings or assets—particularly houses. The crisis reduced the average net wealth of American households by about 40%. Business founders repeatedly mention other problems too. Venture capitalists are increasingly risk-averse. The Sarbanes-Oxley act imposes additional costs of $1m a year on public companies. Investors no longer bother with “growth stocks” because there is more money to be made in making lots of big trades in established firms. The dramatic decline in the number of firms going public since 2001 is worrying because, over the past four decades, more than 90% of jobs created by start-ups came into being after they went public…

Fixing the small-business problem should be at the top of the political agenda. Some 22m workers are either unemployed or underemployed, or have given up looking for work. If it continues to generate new jobs at its current anaemic rate, America will not return to pre-recession employment levels until 2020. The country is lucky that entrepreneurship is part of its DNA. It seems perverse to put unnecessary obstacles in the path of people whose ambition is to found businesses and hire new workers.

Yes, we should put fixing the small-business problem at the top of the political agenda.  Which the Republicans recently tried by defunding Obamacare.  And reining in out of control spending.  But as this would be a check on the growth of government the Democrats shut down the government before letting that happen.  For they will have their taxes, regulations and spending.  And the middle class be damned.  For theirs is a government of the ruling elite, by the ruling elite and for the ruling elite.

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Keynesian Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 14th, 2013

Economics 101

(Originally published February 20th, 2012)

John Maynard Keynes said if the People aren’t Buying then the Government Should Be

Keynesian economics is pretty complex.  So is the CliffsNotes version.  So this will be the in-a-nutshell version.  Keynesian economics basically says, in a nut shell, that markets are stupid.  Because markets are full of stupid people.  If we leave people to buy and sell as they please we will continue to suffer recession after recession.  Because market failures give us the business cycle.  Which are nice on the boom side.  But suck on the bust side.  The recession side.  So smart people got together and said, “Hey, we’re smart people.  We can save these stupid people from themselves.  Just put a few of us smart people into government and give us control over the economy.  Do that and recessions will be a thing of the past.”

Well, that’s the kind of thing governments love to hear.  “Control over the economy?” they said.  “We would love to take control of the economy.  And we would love to control the stupid people, too.  Just tell us how to do it and our smart people will work with your smart people and we will make the world a better place.”  And John Maynard Keynes told them exactly what to do.  And by exactly I mean exactly.  He transformed economics into mathematical equations.  And they all pretty much centered on doing one thing.  Moving the demand curve.  (A downward sloping graph showing the relationship between prices and demand for stuff; higher the price the lower the demand and vice versa).

In macroeconomics (i.e., the ‘big picture’ of the national economy), Keynes said all our troubles come from people not buying enough stuff.  That they aren’t consuming enough.  And when consumption falls we get recessions.  Because aggregate demand falls.  Aggregate demand being all the people put together in the economy out there demanding stuff to buy.  And this is where government steps in.  By picking up the slack in personal consumption.  Keynes said if the people aren’t buying then the government should be.  We call this spending ‘stimulus’.  Governments pass stimulus bills to shift the demand curve to the right.  A shift to the right means more demand and more economic activity.  Instead of less.  Do this and we avoid a recession.  Which the market would have entered if left to market forces.  But not anymore.  Not with smart people interfering with market forces.  And eliminating the recession side of the business cycle.

Keynesians prefer Deficit Spending and Playing with the Money Supply to Stimulate the Economy

Oh, it all sounds good.  Almost too good to be true.  And, as it turns out, it is too good to be true.  Because economics isn’t mathematical.  It’s not a set of equations.  It’s people entering into trades with each other.  And this is where Keynesian economics goes wrong.  People don’t enter into economic exchanges with each other to exchange money.  They only use money to make their economic exchanges easier.  Money is just a temporary storage of value.  Of their human capital.  Their personal talent that provides them business profits.  Investment profits.  Or a paycheck.  Money makes it easier to go shopping with the proceeds of your human capital.  So we don’t have to barter.  Exchange the things we make for the things we want.  Imagine a shoemaker trying to barter for a TV set.  By trading shoes for a TV.  Which won’t go well if the TV maker doesn’t want any shoes.  So you can see the limitation in the barter system.   But when the shoemaker uses money to buy a TV it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that he is still trading his shoemaking ability for that TV.  He’s just using money as a temporary storage of his shoemaking ability.

We are traders.  And we trade things.  Or services.  We trade value created by our human capital.  From skill we learned in school.  Or through experience.  Like working in a skilled trade under the guidance of a skilled journeyperson or master tradesperson.  This is economic activity.  Real economic activity.  People getting together to trade their human capital.  Or in Keynesian terms, on both sides of the equation for these economic exchanges is human capital.  Which is why demand-side economic stimulus doesn’t work.  Because it mistakes money for human capital.  One has value.  The other doesn’t.  And when you replace one side of the equation with something that doesn’t have value (i.e., money) you cannot exchange it for something that has value (human capital) without a loss somewhere else in the economy.  In other words to engage in economic exchanges you have to bring something to the table to trade.  Skill or ability.  Not just money.  If you bring someone else’s skill or ability (i.e., their earned money) to the table you’re not creating economic activity.  You’re just transferring economic activity to different people.  There is no net gain.  And no economic stimulus.

When government spends money to stimulate economic activity there are no new economic exchanges.  Because government spending is financed by tax revenue.  Wealth they pull out of the private sector so the public sector can spend it.  They take money from some who can’t spend it and give it to others who can now spend it.  The reduction in economic activity of the first group offsets the increase in economic activity in the second group.   So there is no net gain.  Keynesians understand this math.  Which is why they prefer deficit spending (new spending paid by borrowing rather than taxes).  And playing with the money supply.

The End Result of Government Stimulus is Higher Prices for the Same Level of Economic Activity

The reason we have recessions is because of sticky wages.  When the business cycle goes into recession all prices fall.  Except for one.  Wages.  Those sticky wages.  Because it is not easy giving people pay cuts.  Good employees may just leave and work for someone else for better pay.  So when a business can’t sell enough to maintain profitability they cut production.  And lay off workers.  Because they can’t reduce wages for everyone.  So a few people lose all of their wages.  Instead of all of the people losing all of their wages by a business doing nothing to maintain profitability.  And going out of business.

To prevent this unemployment Keynesian economics says to move the aggregate demand curve to the right.  In part by increasing government spending.  But paying for this spending with higher taxes on existing spenders is a problem.  It cancels out any new economic activity created by new spenders.  So this is where deficit spending and playing with the money supply come in.  The idea is if the government borrows money they can create economic activity.  Without causing an equal reduction in economic activity due to higher taxes.  And by playing with the money supply (i.e., interest rates) they can encourage people to borrow money to spend even if they had no prior intentions of doing so.  Hoping that low interest rates will encourage them to buy a house or a car.  (And incur dangerous levels of debt in the process).  But the fatal flaw in this is that it stimulates the money supply.  Not human capital.

