The Austrian School of Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 3rd, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published February 27th, 2012)

Because of the Unpredictable Human Element in all Economic Exchanges the Austrian School is more Laissez-Faire

Name some of the great inventions economists gave us.  The computer?  The Internet?  The cell phone?  The car?  The jumbo jet?  Television?  Air conditioning?  The automatic dishwasher?  No.  Amazingly, economists did not invent any of these brilliant inventions.  And economists didn’t predict any of these inventions.  Not a one.  Despite how brilliant they are.  Well, brilliant by their standard.  In their particular field.  For economists really aren’t that smart.  Their ‘expertise’ is in the realm of the social sciences.  The faux sciences where people try to quantify the unquantifiable.  Using mathematical equations to explain and predict human behavior.  Which is what economists do.  Especially Keynesian economists.  Who think they are smarter than people.  And markets.

But there is a school of economic thought that doesn’t believe we can quantify human activity.  The Austrian school.  Where Austrian economics began.  In Vienna.  Where the great Austrian economists gathered.  Carl Menger.  Ludwig von Mises.  And Friedrich Hayek.  To name a few.  Who understood that economics is the sum total of millions of people making individual human decisions.  Human being key.  And why we can’t reduce economics down to a set of mathematical equations.  Because you can’t quantify human behavior.  Contrary to what the Keynesians believe.  Which is why these two schools are at odds with each other.  With people even donning the personas of Keynes and Hayek to engage in economic debate.

Keynesian economics is more mainstream than the Austrian school.  Because it calls for the government to interfere with market forces.  To manipulate them.  To make markets produce different results from those they would have if left alone.  Something governments love to do.  Especially if it calls for taxing and spending.  Which Keynesian economics highly encourage.  To fix market ‘failures’.  And recessions.  By contrast, because of the unpredictable human element in all economic exchanges, the Austrian school is more laissez-faire.  They believe more in the separation of the government from things economic.  Economic exchanges are best left to the invisible hand.  What Adam Smith called the sum total of the millions of human decisions made by millions of people.  Who are maximizing their own economic well being.  And when we do we maximize the economic well being of the economy as a whole.  For the Austrian economist does not believe he or she is smarter than people.  Or markets.  Which is why an economist never gave us any brilliant invention.  Nor did their equations predict any inventor inventing a great invention.  And why economists have day jobs.  For if they were as brilliant and prophetic as they claim to be they could see into the future and know which stocks to buy to get rich so they could give up their day jobs.  When they’re able to do that we should start listening to them.  But not before.

Low Interest Rates cause Malinvestment and Speculation which puts Banks in Danger of Financial Collapse

Keynesian economics really took off with central banking.  And fractional reserve banking.  Monetary tools to control the money supply.  That in the Keynesian world was supposed to end business cycles and recessions as we knew them.  The Austrian school argues that using these monetary tools only distorts the business cycle.  And makes recessions worse.  Here’s how it works.  The central bank lowers interest rates by increasing the money supply (via open market transactions, lowering reserve requirements in fractional reserve banking or by printing money).  Lower interest rates encourage people to borrow money to buy houses, cars, kitchen appliances, home theater systems, etc.  This new economic activity encourages businesses to hire new workers to meet the new demand.  Ergo, recession over.  Simple math, right?  Only there’s a bit of a problem.  Some of our worst recessions have come during the era of Keynesian economics.  Including the worst recession of all time.  The Great Depression.  Which proves the Austrian point that the use of Keynesian policies to end recessions only makes recessions worse.  (Economists debate the causes of the Great Depression to this day.  Understanding the causes is not the point here.  The point is that it happened.  When recessions were supposed to be a thing of the past when using Keynesian policies.)

