Economic Stimulus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 5th, 2012

Economics 101

Prices match Supply to Demand letting Suppliers know when to bring more Goods and Services to Market

There is a natural ebb and flow to the economy.  Through good times and bad.  And you can tell which way the economy is heading by prices in the market place.  When prices are rising times are typically good.  As people are gainfully employed with money to spend.  As they compete with each other for the goods and services in the market place demand rises.  Growing greater than the supply of goods and services.  So prices rise.  Because when there are fewer goods and services they are worth more money.  For those who have them to sell.  Because demand is so great people are willing to pay top dollar for them.  To get them while supplies last.  This attracts the attention of other suppliers.  Who want to cash in on those high prices.  So they bring more goods and services to market.

In time supply catches up to demand.  And passes it.  Suddenly the market has more goods and services than people are buying.  As inventories grow retailers stop buying so much from their wholesale suppliers.  Who in turn stop buying so much from their manufacturers.  Who in turn stop buying so much from their raw material suppliers.  And manufacturers and their raw material suppliers begin laying off workers.  So there are fewer people gainfully employed with money to spend.  The fewer gainfully employed buy less than the more gainfully employed.  Causing inventories to grow larger as more goods are going into them than are coming out of them.  So they start cutting prices.  To unload these inventories before people start buying even less.  Because they spent a lot of money to build those inventories.  And it costs to hold these items in warehouses and stockrooms.

And that’s the natural ebb and flow of the economy.  What economists call the business cycle.  That goes from an expanding economy to a contracting economy.  From boom to bust.  From inflation to recession.  Something normal.  And natural.  Though it could be unpleasant for those who lose their jobs.  But it’s something that must happen.  To correct prices.  You see, prices make all of this work automatically.  They match supply to demand.  Letting suppliers know when to bring more goods and services to market.  And when they’ve brought too much.  When the economy goes into recession prices fall.  Which tells suppliers that supply exceeds demand.  And that anything additional they bring to market will not sell.  As they incur costs to bring things to market this is very good information to have.  So they don’t waste money.  Leaving their businesses short of cash.  Possibly causing their businesses to fail.

Whenever we Devalue the Dollar with Inflationary Monetary Policy Prices Rise

No one likes losing their job.  Because they need income to pay their bills.  And the government doesn’t like people losing their jobs.  Because they tax those incomes to pay the government’s bills.  And unemployed people pay no income taxes.  So the government tries to tweak the economy.  At the federal level.  To extend the inflationary periods of the business cycle.  And they do that with inflationary monetary policy.  Using their monetary powers to keep interest rates below the true market interest rate.  Hoping it will encourage suppliers and consumers to keep borrowing and spending money.  Even though supply had already caught up to and passed demand.  Such that everyone that wanted to buy something could.  While every supplier that wanted to sell something couldn’t.

Some people take advantage of these lower interest rates.  Some people will remortgage their homes to lower their monthly payment.  Which will give them a little more disposable cash each month.  Which they may use to buy more stuff.  But other people will take this opportunity to buy a large house just because of the low interest rate.  As some businesses may borrow to expand their business just because of the low interest rate.  Not for unmet demand.  These actions may not help the economy.  In fact they may hurt the economy in the long-term.  When the inevitable recession comes along and they are so overextended they may not be able to pay their bills.  They may lose their house.  Or their business.  For the worst thing to have whenever you suffer a reduction in revenue or income is debt.

But there is an even worse effect of that inflationary monetary policy.  When you increase the money supply you increase the total amount of dollars in the economy.  But they’re chasing the same amount of goods and services.  Which makes each dollar worth less.  Requiring more of them to buy the same things they once did.  Which is why whenever we devalue the dollar with inflationary monetary policy prices rise.  So, yes, there may be an initial expansion of economic activity.  But some people will have inflationary expectations.  That is, they know prices will go up in the very near future.  So they won’t increase production.  Why?  While an initial burst of economic activity may draw down those bloated inventories those coming higher prices will increase business costs.  Which businesses will have to pass on in the prices of their goods.  And how do higher prices affect consumers?  They buy less.  So manufacturers are not going to expand production when price inflation is going to reduce their sales in the long run.