This only pumps more money into the economy.  Inflates the money supply.  And depreciates the dollar.  Which increases prices.  Because a depreciated dollar can’t buy as much as it used to.  So whatever boost in economic activity we gain will soon be followed by an increase in prices.  Thus reducing economic activity.  Because of that demand curve.  That says higher prices decreases aggregate demand.  And decreases economic activity.  The end result is higher prices for the same level of economic activity.  Leaving us worse off in the long run.  If you ever heard a parent say when they were a kid you could buy a soda for a nickel this is the reason why.  Soda used to cost only a nickel.  Until all this Keynesian induced inflation shrunk the dollar and raised prices through the years.  Which is why that same soda now costs a dollar.

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The Greatest Threat to an Oppressive Dictatorship is Free Market Capitalism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 22nd, 2013

Week in Review

When people enter economic exchanges voluntarily everybody wins.  For example, let’s say one person has a hundred dollars of spare cash.  And another person owns a mountain bicycle that sells for $350 new.  The one with the money wants to buy a mountain bicycle.  The one with the mountain bicycle needs cash and wants to sell the bike. These two people meet.  And exchange the $100 for the bicycle.  And both walk away with something they valued more.  The person originally with the $100 valued the bicycle more than the $100.  And the person originally with the bicycle valued the $100 more than the bicycle.  Each person wins in this voluntary economic exchange.

Now contrast that to a managed economy.  Where a few decide for everyone else.  Such as in socialism.  Or communism.  Say, in the former Soviet Union.  Where the economic planners decide to make more tractor parts and less toilet paper and laundry detergent.  Resulting in shelves full of tractor parts no one wanted to buy.  And empty shelves where there was once toilet paper and laundry detergent.  As you can see, when you have forced economic exchanges no one wins.

Countries with economic systems based on free market capitalism where people enter economic exchanges voluntarily have historically had the highest standards of living.  Whereas countries with managed economic systems have had the lowest standards of living.  Liberty and prosperity are synonymous with the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong.  Which were once all part of the British Empire.  Which ruled the world and kept the peace for a hundred years or so.  The Pax Britannica.  She was able to do this because of her wealth.  Generated from free market capitalism.  The rule of law.  Representative government.  Sound money.  And free trade.  Things that today give these nations immigration problems.  Because everyone wants to go to these nations for a better life.

In capitalist nations people live better because there is a profit incentive.  Whereas the countries these immigrants left typically put people before profits.  Where instead of letting market forces set prices and allocate limited resources that have alternative uses the government decides.  Like they did in the former Soviet Union.  And the more government interferes with these market forces the more these economic decisions become political.  Where friends of the ruling power get those limited resources first and at favorable prices.  Allowing them and the ruling powers to profit handsomely from this political favoritism.  At the expense of the people who have to do with less.

The profit incentive puts people first.  Because in free market capitalism market forces are the people.  Hundreds of millions of people coming together to make voluntary economic exchanges.  Where each individual person looks out for his or her best interests.  But when a ‘caring’ government manages the economy to put the people first that government interferes with those market forces.  And goes against the will of the people.  Making the people worse off.  Which is why immigration is always from a country where there is less free market capitalism to a country where there is more free market capitalism.  Because the quality of life increases with increasing amounts of capitalism.  So we should be careful what we ask for when we ask to put people first.  Even when the Pope joins the ‘put the people first’ choir (see Pope condemns idolatry of cash in capitalism by Lizzy Davies posted 9/22/2013 on theguardian).

Pope Francis has called for a global economic system that puts people and not “an idol called money” at its heart, drawing on the hardship of his immigrant family as he sympathised with unemployed workers in a part of Italy that has suffered greatly from the recession…

“Where there is no work, there is no dignity,” he said, in ad-libbed remarks after listening to three locals, including an unemployed worker who spoke of how joblessness “weakens the spirit”. But the problem went far beyond the Italian island, said Francis, who has called for wholesale reform of the financial system…

Sardinia, one of Italy’s autonomous regions with a population of 1.6 million, has suffered particularly badly during the economic crisis, with an unemployment rate of 20%, eight points higher than the national average, and youth unemployment of 51%.

Last summer the island’s hardship became national news when Stefano Meletti, a 49-year-old miner, slashed his wrists on television during a protest aimed at keeping the Carbosulcis coal mine open.

There was one other thing these nations born of the British Empire shared.  Judeo-Christian values.  They lived by the Ten Commandments.  And the Golden Rule.  The good Christians of the British Empire followed the teachings of Christ.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  These Judeo-Christian values went hand-in-hand with free market capitalism.  It’s what made us choose to live by the rule of law.  To honor the contracts we made with one another.  To voluntarily enter economic exchanges instead of just stealing and pillaging our neighbors.

Money doesn’t have value.  It’s a temporary storage of value.  It is our human capital that has value.  Our ability to create things that have value.  Things that other people will voluntarily enter into economic exchanges to trade for with things of value they created.  Whether it be a physical good.  Or money from a paycheck they earned creating value for an employer who uses it to produce a service or good.

Capitalists don’t worship money.  For money only makes those economic exchanges more efficient.  By eliminating the search costs of the barter system.  It’s human capital that capitalists are interested in.  This is what they worship.  People.  Unlocking the latent talent in all of us.  To bring incredible things into existence.  Sanitation.  Waste water treatment plants.  New farming advancements.  Coal-fired power plants.  Things that allowed greater groups of people to live together in growing cities.  Where we have food, clean water and shelter.  Things we take for granted in capitalists nations.  Things that are luxuries in North Korea.  An anti-capitalist country that puts people before profits.  Where people worship the ruling dictator (primarily to avoid imprisonment, torture and death).  And the only people that do well are those close to the ruling power.

We don’t need a new financial system.  We just need to return to what it was before governments intervened into the free market economy to put people first.  Before we completely forget the Ten Commandments.  And the Golden Rule.  For once we use the power of government to nullify contracts to help their crony friends we no longer have a nation of laws.  But one of political favors.  Where the friends of power do well.  While those with no power live at the mercy of those in power.

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FT152: “Liberals who expand the welfare state tell us not to feed wild animals because it makes them dependent on handouts.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 11th, 2013

Fundamental Truth

Before there was Money People Traded Things they made with their Human Capital

Which came first?  Money?  Or stuff to buy?  Was there stuff in a store before someone walked in with money to buy it?  Or without anyone having any money to buy stuff would a store owner stock his or her shelves with stuff no one could buy?  It’s a regular chicken and egg question.  Liberal Democrats would say money came first.  Because they believe in Keynesian stimulus spending.  Put more money into people’s hands and they will buy more stuff.  Thus stimulating economic activity.