The problem is that these are not real economic expansions.  They’re artificial ones.  Created by cheap credit.  Which the central bank creates by forcing interest rates below actual market interest rates.  Which causes a whole host of problems.  In particular corrupting the banking system.  Banks offer interest rates to encourage people to save their money for future use (like retirement) instead of spending it in the here and now.  This is where savings (or investment capital) come from.  Banks pay depositors interest on their deposits.  And then loan out this money to others who need investment capital to start businesses.  To expand businesses.  To buy businesses.  Whatever.  They borrow money to invest so they can expand economic activity.  And make more profits.

But investment capital from savings is different from investment capital from an expansion of the money supply.  Because businesses will act as if the trend has shifted from consumption (spending now) to investment (spending later).  So they borrow to expand operations.  All because of the false signal of the artificially low interest rates.  They borrow money.  Over-invest.  And make bad investments.  Even speculate.  What Austrians call malinvestments.  But there was no shift from consumption to investment.  Savings haven’t increased.  In fact, with all those new loans on the books the banks see a shift in the other direction.  Because they have loaned out more money while the savings rate of their depositors did not change.  Which produced on their books a reduction in the net savings rate.  Leaving them more dangerously leveraged than before the credit expansion.  Also, those lower interest rates also decrease the interest rate on savings accounts.  Discouraging people from saving their money.  Which further reduces the savings rate of depositors.  Finally, those lower interest rates reduce the income stream on their loans.  Leaving them even more dangerously leveraged.  Putting them at risk of financial collapse should many of their loans go bad.

Keynesian Economics is more about Power whereas the Austrian School is more about Economics

These artificially low interest rates fuel malinvestment and speculation.  Cheap credit has everyone, flush with borrowed funds, bidding up prices (real estate, construction, machinery, raw material, etc.).  This alters the natural order of things.  The automatic pricing mechanism of the free market.  And reallocates resources to these higher prices.  Away from where the market would have otherwise directed them.  Creating great shortages and high prices in some areas.  And great surpluses of stuff no one wants to buy at any price in other areas.  Sort of like those Soviet stores full of stuff no one wanted to buy while people stood in lines for hours to buy toilet paper and soap.  (But not quite that bad.)  Then comes the day when all those investments don’t produce any returns.  Which leaves these businesses, investors and speculators with a lot of debt with no income stream to pay for it.  They drove up prices.  Created great asset bubbles.  Overbuilt their capacity.  Bought assets at such high prices that they’ll never realize a gain from them.  They know what’s coming next.  And in some darkened office someone pours a glass of scotch and murmurs, “My God, what have we done?”

The central bank may try to delay this day of reckoning.  By keeping interest rates low.  But that only allows asset bubbles to get bigger.  Making the inevitable correction more painful.  But eventually the central bank has to step in and raise interest rates.  Because all of that ‘bidding up of prices’ finally makes its way down to the consumer level.  And sparks off some nasty inflation.  So rates go up.  Credit becomes more expensive.  Often leaving businesses and speculators to try and refinance bad debt at higher rates.  Debt that has no income stream to pay for it.  Either forcing business to cut costs elsewhere.  Or file bankruptcy.  Which ripples through the banking system.  Causing a lot of those highly leveraged banks to fail with them.  Thus making the resulting recession far more painful and more long-lasting than necessary.  Thanks to Keynesian economics.  At least, according to the Austrian school.  And much of the last century of history.

The Austrian school believes the market should determine interest rates.  Not central bankers.  They’re not big fans of fractional reserve banking, either.  Which only empowers central bankers to cause all of their mischief.  Which is why Keynesians don’t like Austrians.  Because Keynesians, and politicians, like that power.  For they believe that they are smarter than the people making economic exchanges.  Smarter than the market.  And they just love having control over all of that money.  Which comes in pretty handy when playing politics.  Which is ultimately the goal of Keynesian economics.  Whereas the Austrian school is more about economics.