Cutting Taxes and Reducing Costly Regulations have Stimulated Economic Activity every time they’ve been Tried

Perhaps the worst effect of inflation is the false information those higher prices give.  When consumer demand rises so do prices.  And it’s a signal to suppliers to bring more goods and services to market.  But when prices rise because of a depreciated dollar and NOT due to higher consumer demand, some may bring more goods and services to market when there is no demand for it.  So you have rising prices.  And expanding production.  Producing more goods than the market is demanding.  Creating a bubble.  Adding a lot of stuff to the market place at very inflated prices.  That no one is buying.  Then the bubble bursts.  And recession sets in.  As businesses lay off workers to adjust supply to meet actual demand.  And those inflated prices fall back to market values.  The higher inflationary monetary policy pushed those prices up the farther they have to fall.  And the more painful the recession will be.

You see, inflationary monetary policy interferes with the natural ebb and flow of the economy.  And the automatic price mechanism that matches supply to demand.  By trying to expand the inflationary side of the business cycle, and contract the recessionary side, governments make recessions longer.  And more painful.  Which is why Keynesian stimulus policies (lowering interests rates and deficit spending) don’t stimulate long-term economic activity.  Yet it is what most governments turn to whenever the economy slows. While there is another way to stimulate economic activity.  One that is not so popular with most governments.  Across the board tax cuts on business and personal incomes.  And reducing costly regulations on businesses.  These make a more business-friendly environment.  Encouraging businesses to expand and hire people.  Because these actions will have a positive impact on a business’ long-term outlook.  And with consumers having more disposable income (thanks to the cuts in personal income tax rates) businesses know there will be a market of any increase in production.

So there you have two ways to stimulate economic activity.  One way that works (tax cuts and reducing costly business regulations).  And one that doesn’t (lowering interest rates and deficit spending).  So why is the one that doesn’t work chosen by most governments over the one that does?  Because governments like to spend money.  It’s how they build constituencies.  By giving generous benefits to voters.  But to do that they need tax revenue.  Lots of tax revenue.  Produced by increasing tax rates as often as they can.  So they cannot stand the thought of cutting taxes.  Ever.  Which is why they always choose inflationary policies over tax cuts.   Even though those policies fail to stimulate economic activity.  As proven throughout the era of Keynesian economics.  While cutting taxes and reducing costly regulations have stimulated economic activity every time they’ve been tried.

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LESSONS LEARNED #79: “Tax cuts stimulate. Not tax hikes.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 18th, 2011

With Bubbles the Ride Down is never as Enjoyable as the Ride Up

Bill Clinton dealt George W. Bush a horrible hand.  Clinton enjoyed the irrational exuberance.  He rode the good side of the dot-com bubble.  Saw the treasury awash in cash.  Dot-com people cashing in their stock options and paying huge capital gains taxes.  There was so much money pouring in that projections showed a balanced budget for the first time in a long time.  As long as the people stayed irrationally exuberant.  And that damn Alan Greenspan didn’t raise interest rates.  To rain on his parade.

But he did.  The days of free money were over.  (For awhile, at least).  Because people where bidding up stock prices for companies that hadn’t produced a product or provided a service.  Money poured into these dot-coms as investors were ever hopeful that they had found the next Microsoft.  These companies hired programmers.  Colleges couldn’t graduate enough of them.  To program whatever these companies would eventually do.  But with the spigot of free money turned off these companies ran out of startup capital.  As most of these businesses had no revenue they went out of business.  By the droves.  Throwing these programmers out onto the street.

And then the great contraction.  Which follows a bubble after it is a bubble no more.  Prices fell as deflation replaced inflation.  And as prices fell, unemployment went up.  The phantom prosperity at the end of the Nineties was being corrected.  And the ride down is never as enjoyable as the ride up. 

Easy Monetary Policy and lack of Congressional Oversight of Fannie Mae and Fannie Mac

And then there was, of course, 9/11.  Which further weakened an already weakened economy.  So that’s the backstory to the economic activity of the 2000s.  A decade that began with the aftermath of one bubble bursting.  And ended with an even worse bubble bursting.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  It was a decade of government stimulus.  George W. Bush used both tax cuts (at the beginning of his presidency).  And then a more Keynesian approach (tax rebates and tax incentives) at the end of his presidency.  In other words, tax and spend.

But the subprime mortgage crisis was so devastating that the 2008 stimulus urged by Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve) to ward off a possible recession failed.  The easy monetary policy and lack of Congressional oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused big trouble.  And put far too many people into houses who couldn’t afford them.  The housing bubble was huge.  And because Fannie and Freddie were buying these risky mortgages and repackaging them into ‘safe’ securities, the fallout went beyond the housing market.  Pension funds, IRAs and 401(k)s that bought these ‘safe’ securities lost huge swaths of wealth.  The economic fallout was vast.  And global.