But if money was all that we needed to stimulate economic activity the government could just print money and hand it out to the people.  Who will take that money and go to the stores to buy stuff.  But here is where the illusion of money creating economic activity ends.  If the government just printed money and gave it to the people no one would have to work.  Which is everyone’s earnest desire.  This is why people buy lotto tickets.  To get money to spend without having to work anymore.  But if no one worked anymore because they could get money from the government printing presses instead of getting it in a paycheck in exchange for work what would these people buy?  If no one had to work anymore who would make the stuff we find on store shelves to buy?  Of course no one would.  So those store shelves would be empty.  And with nothing to buy all the money in the world would be worthless.

So this isn’t a chicken and egg question.  Stuff to buy came long before money appeared on the scene.  Before money people bartered.  They traded things for other things.  Meaning that if you wanted something that you didn’t have you had to create something yourself to trade.  This is barter.  People with human capital (talent and ability) create something they are good at.  They create more than they need.  And take their surplus to meet other people to trade with to get those other things they want.  Things other people made using their human capital.

Search Costs made the Barter System Costly and Inefficient

Money was a solution to a problem.  As the economy got more complex with more things to trade it got more difficult to find people to trade with.  If you made product A and wanted product B you had to find someone who made product B who wanted product A.  Imagine you make vacuum cleaners.  And you want a television.  You go to market looking for people to trade with.  Let’s say you find 3 people who make televisions.  But none of them want a vacuum cleaner.  So you would have to go to another market.  And find other people who made televisions.  Until you found one that wanted a vacuum cleaner.

This time spent trying to find someone to trade with is called search costs.  Which made the barter system costly and inefficient.  For all of that time spent looking for someone to trade with was time not spent making vacuum cleaners.  Giving you less to trade with.  Allowing you to trade for fewer things.  One way to reduce search costs was to bring a third trader into the picture.  Someone that wanted a vacuum cleaner but made smartphones.  Not televisions.  If a television maker wanted a smartphone you could trade a vacuum cleaner for a smartphone.  Then trade the smartphone for a television.  Making barter a little more efficient.  By reducing search costs.  But it could still be very difficult to find three people to trade with.

This is where money comes in.  It serves as that third trader.  You would simply trade your vacuum cleaner for money.  Then trade your money for that television.  Greatly simplifying trade.  By removing half of the trade equation.  All you had to do was to find what you wanted.  And then trade your money for it.  You didn’t have to worry about what the other person wanted.  Because once they got your money they could go and trade it for whatever they wanted.  Money makes trade easier.  As long as it was something that could hold value.  A handful of dirt was not good money because anyone could scoop it up from the ground.  Gold, on the other hand, was very good money.  Because it was very difficult to get gold out of the ground.  Thus it was scarce.  As well as being durable, divisible, fungible, etc.

People Today share their Every Thought on Social Media for Validation that they Matter

Based on this let me ask you another question.  Does Keynesian stimulus spending end recessions?  No.  Because giving people money to spend allows them to spend that money without creating something of value first.  And creating more money out of nothing makes money less scarce.  And less valuable.  Like picking up a scoop of dirt from the ground.  You create too much money and people will return to the barter system.  Because something they create with their human capital will have far more value than a continuously devalued dollar.  Best of all, in a barter system there can be no Keynesian stimulus spending.  Because there is no money.  And no inflation.  Making Keynesian stimulus spending impossible.  For there will only be people creating things with their human capital to trade with other people doing the same.

Those in government, though, don’t give up their Keynesian ways.  For they like spending money.  And being able to create it out of nothing allows them to spend a lot.  Which gives them a lot of power.  By getting people dependent on government benefits.  For once they are they keep voting for those who promise to give more.  And for those who promise not to reduce their current level of benefits.  Allowing a lot of people to withdraw from half of the economic equation.  Instead of using their human capital to bring value to market to trade for other value they let their human capital wither away.  Giving them little reason to get out of bed in the morning.  For when it comes down to it, people want to have a purpose.  They want to matter.  Which is why people today share their every thought on social media.  For validation that they matter.  For others to acknowledge that what they think and say is smart, funny, witty, insightful.

Wild animals are beautiful creatures.  We are attracted to them.  And would like to approach them in the wild.  To gain their trust.  We sometimes feed them because we want to help them.  Because life in the wild is no picnic.  It’s hard.  Brutal.  And these animals are just too cute to suffer.  But the Left frowns on this.  They don’t want us to feed the animals.  For if we make them dependent on us they will never be able to return to a normal life in the wild.  They won’t be able to live without those handouts.  The Left understands this.  Yet they have no problem with making people dependent on government benefits.  Giving them no reason to get out of bed.  Destroying the economy in the process.  Making it ever harder for these benefit recipients to return to the workforce.  Leaving them no purpose in life.  Save one.  To vote Democrat.

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Macroeconomic Disequilibrium

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 24th, 2012

Economics 101

In the Barter System we Traded our Goods and Services for the Goods and Services of Others

Money.  It’s not what most people think it is.  It’s not what most politicians think it is.  Or their Keynesian economists.  They think it’s wealth.  That it has value.  But it doesn’t.  It is a temporary storage of value.  A medium of exchange.  And that alone.  Something that we created to make economic trades easier and more efficient.  And it’s those things we trade that have value.  The things that actually make wealth.  Not the money we trade for these things.

In our first economic exchanges there was no money.  Yet there were economic exchanges.  Of goods and services.  That’s right, there was economic activity before money.  People with talent (i.e., human capital) made things, grew things or did things.  They traded this talent with the talent of other people.  Other people with human capital.  Who made things, grew things or did things.  Who sought each other out.  To trade their goods and services for the goods and services of others.  Which you could only do if you had talent yourself.

This is the barter system.  Trading goods and services for goods and services.  Without using money.  Which meant you only had what you could do for yourself.  And the things you could trade for.  If you could find people that wanted what you had.  Which was the great drawback of the barter system.  The search costs.  The time and effort it took to find the people who had what you wanted.  And who wanted what you had.  It proved to be such an inefficient way to make economic transactions that they needed to come up with a better way.  And they did.

The Larger the Wheat Crop the Greater the Inflation and the Higher the Prices paid in Wheat

They found something to temporarily hold the value of their goods and services.  Money.  Something that held value long enough for people to trade their goods and services for it.  Which they then traded for the goods and services they wanted.  Greatly decreasing search costs.  Because you didn’t have to find someone who had what you wanted while having what they wanted.  You just had to take a sack of wheat (or something else that was valuable that other people would want) to market.  When you found what you wanted you simply paid an amount of wheat for what you wanted to buy.  Saving valuable time that you could put to better use.  Producing the goods or services your particular talent provided.