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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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FT190: “The children are our future. God help us.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 4th, 2013

Fundamental Truth

Our Universities praise Government Intervention, Vilify Capitalism and Denigrate US History

I recently saw some students on television from our most prestigious universities.  I won’t say who or where they were because it doesn’t matter.  For they all pretty much think the same.  There were liberal Democrats.  And conservative Republicans.  Young people.  Just into their twenties.  They spoke of economics, health care, free markets, investing in education, etc.  Kids too young to have experienced life.  In fact, most were still on their parent’s health insurance policies.  But they knew everything there was to know.  Particularly the liberal Democrats.

In college kids don’t know anything.  That’s why they are there.  So someone can tell them all those things they don’t know.  The problem is this.  The people telling them what to think have a liberal bias.  It’s no secret.  The teachers’ unions demand pay and benefit packages well beyond what most people can get in the private sector.  The government let’s them gouge taxpayers.  And in return they teach our kids in public schools to become Democrat voters.  Then it’s on to college.  Where the anti-capitalist hippies of the Sixties went on to become college professors.  Who talked about the fairness in the former Soviet Union and the former East Germany.  Where they put people before profits.  Admiring their love of people.  And hatred of profits.  While glossing over on their oppressive police states, thought crimes, prisons for political dissidents, torture and wholesale executions.

These radical hippies took over higher education.  And wrote the curriculum.  Which praised government intervention into the free market economy.  Vilified capitalism.  And denigrated the United State’s role in history.  Programming our children to hate whatever they hate.  And to love what they love.  Even when the facts get in the way.  Which they can fix with a little history revisionism.

The Arts did Very Well during the Eighty thanks to the Generosity of Gainfully Employed People

They call the Eighties the decade of greed.  While at the same time calling President Reagan’s economic policies a failure.  Supply-side economics.  Of the Austrian school.  Everyone did well.  Everyone made money.  Which is why they were so materialistic.  Because they had good-paying jobs that allowed them to be materialistic.  Allowing them to buy Sony Walkmans and CD players.  Which everyone had to have.  Even though no one knew what they were before they hit the stores.  Proving Say’s law.

Say’s law is a part of supply-side economics.  In general it states that supply creates its own demand.  No one was clamoring for Sony Walkmans or CD players in the Eighties.  But when these companies explained how great they were all of a sudden we were demanding them.  Supply created demand.  Just as PC supply created PC demand.  PCs were on the market long before they were in everyone’s home.  It was a tough sell in the beginning.  Because no one knew what they would use them for.  But they have them now.  Just like the Internet.  For a generation who had just mastered the recording functions on their VCRs (video cassette recorders—what we used to record TV programs on before DVRs) the Internet was a confusing thing.  And many said “thank you, but no thanks.”  Then people began creating content and putting it on the World Wide Web.  Today, people can’t live without their Internet connection.  Again, supply created demand.

This is Say’s law in action.  Supply creates demand.  You make it easier for people to be creative and bring things to market and they will.  Two ways to do this is to lower tax rates and reduce the regulatory climate.  So people are more willing to take risks.  Which they will do if there is sufficient reward for taking that risk.  Reagan did both during the Eighties.  The economy exploded.  Everybody was working.  The jobs were so good that we had money for material comforts.  And generous donations.  The arts did very well during the Eighties thanks to the generosity of gainfully employed people.

Obamacare will take Money from the Young and Healthy to pay for the Old and Sick

But this isn’t what they’re teaching in our universities.  They say that Reagan did cut taxes and created an economic boom.  But at what cost?  For he had record deficits.  Because of those tax cuts.  Which is where that history revisionism comes in.  Yes, he cut tax rates.  And when he did tax receipts (actual money flowing into the treasury) nearly doubled.  But our universities don’t teach that.  As demonstrated whenever a liberal talks about Reaganomics.  Instead they attack Reagan.  Capitalism.  And Republicans in general.  Because they all believe that limited government is best.  Which threatens a ruling class.

