The Minimum Wage Debate

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 16th, 2013

Economics 101

A Fall in Economic Activity follows a Surge in Keynesian Stimulus Spending

The minimum wage argument is a political argument.  Because it’s a partisan one.  Not one based on sound economics.  Such as the classical school of economics that made America the number one economic power in the world.  Thrift.  Savings. Investment.  Free trade.  And a gold standard.  Then you have the politicized school of economics that replaced it.  The Keynesian school.  Which nations around the world accept as sacrosanct.  Because it is the school of economics that says governments should manage the economy.  Thus sanctioning and enabling Big Government.

Keynesian economics is all about consumption.  Consumer spending.  That’s all that matters to them.  And it’s the only thing they look at.  They completely ignore the higher stages of production.  Above the retail level.  They ignore the wholesale level.  The manufacturing level.  The industrial processing level.  And the raw material extraction level.  Which is why Keynesian stimulus fails.  Just putting more money into consumers’ pockets doesn’t affect them.  For they see the other side of that stimulus.  Inflation.  And recession.  And they’re not going to expand or hire more people just because there is a temporary spike in consumer spending.  Because they know once the consumers run through this money they will revert back to their previous purchasing habits.  Well, almost.

Keynesian stimulus is typically created with an expansion of the money supply.  As more dollars chase the same amount of goods prices rise.  And people lose purchasing power.  So they buy less.  Which means following a surge in Keynesian stimulus spending there follows a fall in economic activity.  Which is why the higher stages of production don’t expand or hire people.  Because they know that for them the economy gets worse—not better—after stimulus spending.

A Stronger Economy would help Minimum Wage Workers more than Raising the Minimum Wage

Increasing the minimum wage shares the Keynesian goal of putting more money into consumers’ pockets.  And many of the arguments for increasing the minimum wage mirror those arguments for Keynesian stimulus.  Even to reverse the consequences of previous Keynesian policies (see Everything You Ever Needed to Know About the Minimum Wage by Jordan Weissmann posted 12/16/2013 on The Atlantic).

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which means that depending on the city you’re in, 60 minutes of work will just about buy you a Chipoltle burrito (without guac). By historical standards, it’s fairly low. Thanks to inflation, the minimum wage is worth about $3.26 less, in today’s dollars, than when its real value peaked in 1968.

It’s a Keynesian argument that says putting more money into people’s pockets will increase economic activity.  That’s the rebuttal to the argument that a higher minimum wage will reduce economic activity (by raising prices with higher labor costs).  For they will take those higher wages and spend them in the economy.  More than offsetting the loss in sales due to those higher prices.

The whole concept of Keynesian stimulus is predicated on giving consumers more money to spend.  Like raising the minimum wage.  Either with stimulus money raised by taxes.  From borrowing.  Or printing.  Their favorite.  Which they have done a lot of.  To keep interest rates low to spur housing sales in particular.  But with this monetary expansion comes inflation.  And a loss of purchasing power.  So the Keynesian policies of putting more money into consumers’ pockets to stimulate economic activity has reduced the purchasing power of that money.  Which is why the minimum wage in real dollars keeps falling.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.57 million Americans, or 2.1 percent of the hourly workforce, earned the minimum wage in 2012. More than 60 percent of them either worked in retail or in leisure and hospitality, which is to say hotels and restaurants, including fast-food chains.

…Almost a third of minimum-wage workers are teenagers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some in retail sales get a commission added on to their hourly wage.  Many in the food and leisure industry earn tips in addition to their hourly wage.  So some of those who earn the minimum wage get more than the minimum wage.  Those who don’t are either unskilled entry level workers.  Such as students who are working towards a degree that will get them a higher-paying job.  Those working part-time for an additional paycheck.  Those who work because of the convenience (hours, location, etc.).  Those who have no skills that can get them into a higher-paying job.  Or because these entry-level jobs are the only jobs they can find in a bad economy.

A stronger economy could create better jobs.  And higher wages.  For it is during good economic times that people leave one job for a better job.  And employers pay people more to prevent good employees they’ve already trained from leaving.  So they don’t have to start all over again with a new unskilled worker.  This would be the better approach.  Creating a stronger economy to allow unskilled workers to move up into higher skilled—and higher paying—jobs.  For you can’t have upward mobility if there are no better jobs to move up into.

On one side of the debate, you mostly have traditionalists who believe that increasing the minimum wage kills some jobs for unskilled workers, like teens…

On the other side, you have researchers who believe that increasing the minimum wage doesn’t kill jobs at all and may even give the economy a boost by channeling more pay to low-income workers who are likely to spend it.