Using wheat for money is an example of commodity money.  Something that has intrinsic value.  You could use it as money and trade it for other goods and services.  Or you could use it to make bread.  Which is what gives it intrinsic value.  Everyone needs to eat.  And bread being the staple of life wheat was very, very valuable.  For back then famine was a real thing.  While living through the winter was not a sure thing.  So the value of wheat was life itself.  The more you had the less likely you would starve to death.  Especially after a bad growing season.  When those with wheat could trade it for a lot of other stuff.  But if it was a year with a bumper crop, well, that was another story.

If farmers flood the market with wheat because of an exceptional growing season then the value for each sack of wheat isn’t worth as much as it used to be.  Because there is just so much of it around.  Losing some of its intrinsic value.  Meaning that it won’t trade for as much as it once did.  The price of wheat falls.  As well as the value of money.  In other words, the bumper crop of wheat depreciated the value of wheat.  That is, the inflation of the wheat supply depreciated the value of the commodity money (wheat).  If the wheat crop was twice as large it would lose half of its value.  Such that it would take two sacks of wheat to buy what one sack once bought.  So the larger the wheat crop the greater the inflation and the higher the prices (except for wheat, of course).  On the other hand if a fire wipes out a civilization’s granary it will contract the wheat supply.  Making it more valuable (because there is less of it around).  Causing prices to fall (except for wheat, of course).  The greater the contraction (or deflation) of the wheat supply the greater the appreciation of the commodity money (wheat).  And the greater prices fall.  Because a little of it can buy a lot more than it once did.

Keynesian Expansionary Monetary Policy has only Disrupted Normal Market Forces

Creating a bumper crop of wheat is not easy.  Unlike printing fiat money.  It takes a lot of work to plow the additional acreage.  It takes additional seed.  Sowing.  Weeding.  Etc.  Which is why commodity money works so well.  Whether it’s growing wheat.  Or mining a precious metal like gold.  It is not easy or cheap to inflate.  Unlike printing fiat money.  Which is why people were so willing to accept it for payment.  For it was a relative constant.  They could accept it without fear of having to spend it quickly before it lost its value.  This brought stability to the markets.  And let the automatic price system match supply to the demand of goods and services.  If things were in high demand they would command a high price.  That high price would encourage others to bring more of those things to market.  If things were not in high demand their prices would fall.  And fewer people would bring them to market.  When supply equaled demand the market was in equilibrium.

Prices provide market signals.  They tell suppliers what the market wants more of.  And what the market wants less of.  That is, if there is a stable money supply.  Because this automatic price system doesn’t work so well during times of inflation.  Why?  Because during inflation prices rise.  Providing a signal to suppliers.  Only it’s a false signal.  For it’s not demand raising prices.  It’s a depreciated currency raising prices.  Causing some suppliers to increase production even though there is no increase in demand.  So they will expand production.  Hire more people.  And put more goods into the market place.  That no one will buy.  While inflation raises prices everywhere in the market.  Increasing the cost of doing business.  Which raises prices throughout the economy.  Because consumers are paying higher prices they cannot buy as much as they once did.  So all that new production ends up sitting in wholesale inventories.  As inventories swell the wholesalers cut back their orders.  And their suppliers, faced with falling orders, have to cut back.  Laying off employees.  And shuttering facilities.  All because inflation sent false signals and disrupted market equilibrium.

This is something the Keynesians don’t understand.  Or refuse to understand.  They believe they can control the economy simply by continuously inflating the money supply.  By just printing more fiat dollars.  As if the value was in the money.  And not the things (or services) of value we create with our human capital.  Economic activity is not about buying things with money.  It’s about using money to efficiently trade the things we make or do with our talent.  Inflating the money supply doesn’t create new value.  It just raises the price (in dollars) of our talents.  Which is why Keynesian expansionary monetary policy has been such a failure.  For their macroeconomic policies only disrupt normal market forces.  Which result in a macroeconomic disequilibrium.  Such as raising production in the face of falling demand.  Because of false price signals caused by inflation.  Which will only bring on an even more severe recession to restore that market equilibrium.  And the longer they try to prevent this correction through inflationary actions the longer and more severe the recession will be.

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Stages of Production, Free Market Capitalism, Civil War, King Cotton, Emancipation Proclamation, Southern Democrats and Jim Crow Laws

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 17th, 2012

History 101

Free Market Capitalism maximizes Wealth Creation with Free Markets, Free Trade and Free Labor 

The whole point to a value added tax (VAT) is that we add value as we go through the stages of production.  Raw materials in the earth have no value.  They begin having value when we extract them.  Raw iron ore gains value when we process the iron out of the rock.  A Great Lakes freighter full of taconite pellets (processed from low-grade iron ore flint-like rock) is worth more than the same weight of the low-grade iron ore flint-like rock.  These taconite pellets gain value when we transform them into steel in a blast furnace.  That steel gains more value when we transform it into steel products (like a truck frame or a refrigerator).  The finished goods we incorporate these steel products into gain even more value.

The VAT tax applies a tax on the increased value at every stage in the stages of production.  It’s a way for government to collect a lot of tax revenue without using something obvious like a sales tax.  Because no one but the government knows all the tax collected on all that value created.  Which is a very important point.  Increasing value increases tax revenue.  And that’s because increasing value increases wealth.  Making economically advanced countries (with a lot of economic activity throughout the stages of production) wealthy countries.  Giving them an advanced industrial base.  An extensive infrastructure.  And a high standard of living.

Free market capitalism maximizes this wealth creation.  Free markets.  Free trade.  And free labor.  Where people can work hard to learn a skill that will give them more value.  And the ability to create more wealth with their labors.  Allowing them to earn a nice paycheck.  That they can use in the market place to buy things.  Contributing to economic activity.  And the wealth creation in the country.  As well as the tax base.  The greater the population the greater the number of people engaging in economic activity.  The greater the number of retail stores.  The greater the wholesale industry.  The greater the manufacturing base.  And the greater amount of raw material extraction.  All of this activity producing an advanced nation.  That can build whatever it needs.

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made it Impossible for the Europeans to Support the Southern Cause

There were two Americas in the mid 1800s.  An industrial North.  And an agricultural South.  An advanced nation in the north based on free labor.  And medieval economy based on slave labor in the south.  In the north they had factories, shipyards, railroads and everything else a modern industrial nation had.  In the south they had cotton.  In the north they had a growing population of free men.  In the south they had a growing population of slaves.  In 1861 the North had a population of about 22 million.  The South had a population of about 5.5 million free men.  And about 3.5 million slaves.  So the North enjoyed explosive economic activity creating great wealth.  While the South enjoyed great wealth from their cotton.  For the few plantation owners.  The slaves didn’t enjoy any of that wealth.  While the majority of the white population struggled to scratch out a living on small family farms.