Our universities teach our kids the economics school that benefits the ruling class.  By supporting an ever expanding government.  Keynesian economics.  Which has a proven track record of failure whenever we’ve tried it.  John Maynard Keynes himself advised FDR during the Great Depression.  FDR didn’t think much of Keynes.  But he liked his idea about government spending during times of recession.  Even though it only delayed the correction—and prolonged the recession—by interfering with market forces trying to correct market prices.  Giving us the Great Depression.  Keynesian economics also gave us the stagflation of the Seventies.  Japan’s Lost Decade in the Nineties.  The American dot-com bubble and recession in the Nineties/early 2000s.  The 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.  And the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis.  All of these crises have their roots in Keynesian economics.  The school of economics of the ruling class.  But what do they teach in college?  Free market capitalism is bad.  And Keynesian economics is gospel.

These twenty somethings were anxious to show how smart they were.  How in a mere 2-4 years of college they had learned everything there was to learn.  And could regurgitate the party line.  Rolling their eyes at the idiots around them.  Laughing with all-knowing condescension.  Praising President Obama.  Obamacare.  Believing that it will provide more for less.  When nothing in the world works that way.  More costs more.  Yet they naïvely bleat what they were taught.  These kids who haven’t opened up a letter from their private health insurer advising them that their premiums will rise by 50%, 75%, 100%, or more, to comply with Obamacare.  Because it costs more to have more.  And people now have to pay more even if they don’t want more.  In particular young people.  For Obamacare is a transfer program.  Where Obamacare will take money from the young and healthy (like these college students once they graduate) to pay for the old and sick.

These kids, of course, blame the Republicans for the government shutdown.  And that their concern for our deficits is silly.  For they believe we don’t have a deficit problem.  Yet the smaller Reagan deficits were the end of the world as we knew it.  And they don’t have a problem with members of Congress and their staff getting subsidies to pay for their Obamacare.  As paying for their Cadillac health care plans with their six-figure salaries would have been too much of a burden for them.  And beneath them.  So we should pity them while record numbers of Americans have disappeared from the labor force.  Especially during the government shutdown.  Where the grooms of the stool may not be there for them.  Forcing the ruling class to wipe their own bottoms after they go potty.

This is what government and the political left is turning into.  A ruling class.  The very thing we fought our independence from.  And they are getting away with this because they control education.  And because they do they can revise history.  And change their failures to successes.  And change conservative successes to failures.  All you need are fresh young minds to corrupt.  And corrupt they do.  These kids talk like they know everything.  But they know nothing.  Which is sad.  For the children are our future.  God help us.

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Banks, Keynes, Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 17th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published June 11th, 2013)

Bringing Borrowers and Lenders Together is a very Important Function of our Banks

Borrowers like low interest rates.  Savers (i.e., lenders) like high interest rates.  People who put money into the bank want to earn a high interest rate.  People who want to buy a house want a low interest rate.  As the interest rate will determine the price of the house they can buy.  Borrowers and lenders meet at banks.  Bankers offer a high enough interest rate to attract lenders (i.e., depositors).  But not too high to discourage borrowers.

This is the essence of the banking system.  And capital formation.  Alexander Hamilton said that money in people’s pockets was just money.  But when the people came together and deposited their money into a bank that money became capital.  Large sums of money a business could borrow to build a factory.  Which creates economic activity.  And jobs.  The United States became the world’s number one economic power with the capital formation of its banking system.  For a sound banking system is required for any advanced economy.  As it allows the rise of a middle class.  By providing investment capital for entrepreneurs.  And middle class jobs in the businesses they build.

So bringing borrowers and lenders together is a very important function of our banks.  And bankers have the heavy burden of determining saving rates.  And lending rates.  As well as determining the credit risk of potential borrowers.  Savers deposit their money to earn one rate.  So the bank can loan it out at another rate.  A rate that will pay depositors interest.  As well as cover the few loans that borrowers can’t pay back.  Which is why bankers have to be very careful to who they loan money to.