The Automotive industry has long fought for tariff protection.  For the high cost of their union labor made their cars costlier than their imported competition.  The legacy costs of an aging workforce (health care for retirees and pensions) required a government bailout to keep General Motors and Chrysler from going belly-up.  And it was this high cost of union labor that caused the Big Three to lose market share.  Shedding jobs—and employees—as they couldn’t sell the cars they were making.

So higher wages raise prices.  And reduce sales.  Leading to layoffs.  And reduced economic activity.  The unions believe this.  That’s why they fight so hard for legislation to protect themselves from lower-priced competition.  You would have to believe that the economic forces that affect one part of the economy would affect another.  And those economic forces say that higher wages kill jobs.  They don’t increase economic activity.  They just help the lucky few who have those high-paying jobs.  While many of their one-time coworkers found themselves out of a job.

When the minimum wage goes up, the theory says, businesses shape up. Managers find ways to make their employees more productive. Turnover slows down, since people are happier with their paychecks, and the unemployed snap up jobs elsewhere in town. Meanwhile, Burger King and McDonald’s can raise their prices a little bit without scaring off customers.

Managers finding ways to make their employees more productive?  Do you know what that means?  It means how they can get more work out of fewer employees.  No worker wants to hear management talk about productivity gains.  For that usually means someone will lose their job.  As the remaining workers can do more with less because of those productivity gains.  So that’s a horrible argument for a higher minimum wage.  Because fewer people will have those bigger paychecks.  Made possible by reducing costs elsewhere.  As in laying off some of their coworkers.

Based on data from 80s and early 90s, Daniel Aaronson estimated that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage drove up the price of McDonald’s burgers, KFC chicken, and Pizza Hut’s pizza-like product by as much as 10 percent. Assuming that holds true today, it means that bringing the minimum wage to $10.10 would tack $1.60 onto the cost of your Big Mac.

McDonald’s will never win the award for having the healthiest food.  And that’s fine.  People don’t go there to eat healthy.  They go there for the value.  As it is one of the few places you can take a family of four out for about $25.  Adding another $1.60 per burger could add another $6.40 to that dinner out.  For a family living paycheck to paycheck that may be just too much for the weekly budget.  Especially with inflation raising the cost of groceries and gasoline.  Thanks to those Keynesian economic policies.

Raising the Minimum Wage will not Result in any of the Lofty Goals the Economic Planners Envision

There is a lot of anger at these minimum wage companies paying their employees so little.  Some of their minimum workers have gone on strike recently to protest their low pay.  As they are apparently not working at these companies because they love the work.  So suffice it to say that no one is yearning to work at these companies.  And that some may outright hate these jobs.  So why in the world would we want to punish them by paying them more?  Removing all ambition to leave the jobs they hate?

If you raise the minimum wage what happens to other jobs that pay what becomes the new higher minimum wage?  Putting their earnings on par with unskilled entry-level jobs?  Jobs that require greater skills than entry-level minimum wage jobs?  Will they continue to work harder for the same wage as unskilled workers?  Will they leave their more difficult jobs for an easier entry-level job?  Will they demand a raise from their employer?  Keynesians would say this is a good thing.  As it will drive wages up.  It may.  But to pay these higher labor costs will require cost cuts elsewhere.  Perhaps by shedding an employee or two.

Raising the minimum wage will not result in any of the lofty goals the economic planners envision.  For if putting more money into consumers’ pockets is all we need to create economic activity then we wouldn’t have had the Great Recession.  The stagflation of the Seventies.  Or the Great Depression.  Keynesian stimulus spending didn’t create new economic activity to prevent any of these.  So why would a rise in the minimum wage be any different?


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High Taxes and Inflation reduce Disposable Income and our Music Purchases

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 14th, 2013

Week in Review

If you’re old you remember going to a record store.  Putting a flat piece of vinyl on a spinning disc.  Lowering a needle on it.  And listening to that song through a pair of headphones.  If the music was awesome you bought that piece of vinyl.  If it wasn’t you listened to other songs until you found the one you wanted to buy.

Then came the audio cassette.  Where people would borrow their friend’s records and record them.  So you could enjoy the ones you paid for.  And the ones your friends paid for.  But the audio cassette did not put the music industry out of business.  For people still bought music.  In fact, some people may have bought even more as they could record the one song or two they liked onto a ‘mix’ tape.  Creating a ‘mix’ for each mood.  Hard rock.  Soft Rock.  And the more records you owned the more mix tapes you could create.