When the American Civil War broke out the South was at a distinct disadvantage.  For technology wins wars.  And the North was far more technologically advanced than the South.  As Rhett Butler said in Gone with the Wind, “They’ve got factories, shipyards, coal mines…and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve us to death.  All we’ve got is cotton, and slaves and…arrogance.”  Which was true.  But in their arrogance they thought that King Cotton would trump all of the North’s advantages.  By bringing in the British on the South’s side.  Because Britain bought a lot of that southern cotton.  And the South was sure that Britain would support their cause to maintain that cotton flowing to their textile and garment industries.  They thought wrong.

Cotton was a raw material.  And other people could grow it just as well as the southern plantations.  Yes, the self-imposed cotton embargo by the South on Britain hurt the British.  Causing a major interruption to their textile and garment industries.  But it didn’t take long to replace that Southern cotton with Egyptian and Indian cotton.  And in no time the British industries were up and running again as if nothing had happened.  Creating higher orders of wealth than the raw cotton resources of the South.  Which was a problem for the South.  For there was no way for them to break the blockade of their harbors without European help.  But that help would never come.  Because the only thing they had to offer, cotton, was available elsewhere.  Not to mention the fact that Britain had emancipated her slaves.  And was working diligently to interdict the Atlantic slave trade.  So they weren’t coming to the South’s aid.  And if Britain wasn’t going to help then neither were the French.  And Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was just the icing on the cake.  Making it impossible for the Europeans to support the Southern cause.  It then became a matter of time for the technologically advanced north to defeat the medieval South.

The South’s Old World Economy was just no Match for the New World Economy of the North  

Outmanned, out manufactured and with no foreign recognition the South learned the lesson that an economy based on slave-labor was no match for an economy based on free market capitalism.  For the slave-based agricultural economy was little different than the feudalism of the Middle Ages.  A system long since abandoned in Europe but clung on to in the Confederate South.  Concentrating the wealth in a few hands.  The landed aristocracy.  And a small middle class of artisans and business owners primarily to serve the planter class.  While everyone else, whites and slaves, worked hard and barely survived.  The blacks of course suffering more than the whites.  But they both lived in poverty.

The advanced economy of the industrial North built ships, cannon, rifles, bullets, locomotives, track and everything else a modern industrial economy has.  Their ships commanded the rivers and the southern coast.  The South was cut off from the rest of the world.  Their valuable cotton sitting worthless in warehouses because there was no one to sell it to.  Not even in the South.  For while the North had a textile industry the South did not.  With no way to add value to this cotton this cotton lost all value.  And the Southern economy collapsed.  Because cotton was all they had.  Well, that, and arrogance.  But when that cotton became worthless the South had nothing.  And little choice but to surrender.  And they did.  First General Lee to General Grant.  Then General Johnston to General Sherman.  And soon the war was over.

It took some 4 years and about 600,000 dead.  Which is especially sad considering the South never had a chance.  Their Old World economy was just no match for the New World economy of the North.  With the thing they were fighting for, slavery, being the cause for their defeat.  For slavery may have worked in a medieval agricultural-based economy.  Where there were no stages of production.  Just procurement of raw material.  But it was no match for free men working in free market capitalism.  Which is why the North prevailed in the Civil War.  And why the United States went on to be an economic superpower.  And leader of the free world.  Thanks to President Lincoln.  Who freed the slaves.  And the South from its Old World past.  Unleashing human capital everywhere throughout the United States.  And allowing all people to engage in economic activity.  Though the freed slaves would suffer discrimination for decades under the Southern Democrats.  And their Jim Crow Laws (separate but equal).  But the Republicans would eventually usher in civil rights legislation ending that.  Just as they ended slavery.  Allowing all people to live a better life under free market capitalism. 

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Stages of Production

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 16th, 2012

Economics 101

People used their Human Capital to Transform Raw Materials into Something Valuable

As we unleashed our human capital civilization advanced.  Our food needs taken care of thanks to advances in agriculture we used our new free time to think.  To think about transforming the world around us.  By exploring our world.  And the stuff that made it.  Great civilizations rose and fell throughout history.  But the ones that really advanced the world were those in northern Europe.  The people who conquered the oceans.  The Portuguese.  The Spanish.  The Dutch.  The French.  And the British.

As these great European powers set out to explore the world they established colonies in faraway lands.  To gather the raw materials available.  And to ship them back to their mother countries.  Where their advanced civilizations would transform those raw materials into higher value finished goods.  And then export them throughout the world.  Including their colonies.  This was mercantilism.  Establish colonies.  Ship raw materials to the mother country.  Export finished goods.  And Import bullion accepted in payment for those finished goods.

It’s not a good economic system.  Mercantilism.  But it did create the United States.  Which started out as a British colony.  But as a colony of a mercantilist country the Americans had to follow the rules of the mother country.  First of all they had to understand their place.  And purpose.  They were subordinate to the mother country.  And their only purpose was to procure raw materials and ship them to the mother country.  They couldn’t open trade with other countries.  Everything that left the colonies had to go on a British ship to a British port.  Where British manufacturers would transform those raw materials into finished goods for export.  The British did this because finished goods were more valuable than raw goods.  And sold for much higher prices than the raw materials sold for.  So Britain did the manufacturing.  While their colonies fed their manufacturers with raw material.

The Stages of Production is the Economic Activity that happens to bring Finished Goods to Market

The British eventually abandoned mercantilism and adopted free market capitalism and free trade.  And the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or so.  This after losing the American colonies in the Revolutionary War, losing about half of their empire.  So free market capitalism is clearly superior to mercantilism.  But for a couple of centuries mercantilism built empires.  And provided an excellent example of the stages of production.

Raw materials mean little to consumers.  What we like are the things that people with human capital transform them into.  The things we go to the store to buy.  Such as a smartphone, for example.  Whenever a new model comes out we flock to our favorite retail store to buy it.  The retail store has it to sell because they bought a shipment from their wholesaler.  The wholesaler had it to sell because they bought it from the assembly plants that assembled them.  The assembly plants could build them because they bought the components (displays, hard cases, antennas, keys, circuit boards, etc.) from various manufacturers.  And the various manufactures bought raw materials from those who extracted them from the ground.  Interconnecting all of these is ship, rail and truck transportation.  Even planes.  Not to mention an extensive cellular network to make these smartphones work.  As well as all the software applications they run.  Adding value at every stage along the way.

There is much economic activity that happens to bring that smartphone to your favorite retail store.  Throughout these stages of production.  Note how everything else has to happen before you buy that smartphone.  Going all the way back to the extraction of raw materials from the ground.  All of these stages have to happen before you buy that phone.  So the payment for the phone follows much later than all of these other stages.  Introducing a very important element in the stages of production.  Time.  It takes time to bring things to market.  And because it takes time it also takes money.  Everyone working from raw material extraction to the salesperson selling you the phone earns an income.  And their employers pay them before you buy your phone.  Some a lot earlier than others.  Also, all of these people either work in a building.  Or in the field with equipment.  Things that others have to build first before we can even begin our raw material extraction.  Requiring an enormous capital investment before anyone earns a dime of revenue on the sale of a smartphone.