Keynesians make Recessions worse by Keeping Interest Rates low, Preventing a Correction from Happening

John Maynard Keynes changed this system of banking that made the United States the world’s number one economic power.  We call his economic theories Keynesian economics.  One of the changes from the classical school of economics we used to make the United States the world’s number one economic power was the manipulation of interest rates.  Instead of leaving this to free market forces in the banking system Keynesians said government should have that power.  And they took it.  Printing money to make more available to lend.  Thus bringing down interest rates.

And why did they want to bring down interest rates?  To stimulate economic activity.  At least, that was their goal.  To stimulate economic activity to pull us out of a recession.  To even eliminate recessions all together.  To eliminate the normal expansion and contraction of the economy.  By manipulating interest rates to continually expand the economy.  To accept a small amount of permanent inflation.  In exchange for a constantly expanding economy.  And permanent job creation.  That was the Keynesian intention.  But did it work?

No.  Since the Keynesians took over the economy we’ve had the Great Depression, the stagflation and misery of the Seventies, the savings and loans crisis of the Eighties, the irrational exuberance and the dot-com bubble crash of the Nineties, the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession.  All of these were caused by the Keynesian manipulation of interest rates.  And the resulting recessions were made worse by trying to keep interest rates low to pull the economy out of recession.  Preventing the correction from happening.  Allowing these artificially low interest rates to cause even more damage.

The Government’s manipulation of Interest Rates gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the Great Recession

My friend’s father complained about the low interest rates during the Clinton administration.  For the savings rate offered by banks was next to nothing.  With the Federal Reserve printing so much money the banks didn’t need to attract depositors with high savings rates.  Worse for these savers was the inflation caused by printing all of this money eroded the purchasing power of their savings.  So they couldn’t earn anything on their savings.  And what savings they had bought less and less over time.  But mortgages were cheap.  And people were rushing to the banks to get a mortgage before those rates started rising again.

This was an interruption of normal market forces.  It changed people’s behavior.  People who were not even planning to buy a house were moved by those low interest rates to enter the housing market.  Then President Clinton pushed other people into the housing market with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Getting people who were not even planning to buy a house AND who could not even afford to buy a house to enter the housing market.  Those artificially low interest rates pulled so many people into the housing market that this increased demand for houses started raising house prices.  A lot.  But it didn’t matter.  Not with those low interest rates.  Subprime lending.  Pressure by the Clinton administration to qualify the unqualified for mortgages.  And Fannie May and Freddie Mac buying those risky subprime mortgages from the banks, freeing them up to make more risky mortgages.  This scorching demand pushed housing prices into the stratosphere.

A correction was long overdue.  But the Federal Reserve kept pushing that correction off by keeping interest rates artificially low.  But eventually inflation started to appear from all that money creation.  And the Federal Reserve had no choice but to raise interest rates to tamp out that inflation.  But when they did it caused a big problem for those with subprime mortgages.  Those who had adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).  For when interest rates went up so did their mortgage payments.  Beyond their ability to pay them.  So they defaulted on their mortgages.  A lot of them.  Which caused an even bigger problem.  All those mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought?  They sold them to Wall Street.  Who chopped them up into collateralized debt obligations.  Financial instruments backed by historically the safest of all investments.  The home mortgage.  Only these weren’t your father’s mortgage.  These were risky subprime mortgages.  But they sold them to unsuspecting investors as high yield and low-risk investments.  And when people started defaulting on their mortgages these investments became worthless.  Which spread the financial crisis around the world.  On top of all of this the housing bubble burst.  And those house prices fell back down from the stratosphere.  Leaving many homeowners with mortgages greater than the corrected value of their house.

It was the government’s manipulation of interest rates that gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  The Great Recession.  And the worst recovery since that following the Great Depression.  All the result of Keynesian economics.  And the foolhardy belief that you can make recessions a thing of the past.