But since those days taxes and inflation have sucked away our disposable income.  And we’re not buying as much music as we once did (see Why It’s Hard to Charge for Music by Matthew Yglesias posted 12/13/2013 on Slate).

The problem here is one of supply and demand. It’s not that people won’t pay for Pandora because they don’t see any value in Pandora’s service. It’s that Pandora’s paid service has to compete with Pandora’s ad-supported service. Pandora could solve that problem by eliminating its ad-supported service, but it’s pretty clear that there’s a robust market for an ad-supported music-streaming service so then Pandora would need to compete with a new player. Personally, I really do enjoy an ad-free music streaming experience so I have a paid Rdio subscription which works on my computer, on my mobile phone, and on my home Sonos setup.

So good for me. But if I was a teenager with no money or ran into financial difficulty as an adult and needed to cut back, this would be an easy call to chop. Not because music isn’t valuable but because the margin of convenience offered by a paid service versus a free one just isn’t that big.

It’s the loss of disposable income that is hurting the music industry.  As well as paid subscription services.  In today’s world it is not uncommon for someone to pay for cable television AND a broadband Internet connection AND satellite radio in your car AND a mobile device contract with a monthly payment as large as a car payment.  People have never spent more money on entertainment.  And paying for live-streaming music on top of all this is just one paid subscription too many.  That’s why people aren’t paying for music if they can get it for free.  They love and value their music.  But they love and value so much other stuff as well that they don’t have any disposable income left to pay for music.  Thanks to higher taxes and inflation shrinking everyone’s take-home pay.


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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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Venezuela’s Socialist Policies cause Runaway Inflation and High Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 24th, 2013

Week in Review

Socialists who attack capitalism say they are the champion of the poor.  And yet the poorest of the poor are in socialist countries.  Where some live without indoor plumbing or electric power.  While the poor in capitalist countries can suffer from obesity.  And most if not all have indoor plumbing and electric power.  As well as refrigerators, microwaves and televisions.

Venezuela is an anti-capitalist, socialist country.  So you would think it’s a poor person’s paradise there.  But because of runaway inflation only the rich do well in this socialist paradise.  While the poor can barely afford to live (see Venezuela jails 100 ‘bourgeois’ businessmen in crackdown by Andrew Cawthorne and Deisy Buitrago, Reuters, posted 11/14/2013 on Yahoo! News).

Venezuela’s socialist government has arrested more than 100 “bourgeois” businessmen in a crackdown on alleged price-gouging at hundreds of shops and companies since the weekend, President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday.

“They are barbaric, these capitalist parasites!” Maduro thundered in the latest of his lengthy daily speeches. “We have more than 100 of the bourgeoisie behind bars at the moment.”

The successor to the late Hugo Chavez also said his government was preparing a law to limit Venezuelan businesses’ profits to between 15 percent and 30 percent.

Officials say unscrupulous companies have been hiking prices of electronics and other goods more than 1,000 percent. Critics say failed socialist economic policies and restricted access to foreign currency are behind Venezuela’s runaway inflation.

So what’s to blame for these high prices?  Capitalism?  Or socialism?  Well, if you blame a devalued currency and a scarcity of basic goods, you have to blame socialism.

Venezuela’s official inflation, 54 percent annually, is the highest in the Americas…

Given Venezuelans’ anxiety over inflation, and scarcities of basic goods from toilet paper to milk, Maduro was risking a backlash at the December 8 nationwide municipal elections…

Critics say the moves do not tackle the roots of Venezuela’s economic malaise, like an overvalued bolivar that forces many importers to buy black-market dollars and then pass those costs on to consumers.

The government has ordered local telecom companies to block various websites showing the bolivar at 10 times the official rate of 6.3 to the greenback on the illegal market.

The socialist economy of Venezuela can’t provide the basic necessities.  So they have to import a lot of goods.  But before you buy a country’s exports you have to exchange your currency first.  And when you’ve devalued your currency by printing money to pay for a welfare state you don’t get a lot of foreign currency in exchange.  Because your money is worthless.  And no one outside the country wants it.  For what are they going to spend it on?  It’s not like Venezuela has a booming export market to shop at.  So when you can’t exchange bolivars for US dollars you have to get US dollars some other way.  On the black market.  So you have a currency that has some purchasing power to pay for those US exports.