The British Empire went on to Rule the World for a Century or More because they let the Market Manage their Economy

To bring a smartphone to a retailer near you requires people to risk their money by investing in something that may earn a profit.  Investors.  And bankers.  As people saved their money they created large pools of capital for businesses to borrow.  Venture capitalists bankrolled promising entrepreneurs.  And the big corporations turned to the equity and bond markets to raise their capital.  Individuals worked hard and saved money to put in their savings account.  Or to buy stocks and bonds.  Because they did there was money to borrow.  Or to invest.  And because there was money to borrow and invest the stages of production could begin.

In the days of mercantilism the government controlled much of this.  Even providing some of that early capital.  But as the economy grew more complex it was too complex for government to manage.  Which is why the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or more.  Because they let the market manage their economy.  A myriad of people in the market place pursuing their own interests.  Pursuing profits.  Which is why free market capitalism works.  For no one person could know enough to manage all of the stages of productions to bring a smartphone to market.  And the beautiful thing is in free market capitalism no one person has to.  For when people throughout the stages of production pursue profits smartphones arrive at a retailer near you.  At reasonable prices to boot.

So the next time you pick up a smartphone at a retailer think of everything it took to bring it to your hands.  And everything it takes to operate it as you wish.  Hundreds of thousands of people pursuing profits.  Most of which have no idea what they’re doing will allow you to hold a smartphone at your favorite retailer.  Because in the stages of production everyone does their part.  Without any consideration of what their part is in the big picture.  Which is why it works so well.  Thanks to people thinking.  And unleashing their human capital to create great things throughout the stages of production.

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FT125: “Welfare states fail because economic systems based on slavery don’t create enough stuff.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 6th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

In the Barter System the Only Way to Get Something you Wanted was to create Something of Value Yourself

What’s more important?  Money?  Or stuff?  Stuff, of course.  Because people work to earn money to buy stuff.  They don’t work just for the money.  Because you can’t eat money.  You can’t drink money.  You can’t smoke money.  You can drive money.  You can’t watch or listen to money.  You can’t live in money.  You can’t surf the Internet with money.  No.  The only thing money is good for is buying stuff.  It’s the stuff we buy that makes our lives more enjoyable.  Having money helps.  But it is only a means to an end.  That end being stuff.  And someone has to make that stuff.  For if no one does then all the money in the world is worthless.

Early economies were barter economies.  People traded stuff.  Stuff they created, dug up, grew, manufactured, etc.  Instead of working to earn money to buy stuff they created stuff and traded it for other stuff.  So the only way to get something you wanted was to create something of value yourself.  Money didn’t change this.  Money just made trading with other people more efficient.  By being a temporary storage of wealth.  Because the barter system had a serious flaw.  High search costs. 

It took time to bring two people together to trade their stuff.  If a toolmaker wanted a pottery vase he had to find a potter who wanted a tool the toolmaker made.  This could take awhile.  Hence the high search costs.  Because while these people were seeking each other out they couldn’t make anything else of value.  With money, though, you could accept money in trade.  And then go and trade that money for what you wanted.  This greatly reduced search costs.  Because all you had to do was find the things you wanted.  And trade your temporary storage of wealth (i.e., money) for them.  Allowing them to spend more time creating value.  And less time searching.

The North won the American Civil War because the North practiced Free Market Capitalism while the South Didn’t

Advances in agriculture allowed larger and larger food surpluses.  Which, in turn, allowed more and more people to do something other than farm.  This unleashed human capital.  Allowed people to think about other things.  Create new things.  And improve existing things.  This created a middle class of artisans.  Craftspeople.  The people that created goods and services and brought them to the market place.  Creating the complex economy.  These people became entrepreneurs.  They efficiently used resources and sold things in the market place the people were demanding.  Not out of the goodness of their hearts.  But because they were pursuing profits.

This is free market capitalism.  The economic system that ushered in the modern world.  Free people thinking freely.  Creating.  Bringing their bold new ideas into reality.  Giving us the steam engine.  The railroad.  Machine tools.  Electric power.  The assembly line.  Free market capitalism brought us these things and improved our standard of living.  Because they were free to enter the market place.  And make profits.  Providing a powerful incentive to make the world a better place for everyone else.  Because when they took risks and worked hard to make the world a better place they could get rich in the process.

This is why the North won the American Civil War.  Because the North practiced free market capitalism.  While the South did not.  Their economy was a slave economy.  Instead of an expanding middle class working and contributing to the economy they had an expanding slave population.  That didn’t contribute to the economy.  They worked in the fields.  With all the proceeds from their labors going to a few plantation owners.  Slaves in general didn’t tinker or bring new things to market to enrich their masters.  For they had no incentive to do so.  They did have an incentive to do as they were told and work the fields.  To avoid punishment.  And they had no wages to spend in the market.  So there was less demand for manufactured goods in the South (in some states of the Deep South slaves made up to a third to half of the population).  So there was less manufacturing in the South.  Far less.  This is why the North exploded in manufacturing.  Entrepreneurs could bring things to market.  And the manufacturing workers earned wages they could use to buy those things.  As well as mass-produce the implements of war.  Unlike they could in the South.  Because of the economic superiority of the North it was just a matter of time before the South was overwhelmed.  And lost. 

When the Roman Empire turned into a Welfare State they had to Force People to Make Stuff Against their Will

Governments can print money.  They can tax people.  They can borrow money.  But the one thing they can’t do is create stuff.  If they could create stuff (i.e., economic activity) simply by printing money then the South would have matched the North in economic output.  But they did not.  Which is why they ultimately lost the war.  Because they could print Confederate dollars.  But that didn’t make muskets, bullets, canon, shoes, food, ships, steam locomotives or railroad track.  Creative people had to make these things first before the Confederate government could procure them.  Which is why the government didn’t procure them.  Because no one made them.

This is why governments just can’t print money and give it to the people.  They could.  But it would be pointless.  Let’s say they gave everyone $100,000 a year.  So no one would ever have to work again.  A lot of people would vote for the politician that promised that.  Of course if no one works who will create all the stuff to buy with that $100,000?  Having money is one thing.  But if there is nothing to buy with it then that money is worthless.

This is why the welfare state will ultimately fail.  As more people collect welfare benefits instead of creating stuff there will be less stuff to buy.  When supply shrinks while demand increases prices rise.  Higher prices that everyone has to pay.  People who create.  And people who don’t.  So they will raise taxes on those who work to pay for the benefits for those who don’t.  So those who don’t work can afford the higher prices, too.  Higher taxes are a great disincentive to create.  Or to become an entrepreneur.  Some may just choose the easier path.  Stop creating.  And start collecting that government money, too.  Further reducing supply and increasing demand.  Raising prices further.  Reducing overall economic activity.  And reducing the standard of living.