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Saving, Investing and the Paradox of Thrift

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2013

Economics 101

(Originally published August 27th, 2012)

Healthy Sales can Support just about any Bad Decision a Business Owner Makes

“Industry, Perseverance, & Frugality, make Fortune yield.”  Benjamin Franklin (1744).  He also said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  Franklin was a self-made man.  He started with little.  And through industry, perseverance and frugality he became rich and successful.  He lived the American dream.  Which was having the liberty to work hard and succeed.  And to keep the proceeds of his labors.  Which he saved.  And all those pennies he saved up allowed him to invest in his business.  Which grew and created more wealth.

Frugality.  And saving.  Two keys to success.  Especially in business.  For the business that starts out by renting a large office in a prestigious building with new furniture is typically the business that fails.  Healthy sales can support just about any bad decision a business owner makes.  While falling sales quickly show the folly of not being frugal.  Most businesses fail because of poor sales revenue.  The less frugal you’ve been the greater the bills you have to pay with those falling sales. Which speeds up the failing process.  Insolvency.  And bankruptcy.  Teaching the important lesson that you should never take sales for granted.  The importance of being frugal.  And the value of saving your pennies.

Saving and frugality also hold true in our personal lives.  Especially when we start buying things.  Like big houses.  And expensive cars.  As a new household starting out with husband and wife gainfully employed the money is good.  The money is plentiful.  And the money can be intoxicating.  Because it can buy nice things.  And if we are not frugal and we do not save for a rainy day we are in for a rude awakening when that rainy day comes.  For if that two income household suddenly becomes a one income household it will become very difficult to pay the bills.  Giving them a quick lesson in the wisdom of being frugal.  And of saving your pennies.

The Money People borrow to Invest is the Same Money that Others have Saved

Being frugal lets us save money.  The less we spend the more we can put in the bank.  What we’re doing is this.  We’re sacrificing short-term consumption for long-term consumption.  Instead of blowing our money on going to the movies, eating out and taking a lot of vacations, we’re putting that money into the bank.  To use as a down payment on a house later.  To save for a dream vacation later.  To put in an in-the-ground pool later.  What we’re doing is pushing our consumption out later in time.  So when we do spend these savings later they won’t make it difficult to pay our bills.  Even if the two incomes become only one.

Sound advice.  Then again, Benjamin Franklin was a wise man.  And a lot of people took his advice.  For America grew into a wealthy nation.  Where entrepreneurs saved their money to build their businesses.  Large savings allowed them to borrow large sums of money.  As bank loans often required a sizeable down payment.  So being frugal and saving money allowed these entrepreneurs to borrow large sums of money from banks.  Money that was in the bank available to loan thanks to other people being frugal.  And saving their money.

To invest requires money.  But few have that kind of money available.  So they use what they have as a down payment and borrow the balance of what they need.  The balance of what they need comes from other people’s savings.  Via a bank loan.  This is very important.  The money people borrow to invest is the same money that others have saved.  Which means that investments are savings.  And that people can only invest as much as people save.  So for businesses to expand and for the economy to grow we need people to save their money.  To be frugal.  The more they save instead of spending the greater amount of investment capital is available.  And the greater the economy can grow.

The Paradox of Thrift states that Being Frugal and Saving Money Destroys the Economy

Once upon a time this was widely accepted economics.  And countries grew wealthy that had high savings rates.  Then along came a man named John Maynard Keynes.  Who gave the world a whole new kind of economic thought.   That said spending was everything.  Consumption was key.  Not savings.  Renouncing centuries of capitalism.  And the wise advice of Benjamin Franklin.  In a consumption-centered economy people saving their money is bad.  Because money people saved isn’t out there generating economic activity by buying stuff.  Keynes said savings were nothing more than a leak of economic activity.  Wasted money that leaks out of the economy and does nothing beneficial.  Even when people and/or businesses are being frugal and saving money to avoid bankruptcy.