So inflation, scarcity and the cost of black market US dollars adds a lot of costs to businesses.  Which they have to recover somehow.  And the only way they can is through higher prices.  Which hurt the poor the most.  For they’re not getting big pay raises to keep pace with rising prices.  In fact, Venezuelans don’t even want to hold on to their own currency.  Because it’s losing purchasing power at such a great rate that the longer they hold on to it the less it will buy.  Which is why they want those imports.  Because you can’t inflate manufactured goods.  So they hold their value.  Unlike a savings account full of bolivars.

It’s not the bourgeois capitalist parasites making life miserable for the poor.  It’s Venezuela’s socialist policies.  Just as similar policies caused people to flee Cuba on rickety boats to get to America.  And East Germans risked their lives to climb over the Berlin Wall.  If you put two societies close together, one socialist and one capitalist, the flow of people between the two will be from the socialist state to the capitalist state.  Which is why socialist states are often police states.  So they can prevent their people from escaping their socialist paradise.


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October 2013 Employment Situation Summary

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 11th, 2013

Economics 101

Although there were 204,000 New Jobs in October 720,000 Workers left the Labor Force

The worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression continues (see Employment Situation Summary by the Bureau of Labor Statistics posted 11/8/2013).

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 204,000 in October, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 7.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today…

Both the number of unemployed persons, at 11.3 million, and the unemployment rate, at 7.3 percent, changed little in October…

The civilian labor force was down by 720,000 in October.

If the Obama administration was an employment agency that found people jobs someone would have fired the management team by now with numbers like this.  204,000 new jobs for 11.3 million unemployed people is a success rate of 1.81%.  Worse, although there were 204,000 new jobs 720,000 workers left the labor force.  Which means that for every new job we lost 3.5 existing jobs.  So for one step forward in fixing the economy the administration takes 3.5 steps backwards.  Which means we’re moving in the wrong direction with the economy.

After a near-trillion dollar stimulus bill and quantitative easing up the wazoo what do we have to show for it?  Not a whole hell of a lot.  Other than more debt.  And inflationary pressures just waiting to be unleashed.  Taking us back to the stagflation and misery of the Seventies.  The heyday of Keynesian economics.

Solid Economic Growth starts at Raw Material Extraction

Before John Maynard Keynes gave us Keynesian economics the economy hummed along based on classical economic principles.  Including, but not limited to, thrift.  Savings.  Investment.  A sound banking system.  And a strong currency.  People saved their money.  Banks accumulated their savings into investment capital.  Banks made this capital available to investors.  And interest rates were determined by our savings rate.  The more we saved (i.e., the more thrifty we were) the lower interest rates were.  These are the economic principles that made the United States the number one economy in the world.

Another key concept of classical economics is the stages of production.  From the extraction of raw materials to manufacturing to wholesale goods to retail goods.  In a healthy economy there is growth at all stages.  And solid economic growth starts at raw material extraction.  For this feeds manufacturing.  Which feeds wholesale goods.  Which feeds retail goods.  Where consumers spend their money.  The fatal flaw of Keynesian economics is that it focuses only on consumer spending.  Not at these higher-order stages of production.  And when Keynesians try to end a recession while ignoring them they fail.  And get job numbers like these.

Employment in retail trade increased by 44,000 in October, compared with an average monthly gain of 31,000 over the prior 12 months…

Manufacturing added 19,000 jobs in October, with job growth occurring in motor vehicles and parts (+6,000), wood products (+3,000), and furniture and related products (+3,000). On net, manufacturing employment has changed little since February 2013…

In October, employment showed little or no change elsewhere in the private sector, including mining and logging, construction, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and financial activities.

This is not the picture of an improving economy.  Consumers are spending money.  Thanks to low interest rates and a record amount of government benefits.  But the economic activity is greatest at the consumer level.  As evidenced by the largest increase in jobs at the retail level.  There are fewer job gains at manufacturing.  And even less at the whole sale level and raw material extraction.  Meaning the new economic activity is greatest at the consumer level.  Because of cheap (and free) money.  But there are no new jobs at the highest stage of production.  Raw material extraction.  Because they see no real economic recovery.  Only Keynesian ‘hot’ money that will cause a surge in consumer spending.  And a surge in inflation.  Leading to a continued sluggish economic recovery.  Or a fall back into recession.  And the last thing they want should that happen is higher costs.  Or more debt.  So they don’t spend more or invest during periods of Keynesian stimulus.