And then came Barack Obama.  A Keynesian if there was ever one.  With the economy in a free fall towards a depression, he signed into law an $800 billion stimulus package.  Not surprisingly, it turned out that about 88% of that was pure pork and earmarks.  Making his ‘stimulus’ stimulate even less than the George W. Bush $152 billion stimulus package.  And worked about as well.

Home Ownership was the Key to Economic Prosperity in the U.S.

So let’s look at the numbers.  Below is a chart graphing GDP, the unemployment rate and the inflation rate for the 2000s.  GDP is in billions of 2005 dollars.

(Sources: GDP, unemployment, inflation.  *Average to date (GDP – 2 quarters, unemployment rate – 7 months and inflation – 7 months).)

You can see the fallout of the dot-com bust.  The decade opens with deflation and a rising unemployment rate.  GDP, though, was still tracking upward.  After the bush tax cuts in 2001 (Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001) and 2003 (Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003) you can see improvement.  Unemployment peaks out and then falls.  Inflation replaces deflation.  And GDP grows at a greater rate. 

Things were looking good.  But lurking in the background was that easy credit.  And federal policies to qualify unqualified people for mortgages.  To put them into houses they couldn’t afford.  All because home ownership was the key to economic prosperity in the U.S.

Which makes the rising rate of inflation a concern.  Rising inflation (i.e., expansionary or ‘easy’ monetary policy) created the dot-com bubble.  A rising inflation rate can be bad.  But at least during this period the growth rate of GDP is greater than the growth in the inflation rate.  Which indicates real economic growth.  Accompanied by a falling unemployment rate.  All nice.  Until…

Bernanke and Company Crapped their Pants

Those people approved for mortgages they weren’t qualified for?  Guess what?  They couldn’t make their mortgage payments.  And because Fannie and Freddie bought so many of these risky mortgages, these defaults weren’t the banks’ problems.  They were the taxpayers’ problems.  And anyone who bought those ‘safe’ securities.

Long story short, Bernanke and company crapped their pants.  He urged the $152 billion Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 to ward off a possible recession.  This was a Keynesian stimulus.  Remember that summer when you got those $300 checks?  This was that stimulus.  But it didn’t stimulate anything.  People used that money to pay down debt.  Because they were crapping their pants, too.

The good times were over.  That huge housing bubble was bursting.  And nothing was going to stop it.  Certainly not more of the same (Keynesian stimulus).  GDP fell.  Unemployment rose.  Inflation became deflation.  And Bernanke stepped in and turned the printing presses on.  Desperate not to make the same mistake the Fed made during the Great Depression.  When bad Fed policy caused all of those bank runs.

An Inflation Rate Greater than the GDP Growth Rate may Return us to Stagflation

The Obama administration (all Keynesians) pushed for a massive stimulus to fix the economy.  The best and brightest in the administration, Ivy League educated economists, guaranteed that if passed they could hold the unemployment rate under 8%.  So they passed it.  And Bernanke kept printing money.  In other words, more of the same.  More of what gave us the dot-com bubble.  And more of what gave us the housing bubble.  Inflationary monetary policy.  And more government spending.

Didn’t work.  It took a year for the deflation to end.  As the market corrected prices.  And readjusted supply to match actual demand.  The unemployment rate maxed out around 10%.  And the Obama stimulus didn’t move it much from that high. 

GDP growth resumed.  However, the growth of inflation is now greater than the growth of GDP.  A very ominous sign.  Indicating that GDP growth is not real.  And will likely collapse once the ‘free money’ Fed policies end.  Or the growth of inflation coupled with high unemployment return us to the Jimmy Carter stagflation of the Seventies.

Keynesian Stimulus is the way to go if you want Deflation and Recession 

Further Keynesian stimulus may only make a bad situation worse.  And prolong this economic ‘recovery’.  These policies make bubbles.  Which are fine and dandy until they burst.  Giving us deflation and recession.  And the bigger the bubble, the greater deflation and recession that follows.

Tax cuts stimulate.  They ended the dot-com recession.  All Keynesian attempts during the 2000s have failed.  Proving again that tax and spend doesn’t work.  Easy monetary policy and government spending does not end well.  Unless you want deflation and recession.  Then the Keynesian way is the way to go.  But if you want to stimulate economic activity.  If you want real GDP growth.  Then you have to go with tax cuts.  As their track record of success shows.

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