In the Keynesian world when people save they don’t spend.  And when they don’t spend then businesses can’t sell.  If businesses aren’t selling as much as they once were they will cut back.  Lay people off.  As more businesses suffer these reductions in their sales revenue overall GDP falls.  Giving us recessions.  This is the paradox of thrift.  Which states that by doing the seemingly right thing (being frugal and saving money) you are actually destroying the economy.  Of course this is nonsense.  For it ignores the other half of saving.  Investing.  As a business does to increase productivity.  To make more for less.  So they can sell more for less.  Allowing people to buy more for less.  And it assumes that a higher savings rate can only come with a corresponding reduction in consumption.  Which is not always the case.  A person can get a raise.  And if they are satisfied by their current level of consumption they may save their additional income rather than increasing their consumption further.

Many people get a raise every year.  Which allows them to more easily pay their bills.  Pay down their credit cards.  Even to save for a large purchase later.  Which is good responsible behavior.  The kind that Benjamin Franklin would approve of.  But not Keynesian economists.  Or governments.  Who embrace Keynesian economics with a passion.  Because it gives them a leading role.  When people aren’t spending enough money guess who should step in and pick up that spending slack?  Government.  So is it any wonder why governments embrace this new kind of economic thought?  It justifies excessive government spending.  Which is just the kind of thing people go into government for.  Sadly, though, their government spending rarely (if ever) pulls a nation out of a recession.  For government spending doesn’t replicate what has historically created strong economic growth.  A high savings rate.  That encourages investment higher up in the stages of production.  Where that investment creates jobs.  Not at the end of the stages of production.  Where government spending creates only inflation.  Deficits.  And higher debt.  All things that are a drag on economic activity.

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Banks, Keynes, Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 11th, 2013

History 101

Bringing Borrowers and Lenders Together is a very Important Function of our Banks

Borrowers like low interest rates.  Savers (i.e., lenders) like high interest rates.  People who put money into the bank want to earn a high interest rate.  People who want to buy a house want a low interest rate.  As the interest rate will determine the price of the house they can buy.  Borrowers and lenders meet at banks.  Bankers offer a high enough interest rate to attract lenders (i.e., depositors).  But not too high to discourage borrowers.

This is the essence of the banking system.  And capital formation.  Alexander Hamilton said that money in people’s pockets was just money.  But when the people came together and deposited their money into a bank that money became capital.  Large sums of money a business could borrow to build a factory.  Which creates economic activity.  And jobs.  The United States became the world’s number one economic power with the capital formation of its banking system.  For a sound banking system is required for any advanced economy.  As it allows the rise of a middle class.  By providing investment capital for entrepreneurs.  And middle class jobs in the businesses they build.

So bringing borrowers and lenders together is a very important function of our banks.  And bankers have the heavy burden of determining saving rates.  And lending rates.  As well as determining the credit risk of potential borrowers.  Savers deposit their money to earn one rate.  So the bank can loan it out at another rate.  A rate that will pay depositors interest.  As well as cover the few loans that borrowers can’t pay back.  Which is why bankers have to be very careful to who they loan money to.

Keynesians make Recessions worse by Keeping Interest Rates low, Preventing a Correction from Happening

John Maynard Keynes changed this system of banking that made the United States the world’s number one economic power.  We call his economic theories Keynesian economics.  One of the changes from the classical school of economics we used to make the United States the world’s number one economic power was the manipulation of interest rates.  Instead of leaving this to free market forces in the banking system Keynesians said government should have that power.  And they took it.  Printing money to make more available to lend.  Thus bringing down interest rates.

And why did they want to bring down interest rates?  To stimulate economic activity.  At least, that was their goal.  To stimulate economic activity to pull us out of a recession.  To even eliminate recessions all together.  To eliminate the normal expansion and contraction of the economy.  By manipulating interest rates to continually expand the economy.  To accept a small amount of permanent inflation.  In exchange for a constantly expanding economy.  And permanent job creation.  That was the Keynesian intention.  But did it work?