President Obama’s Greatest Supporters are suffering some of the Greatest Unemployment

The October 2013 Employment Situation Summary paints a grim economic picture.  People continue to leave the labor force.  And the government’s efforts to stimulate economic activity isn’t stimulating anything above the consumer level.  As the higher stages of production fear the coming inflation.  And possible recession.  This after 5 years of President Obama’s Keynesian economic policies.  Further proving the futility of Keynesian economics.  And the failure of the Obama administration.  Whose policies have stalled new hiring.  And pushed people from full-time to part-time.

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed at 8.1 million in October. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

Those individuals who had their hours cut or can’t find a full-time job are in large part due to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Which is not only destroying any economic recovery.  But the Affordable Care Act is also making health insurance unaffordable.  Which will make these economic numbers worse as the carnage spreads to employer-provided health insurance.  As people will have to both pay for health insurance AND pay for all of their health care out-of-pocket thanks to those high deductibles.  Which won’t help the unemployment numbers.  For as consumer spending falls so does hiring.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.0 percent), adult women (6.4 percent), teenagers (22.2 percent), whites (6.3 percent), blacks (13.1 percent), and Hispanics (9.1 percent) showed little or no change in October. The jobless rate for Asians was 5.2 percent.

It is interesting, or rather ironic, that the president’s greatest supporters are suffering some of the greatest unemployment.  Teenagers.  Blacks.  And Hispanics.  Who seem to never lose their faith.  No matter how much President Obama’s policies favor old white men and women.  And Asians.  It’s not for the lack of spending, either.  For the Obama administration has spent more domestically than any other president.  But it is only his rich Wall Street cronies who are doing well.  And other rich people.  Not the rank and file Obama supporters.  Yet they remain Obama supporters.  So far, at least.  These continual bad job numbers AND the unaffordable Affordable Care Act may change things.  Especially when these continue to fall disproportionally on teenagers, blacks and Hispanics.


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Alan Greenspan blames Irrational Risk-Taking and not his Keynesian Policies for the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 26th, 2013

Week in Review

Since the Keynesians took over monetary policy we’ve had the Great Depression, the inflation racked Seventies, the dot-com bubble/recession of the late 1990s/early 2000s and the subprime mortgage crisis.  It’s also given Japan their Lost Decade, a deflationary spiral that started in the late Eighties that they are still fighting today.  As well as the sovereign debt crisis still ongoing in Europe.  So Keynesian economics has a record of failure.  Yet governments everywhere embrace it.  Why?  Because they love having the power to create money.  Especially when it’s ostensibly for helping the economy.  Which it never does.  As efforts to do so resulted in the carnage noted above.  But it always gives a good excuse for another surge in government spending.  And Keynesians love government spending.

Why does Keynesian economics fail?  Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve whose policies helped create some of this carnage (dot-com bubble and subprime mortgage crisis), explains (see Greenspan ponders the roots of a financial crisis he failed to foresee by Martin Crutsinger, The Associated Press, posted 10/21/2013 on The Star).

Now, Alan Greenspan has struck back at any notion that he — or anyone — could have known how or when to defuse the threats that triggered the crisis. He argues in a new book, The Map and the Territory, that traditional economic forecasting is no match for the irrational risk-taking that can inflate catastrophic price bubbles in assets like homes or tech stocks.

This is why the Soviet Union lost the Cold War.  Because their managed economy failed.  As all managed economies fail.  Because it is impossible to know the decisions of hundreds of million people in the market.  These people making decisions for themselves result in economic activity.  But when governments try to decide for them you get Great Depressions, debilitating inflation, bubbles and nasty recessions.  As well as the collapse of the Soviet Union.

People only took irrational risks when the Federal Reserve (the Fed)/government interfered with market forces.  The dot-com bubble grew because the Fed kept interest rates artificially low.  So was it irrational for people to take advantage of those artificially low interest rates and make risky investments they otherwise wouldn’t have made?  Yes.  But if the Fed didn’t keep them artificially low in the first place there would have been no dot-com bubble in the second place.

Was it irrational for people to buy houses they couldn’t afford when the Clinton administration forced lenders to qualify the unqualified for mortgages they couldn’t afford?  Was it irrational behavior for people to buy houses they couldn’t afford because of artificially low interest rates, ‘cheap’ adjustable rate mortgages, zero-down mortgages, interest only mortgages and no-documentation mortgages?  Yes.  But if the Fed/government did not interfere with market forces in the first place to increase home ownership (especially among those who couldn’t qualify for a conventional mortgage) there would have been no subprime housing bubble in the second place.