This happened in the Roman Empire as they kept raising taxes and debasing their coin to pay for their excessive government spending.  It got so bad that people quit their jobs because they couldn’t make any money.  Creating great shortages of goods.  And food.  So the Romans passed laws forbidding people from leaving their jobs.  Even tied people and their descendants to the land they farmed.  Which grew into European feudalism.  And Russian serfdom.  Economic systems little better than the slavery of the Deep South.  Which stunted innovation.  Lowered the standard of living.  And led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  But it was the only way the Romans could get the stuff they needed.  By forcing people to make it against their will.  Which is what they had to do when the Roman Empire turned into a welfare state.  And the creators quit creating.

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Versailles Treaty, Marshall Plan, Post-War Japan, MITI, Asian Tigers, Japan Inc., Asset Bubbles, Deflationary Spiral and Lost Decade

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 21st, 2012

History 101

Douglas MacArthur brought some American Institutions into Japan and unleashed a lot of Human Capital

At the end of World War I the allies really screwed the Germans.  The Treaty of Versailles made for an impossible peace.  In a war that had no innocents the Allies heaped all blame onto Germany in the end.  And the bankrupt Allies wanted Germany to pay.  Placing impossible demands on the Germans.  Which could do nothing but bankrupt Germany.  Because, of course, to the victors go the spoils.  But such a policy doesn’t necessarily lead to a lasting peace.  And the peace following the war to end all wars wasn’t all that long lasting.  Worse, the peace was ended by a war that was worse than the war to end all wars.  World War II.  All because some corporal with delusions of grandeur held a grudge.

The Americans wouldn’t repeat the same mistake the Allies made after World War II.  Instead of another Versailles Treaty there was the Marshal Plan.  Instead of punishing the vanquished the Americans helped rebuild them.  The peace was so easy in Japan that the Japanese grew to admire their conqueror.  General Douglas MacArthur.  The easy peace proved to be a long lasting peace.  In fact the two big enemies of World War II became good friends and allies of the United States.  And strong industrial powers.  Their resulting economic prosperity fostered peace and stability in their countries.  And their surrounding regions.

MacArthur changed Japan.  Where once the people served the military the nation now served the people.  With a strong emphasis on education.  And not just for the boys.  For girls, too.  And men AND women got the right to vote in a representative government.   This was new.  It unleashed a lot of human capital.  Throw in a disciplined work force, low wages and a high domestic savings rate and this country was going places.  It quickly rebuilt its war-torn industries.  And produced a booming export market.  Helped in part by some protectionist policies.  And a lot of U.S. investment.  Especially during the Korean War.  Japan was back.  The Fifties were good.  And the Sixties were even better. 

By the End of the Seventies the Miracle was Over and Japan was just another First World Economy 

Helping along the way was the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI).  The government agency that partnered with business.  Shut out imports.  Except the high-tech stuff.  Played with exchange rates.  Built up the old heavy industries (shipbuilding, electric power, coal, steel, chemicals, etc.).  And built a lot of infrastructure.  Sound familiar?  It’s very similar to the Chinese economic explosion.  All made possible by, of course, a disciplined workforce and low wages.

Things went very well in Japan (and in China) during this emerging-economy phase.  But it is always easy to play catch-up.  For crony capitalism can work when playing catch-up.  When you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.  But just trying to duplicate what others have already proven to work.  You can post remarkable GDP growth.  Especially when you have low wages for a strong export market.  But wages don’t always stay low, do they?  Because there is always another economy to emerge.  First it was the Japanese who worked for less than American workers.  Then it was the Mexicans.  Then the South Koreans.  The three other Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan).  China.  India.  Brazil.  Vietnam.  It just doesn’t end.  Which proves to be a problem for crony capitalism.  Which can work when economic systems are frozen in time.  But fails miserably in a dynamic economy.

But, alas, all emerging economies eventually emerge.  And mature.  By the end of the Seventies Japan had added automobiles and electronics to the mix.  But it couldn’t prevent the inevitable.  The miracle was over.  It was just another first world economy.  Competing with other first world economies.  Number two behind the Americans.  Very impressive.  But being more like the Americans meant the record growth days were over.  And it was time to settle for okay growth instead of fantastic growth.  But the Japanese government was tighter with business than it ever was.  In fact, corporate Japan was rather incestuous.  Corporations invested in other corporations.  Creating large vertical and horizontal conglomerates.  And the banks were right there, too.  Making questionable loans to corporations.  To feed Japan Inc.  To prop up this vast government/business machine.  With the government right behind the banks to bail them out if anyone got in trouble.    

Low Interest Rates caused Irrational Exuberance in the Stock and Real Estate Markets

As the Eighties dawned the service-oriented sector (wholesaling, retailing, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, communications, etc.) grew.  As did government.  With a mature economy and loads of new jobs for highly educated college graduates consumption took off.  And led the economy in the Eighties.  Everyone was buying.  And investing.  Businesses were borrowing money at cheap rates and expanding capacity.  And buying stocks.  As was everyone.  Banks were approving just about any loan regardless of risk.  All that cheap money led to a boom in housing.  Stock and house prices soared.  As did debt.  It was Keynesian economics at its best.  Low interest rates encouraged massive consumption (which Keynesians absolutely love) and high investment.  Government was partnering with business and produced the best of all possible worlds.

But those stock prices were getting way too high.  As were those real estate prices.  And it was all financed with massive amounts of debt.  Massive bubbles financed by massive debt.  A big problem.  For those high prices weren’t based on value.  It was inflation.  Too much money in the economy.  Which raised prices.  And created a lot of irrational exuberance.  Causing people to bid up prices for stocks and real estate into the stratosphere.  Something Alan Greenspan would be saying a decade later during the dot-com boom in the United States.  Bubbles are bombs just waiting to go off.  And this one was a big one.  Before it got too big the government tried to disarm it.  By increasing interest rates. But it was too late.

We call it the business cycle.  The boom-bust cycle between good times and bad.  During the good times prices go up and supply rushes in to fill that demand.  Eventually too many people rush in and supply exceeds demand.  And prices then fall.  The recession part of the business cycle.  All normal and necessary in economics.  And the quicker this happens the less painful the recession will be.  But the higher you inflate prices the farther they must fall.  And the Japanese really inflated those prices.  So they had a long way to fall.  And fall they did.  For a decade.  And counting.  What the Japanese call their Lost Decade.  A deflationary spiral that may still be continuing to this day.