The problem with Keynesians is they call anyone who doesn’t behave as they hope to make people behave with their policies irrational.  That is, people are irrational if they don’t think like a Keynesian and therefore cause Keynesian policies to fail.  But before there could be irrational exuberance there has to be a climate that encourages irrational exuberance first.  For if we went back to the banking system where our savings rate determined our interest rates as well as the investment capital available there would be no bubbles.  And no irrational exuberance.  What kind of a banking system would that be?  The kind that vaulted the United States from their Founding to the number one economic power in the world in about one hundred years.  And they did that without making money.  Unlike today.

Q: The size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet stands at a record $3.7 trillion, reflecting all the Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities the Fed has bought to push long-term interest rates down. You have expressed concerns about this size, which is more than four times where the balance sheet stood before the start of the financial crisis. What are your worries?

A: My basic concern is that we have to rein this thing in well before the demand for funds picks up and makes it very difficult to rein in. (Inflation) is not immediate. It is down the road. But historically, there are no cases where central banks blow up their balance sheets or where countries print money which doesn’t hit (with higher inflation).

The balance sheet is four times what it was before the Great Recession?  That’s an enormous amount of new money created to stimulate the economy.  And yet we’re still wallowing in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  I don’t know how much more you can prove the failure of Keynesian economics than this.  About five years of priming the economic pump with stimulus stimulated little.  Other than rich Wall Street investors who are using this easy money to make more money.  While the median household income falls.

Keynesian economics attacks the middle class.  While enriching the ruling class.  And their crony friends on Wall Street.  These policies further the divide between the rich and everyone else.  Yet they continually say these same policies are the only way to reduce the divide between the rich and everyone else.  The historical record doesn’t prove this.  And those familiar with the historical record know this.  Which is why the left controls public education.  So people don’t learn the historical record.  Because once they do it becomes harder to win elections when you’re constantly lying to the American people.


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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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Bretton Woods, Nixon Shock, OPEC, Yom Kippur War, Oil Embargo, Stagflation, Paul Volcker, Ronald Reagan and Morning in America

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 1st, 2013

History 101

(Originally published September 18th, 2012)

Under the Bretton Woods System the Americans promised to Exchange their Gold for Dollars at $35 per Ounce

Wars are expensive.  All kinds.  The military kind.  As well as the social kind.  And the Sixties gave us a couple of doozies.  The Vietnam War.  And the War on Poverty.  Spending in Vietnam started in the Fifties.  But spending, as well as troop deployment, surged in the Sixties.  First under JFK.  Then under LBJ.  They added this military spending onto the Cold War spending.  Then LBJ declared a war on poverty.  And all of this spending was on top of NASA trying to put a man on the moon.  Which was yet another part of the Cold War.  To beat the Soviets to the moon after they beat us in orbit.

This was a lot of spending.  And it carried over into the Seventies.  Giving President Nixon a big problem.  As he also had a balance of payments deficit.  And a trade deficit.  Long story short Nixon was running out of money.  So they started printing it.  Which caused another problem as the US was still part of the Bretton Woods system.  A quasi gold standard.  Where the US pegged the dollar to gold at $35 per ounce.  Which meant when they started printing dollars the money supply grew greater than their gold supply.  And depreciated the dollar.  Which was a problem because under Bretton Woods the Americans promised to exchange their gold for dollars at $35 per ounce.

When other nations saw the dollar depreciate so that it would take more and more of them to buy an ounce of gold they simply preferred having the gold instead.  Something the Americans couldn’t depreciate.  Nations exchanged their dollars for gold.  And began to leave the Bretton Woods system.    Nixon had a choice to stop this gold outflow.  He could strengthen the dollar by reducing the money supply (i.e., stop printing dollars) and cut spending.  Or he could ‘close the gold window’ and decouple the dollar from gold.  Which is what he did on August 15, 1971.  And shocked the international financial markets.  Hence the name the Nixon Shock.

When the US supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War the Arab Oil Producers responded with an Oil Embargo

Without the restraint of gold preventing the printing of money the Keynesians were in hog heaven.  As they hated the gold standard.  The suspension of the convertibility of gold ushered in the heyday of Keynesian economics.  Even Nixon said, “I am now a Keynesian in economics.”  The US had crossed the Rubicon.  Inflationary Keynesian policies were now in charge of the economy.  And they expanded the money supply.  Without restraint.  For there was nothing to fear.  No consequences.  Just robust economic activity.  Of course OPEC didn’t see it that way.

Part of the Bretton Woods system was that other nations used the dollar as a reserve currency.  Because it was as good as gold.  As our trading partners could exchange $35 for an ounce of gold.  Which is why we priced international assets in dollars.  Like oil.  Which is why OPEC had a problem with the Nixon Shock.  The dollars they got for their oil were rapidly becoming worth less than they once were.  Which greatly reduced what they could buy with those dollars.  The oil exporters were losing money with the American devaluation of the dollar.  So they raised the price of oil.  A lot.  Basically pricing it at the current value of gold in US dollars.  Meaning the more they depreciated the dollar the higher the price of oil went.  As well as gas prices.

With the initial expansion of the money supply there was short-term economic gain.  The boom.  But shortly behind this inflationary gain came higher prices.  And a collapse in economic activity.  The bust.  This was the dark side of Keynesian economics.  Higher prices that pushed economies into recessions.  And to make matters worse Americans were putting more of their depreciated dollars into the gas tank.  And the Keynesians said, “No problem.  We can fix this with some inflation.”  Which they tried to by expanding the money supply further.  Meanwhile, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on October 6, 1973, kicking off the Yom Kippur War.  And when the US supported their ally Israel the Arab oil producers responded with an oil embargo.  Reducing the amount of oil entering America, further raising prices.  And causing gas lines as gas stations ran out of gas.  (In part due to Nixon’s price controls that did not reset demand via higher prices to the reduced supply.  And a ceiling on domestic oil prices discouraged any domestic production.)  The Yom Kippur War ended about 20 days later.  Without a major change in borders.  With an Israeli agreement to pull their forces back to the east side of the Suez Canal the Arab oil producers (all but Libya) ended their oil embargo in March of 1974.

It was Morning in America thanks to the Abandonment of Keynesian Inflationary Policies

So oil flowed into the US again.  But the economy was still suffering from high unemployment.  Which the Keynesians fixed with some more inflation.  With another burst of monetary expansion starting around 1975.  To their surprise, though, unemployment did not fall.  It just raised prices.  Including oil prices.  Which increased gas prices.  The US was suffering from high unemployment and high inflation.  Which wasn’t supposed to happen in Keynesian economics.  Even their Phillips Curve had no place on its graph for this phenomenon.  The Keynesians were dumfounded.  And the American people suffered through the malaise of stagflation.  And if things weren’t bad enough the Iranians revolted and the Shah of Iran (and US ally) stepped down and left the country.  Disrupting their oil industry.  And then President Carter put a halt to Iranian oil imports.  Bringing on the 1979 oil crisis.

This crisis was similar to the previous one.  But not quite as bad.  As it was only Iranian oil being boycotted.  But there was some panic buying.  And some gas lines again.  But Carter did something else.  He began to deregulate oil prices over a period of time.  It wouldn’t help matters in 1979 but it did allow the price of crude oil to rise in the US.  Drawing the oil rigs back to the US.  Especially in Alaska.  Also, the Big Three began to make smaller, more fuel efficient cars.  These two events would combine with another event to bring down the price of oil.  And the gasoline we made from that oil.

Actually, there was something else President Carter did that would also affect the price of oil.  He appointed Paul Volcker Chairman of the Federal Reserve in August of 1979.  He was the anti-Keynesian.  He raised interest rates to contract the money supply and threw the country into a steep recession.  Which brought prices down.  Wringing out the damage of a decade’s worth of inflation.  When Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidency he kept Volcker as Chairman.  And suffered through a horrible 2-year recession.  But when they emerged it was Morning in America.  They had brought inflation under control.  Unemployment fell.  The economy rebounded thanks to Reagan’s tax cuts.  And the price of oil plummeted.  Thanks to the abandonment of Keynesian inflationary policies.  And the abandonment of oil regulation.  As well as the reduction in demand (due to those smaller and more fuel efficient cars).  Which created a surge in oil exploration and production that resulted in an oil glut in the Eighties.  Bringing the price oil down to almost what it was before the two oil shocks.


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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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Counterfeiting in the Revolutionary War, the American Civil War and World War II

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 24th, 2013

History 101

Governments often turn to Printing Money to Pay for War

It takes money to wage war.  A lot of it.  War spending is always a country’s greatest expenditure.  Because fighting wars is costly.  And the longer they last the more costly they become.  Pushing countries that are waging war to the brink of financial collapse.  Opening the door for another means of waging war.  Counterfeiting.

How do you wage war with counterfeiting?  By pushing a country’s economy into a financial collapse.  If you can’t defeat your enemy with bullets and bombs you destroy their ability to make bullets and bombs.  And everything else.  Including food.  And you do this by devaluing a country’s currency by flooding the money supply with counterfeit bills.  Increasing the money supply causes inflation by having more dollars available to buy the same amount of goods.  Requiring more and more dollars to buy those same goods.  Thus raising prices.