As asset prices fell out of the stratosphere they became worth less than the debt used to buy them.  (Sound familiar?  This is what happened in the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.)  Played hell with balance sheets throughout Japan Inc.  A lot of debt went bad.  And unpaid.  Causing a lot problems for banks.  As they injected capital into businesses too big to fail.  To help them service the debt used for their bad investments.  To keep them from defaulting on their loans.  Consumption fell, too.  Making all that corporate investment nothing but idle excess capacity.  The government tried to stop the deflation by lowering interest rates.  To stimulate some economic activity.  And a lot of inflation.  But the economy was in full freefall.  (Albeit a slow freefall.  Taking two decades and counting.)  Bringing supply and prices back in line with real demand.  Which no amount of cheap money was going to change.  Even loans at zero percent.

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Keynesian Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 20th, 2012

Economics 101

John Maynard Keynes said if the People aren’t Buying then the Government Should Be

Keynesian economics is pretty complex.  So is the CliffsNotes version.  So this will be the in-a-nutshell version.  Keynesian economics basically says, in a nut shell, that markets are stupid.  Because markets are full of stupid people.  If we leave people to buy and sell as they please we will continue to suffer recession after recession.  Because market failures give us the business cycle.  Which are nice on the boom side.  But suck on the bust side.  The recession side.  So smart people got together and said, “Hey, we’re smart people.  We can save these stupid people from themselves.  Just put a few of us smart people into government and give us control over the economy.  Do that and recessions will be a thing of the past.”

Well, that’s the kind of thing governments love to hear.  “Control over the economy?” they said.  “We would love to take control of the economy.  And we would love to control the stupid people, too.  Just tell us how to do it and our smart people will work with your smart people and we will make the world a better place.”  And John Maynard Keynes told them exactly what to do.  And by exactly I mean exactly.  He transformed economics into mathematical equations.  And they all pretty much centered on doing one thing.  Moving the demand curve.  (A downward sloping graph showing the relationship between prices and demand for stuff; higher the price the lower the demand and vice versa).

In macroeconomics (i.e., the ‘big picture’ of the national economy), Keynes said all our troubles come from people not buying enough stuff.  That they aren’t consuming enough.  And when consumption falls we get recessions.  Because aggregate demand falls.  Aggregate demand being all the people put together in the economy out there demanding stuff to buy.  And this is where government steps in.  By picking up the slack in personal consumption.  Keynes said if the people aren’t buying then the government should be.  We call this spending ‘stimulus’.  Governments pass stimulus bills to shift the demand curve to the right.  A shift to the right means more demand and more economic activity.  Instead of less.  Do this and we avoid a recession.  Which the market would have entered if left to market forces.  But not anymore.  Not with smart people interfering with market forces.  And eliminating the recession side of the business cycle.

Keynesians prefer Deficit Spending and Playing with the Money Supply to Stimulate the Economy

Oh, it all sounds good.  Almost too good to be true.  And, as it turns out, it is too good to be true.  Because economics isn’t mathematical.  It’s not a set of equations.  It’s people entering into trades with each other.  And this is where Keynesian economics goes wrong.  People don’t enter into economic exchanges with each other to exchange money.  They only use money to make their economic exchanges easier.  Money is just a temporary storage of value.  Of their human capital.  Their personal talent that provides them business profits.  Investment profits.  Or a paycheck.  Money makes it easier to go shopping with the proceeds of your human capital.  So we don’t have to barter.  Exchange the things we make for the things we want.  Imagine a shoemaker trying to barter for a TV set.  By trading shoes for a TV.  Which won’t go well if the TV maker doesn’t want any shoes.  So you can see the limitation in the barter system.   But when the shoemaker uses money to buy a TV it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that he is still trading his shoemaking ability for that TV.  He’s just using money as a temporary storage of his shoemaking ability.

We are traders.  And we trade things.  Or services.  We trade value created by our human capital.  From skill we learned in school.  Or through experience.  Like working in a skilled trade under the guidance of a skilled journeyperson or master tradesperson.  This is economic activity.  Real economic activity.  People getting together to trade their human capital.  Or in Keynesian terms, on both sides of the equation for these economic exchanges is human capital.  Which is why demand-side economic stimulus doesn’t work.  Because it mistakes money for human capital.  One has value.  The other doesn’t.  And when you replace one side of the equation with something that doesn’t have value (i.e., money) you cannot exchange it for something that has value (human capital) without a loss somewhere else in the economy.  In other words to engage in economic exchanges you have to bring something to the table to trade.  Skill or ability.  Not just money.  If you bring someone else’s skill or ability (i.e., their earned money) to the table you’re not creating economic activity.  You’re just transferring economic activity to different people.  There is no net gain.  And no economic stimulus.

When government spends money to stimulate economic activity there are no new economic exchanges.  Because government spending is financed by tax revenue.  Wealth they pull out of the private sector so the public sector can spend it.  They take money from some who can’t spend it and give it to others who can now spend it.  The reduction in economic activity of the first group offsets the increase in economic activity in the second group.   So there is no net gain.  Keynesians understand this math.  Which is why they prefer deficit spending (new spending paid by borrowing rather than taxes).  And playing with the money supply.

The End Result of Government Stimulus is Higher Prices for the Same Level of Economic Activity

The reason we have recessions is because of sticky wages.  When the business cycle goes into recession all prices fall.  Except for one.  Wages.  Those sticky wages.  Because it is not easy giving people pay cuts.  Good employees may just leave and work for someone else for better pay.  So when a business can’t sell enough to maintain profitability they cut production.  And lay off workers.  Because they can’t reduce wages for everyone.  So a few people lose all of their wages.  Instead of all of the people losing all of their wages by a business doing nothing to maintain profitability.  And going out of business.

To prevent this unemployment Keynesian economics says to move the aggregate demand curve to the right.  In part by increasing government spending.  But paying for this spending with higher taxes on existing spenders is a problem.  It cancels out any new economic activity created by new spenders.  So this is where deficit spending and playing with the money supply come in.  The idea is if the government borrows money they can create economic activity.  Without causing an equal reduction in economic activity due to higher taxes.  And by playing with the money supply (i.e., interest rates) they can encourage people to borrow money to spend even if they had no prior intentions of doing so.  Hoping that low interest rates will encourage them to buy a house or a car.  (And incur dangerous levels of debt in the process).  But the fatal flaw in this is that it stimulates the money supply.  Not human capital.

This only pumps more money into the economy.  Inflates the money supply.  And depreciates the dollar.  Which increases prices.  Because a depreciated dollar can’t buy as much as it used to.  So whatever boost in economic activity we gain will soon be followed by an increase in prices.  Thus reducing economic activity.  Because of that demand curve.  That says higher prices decreases aggregate demand.  And decreases economic activity.  The end result is higher prices for the same level of economic activity.  Leaving us worse off in the long run.  If you ever heard a parent say when they were a kid you could buy a soda for a nickel this is the reason why.  Soda used to cost only a nickel.  Until all this Keynesian induced inflation shrunk the dollar and raised prices through the years.  Which is why that same soda now costs a dollar.

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