As people struggle with rising prices they buy less.  Because they lose purchasing power.  Businesses see their sales revenue fall.  As people have less disposable income to buy their goods.  With falling sales they lay off workers.  All of this causes a dramatic fall in tax revenue.  Just when they need more to pay the costs of waging war.  As well as providing relief for those no longer able to afford food and housing because they lost their jobs.  Which is why governments print money during wars.  As it is the only choice they have to pay for the high costs of a nation at war.

By the End of the American Civil War about Half of all Money in Circulation was Counterfeit

One of the problems the British had during the American Revolutionary War was that it turned into a world war.  The British were also fighting the French and the Spanish.  Their entering the conflict stretched the British resources thin.  So they turned to counterfeiting.  The Americans were already suffering a terrible inflation as the Continental Congress had little choice but to turn to printing money to pay for the war.  They printed so many continental dollars that people began to refuse to accept it in payment.  Making the continental dollar more and more worthless.  Hence the expression ‘not worth a continental’.  The British tried to push the American economy into collapse by adding to that currency devaluation.  It was so destructive to the American cause that General Washington hanged counterfeiters.

During the early years of the American Civil War the North was running through her gold reserves.  So Congress passed the Legal Tender Act (2/24/1862).  Authorizing the printing of paper money to pay for war.  Just like they did during the Revolutionary War.  A new national currency was a counterfeiter’s dream.  Instead of different banks issuing different banknotes across the country there was now only one.  Counterfeits were easy to pass as few could tell a real one from a fake one.  And with the Confederate dollar worthless even the Confederates wanted these new dollars.  To buy things the Confederate dollar no longer could.  The new counterfeits were even easier to pass in the South as there was no official currency trading hands there.  Counterfeiting was so bad (by the end of the Civil War about half of all the money in circulation was counterfeit) that the Lincoln administration created the Secret Service to combat it.

The Nazis tried to bomb Britain into submission during World War II.  Or at least to weaken it enough for a cross-channel invasion.  The only problem with their plan was that the British had the Supermarine Spitfire.  One of the greatest fighter planes of the war.  And some of the finest pilots ever to fly.  Who had an able assist from the new radar.  Allowing these few to defeat the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.  And made the cross-channel invasion impossible.  It’s these few Winston Churchill’s “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” refer to.

Counterfeiting is a very Effective Way to Wage War while being Cheaper and Less Risky than Conventional War

The Nazis took a beating in the Battle of Britain.  So Hitler turned his war machine eastward.  And invaded the Soviet Union instead.  But he did not give up on Britain.  For Britain was a great thorn in Hitler’s side.  They were in the Mediterranean and North Africa.  And they were producing oil in Iran.  They had the shipping lanes.  As well as the United States as an ally.  Who was feeding food and war material to Britain.  And using that island nation to base their bombers out of.  As well as building up an invasion force there that would one day open up a second front in the West.  Enter Operation Bernhard.

Operation Bernhard was a Nazi plan to flood the British economy with counterfeit money.  To destabilize the British economy.  And push it into collapse.  They set up operations in concentration camps.  And were printing about 1 million counterfeit banknotes a month.  The Nazis then laundered the money.  And used it to buy the war material they needed.  The counterfeits were so good that they were still turning up in Britain a decade after the war.  Forcing the British to withdraw all notes (larger than £5) from circulation and replacing them with a more counterfeit-proof money.

The Nazis turned to the American dollar in 1945.  They set up printing presses in February.  But they cancelled their plans.  The war ended later that year.  Allowing the Americans to escape the economic damage the British suffered at the hands of the Nazi counterfeiting program.  But the idea lives on.  We see ‘superdollars’ (counterfeits so good that their quality is higher than the original) all over the world.  The U.S. suspects the source of these counterfeits are criminal gangs in Iran, Russia, China or Syria.  While suspecting the government of North Korea producing a share of these superdollars.  We don’t know for certain who is creating this counterfeit money but there is a lot of it out there.  Some may be doing it for financial gain.  While others may be doing it to damage the United States economically.  Whatever the reason the result is the same.  Resulting in the scourge of paper money.  Higher inflation.  Currency devaluation.  Higher prices.  And less economic activity.  Possibly even sending the economy into a deep recession.  Everything an enemy of the United States wants to do to the United States.  Making counterfeiting a very effective way to wage war while being cheaper and less risky than conventional war.


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