No.  Since the Keynesians took over the economy we’ve had the Great Depression, the stagflation and misery of the Seventies, the savings and loans crisis of the Eighties, the irrational exuberance and the dot-com bubble crash of the Nineties, the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession.  All of these were caused by the Keynesian manipulation of interest rates.  And the resulting recessions were made worse by trying to keep interest rates low to pull the economy out of recession.  Preventing the correction from happening.  Allowing these artificially low interest rates to cause even more damage.

The Government’s manipulation of Interest Rates gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the Great Recession

My friend’s father complained about the low interest rates during the Clinton administration.  For the savings rate offered by banks was next to nothing.  With the Federal Reserve printing so much money the banks didn’t need to attract depositors with high savings rates.  Worse for these savers was the inflation caused by printing all of this money eroded the purchasing power of their savings.  So they couldn’t earn anything on their savings.  And what savings they had bought less and less over time.  But mortgages were cheap.  And people were rushing to the banks to get a mortgage before those rates started rising again.

This was an interruption of normal market forces.  It changed people’s behavior.  People who were not even planning to buy a house were moved by those low interest rates to enter the housing market.  Then President Clinton pushed other people into the housing market with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Getting people who were not even planning to buy a house AND who could not even afford to buy a house to enter the housing market.  Those artificially low interest rates pulled so many people into the housing market that this increased demand for houses started raising house prices.  A lot.  But it didn’t matter.  Not with those low interest rates.  Subprime lending.  Pressure by the Clinton administration to qualify the unqualified for mortgages.  And Fannie May and Freddie Mac buying those risky subprime mortgages from the banks, freeing them up to make more risky mortgages.  This scorching demand pushed housing prices into the stratosphere.

A correction was long overdue.  But the Federal Reserve kept pushing that correction off by keeping interest rates artificially low.  But eventually inflation started to appear from all that money creation.  And the Federal Reserve had no choice but to raise interest rates to tamp out that inflation.  But when they did it caused a big problem for those with subprime mortgages.  Those who had adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).  For when interest rates went up so did their mortgage payments.  Beyond their ability to pay them.  So they defaulted on their mortgages.  A lot of them.  Which caused an even bigger problem.  All those mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought?  They sold them to Wall Street.  Who chopped them up into collateralized debt obligations.  Financial instruments backed by historically the safest of all investments.  The home mortgage.  Only these weren’t your father’s mortgage.  These were risky subprime mortgages.  But they sold them to unsuspecting investors as high yield and low-risk investments.  And when people started defaulting on their mortgages these investments became worthless.  Which spread the financial crisis around the world.  On top of all of this the housing bubble burst.  And those house prices fell back down from the stratosphere.  Leaving many homeowners with mortgages greater than the corrected value of their house.

It was the government’s manipulation of interest rates that gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  The Great Recession.  And the worst recovery since that following the Great Depression.  All the result of Keynesian economics.  And the foolhardy belief that you can make recessions a thing of the past.

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Keynesian Economics is as Corrupt and Immoral as is Crony Capitalism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 5th, 2013

Week in Review

Before John Maynard Keynes came along the established economic thought was classical economics.  Those principles that made America the number one economic power in the world.  A sound money like the gold standard gave you.  Low tax rates to encourage economic risk taking.  Responsible government spending for only those things a federal government should be doing.  And only spending what that minimal federal tax revenue could pay for.  Little government intervention into the private sector economy.  And thrift.  People spending money very cautiously.  And saving as much as they possible could.  To save for the future.  While providing investment capital for businesses.

These policies made the United States the number one economic power in the world.  Laissez-faire capitalism.  Tried and proven for over a century in the U.S.  But then government got big in the beginning of the Twentieth Century.  The progressives came into the government.  And they needed a new way to lie to and deceive the American people.  And then came along John Maynard Keynes.  The answer to their dreams.  Whose Keynesian economics has destroyed nation after nation with his assault on classical economics.  And now debt crises from excessive government spending in the Twentieth Century have plagued Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States, and other nations that dared to embrace Keynesian economics.

President Obama’s economic recovery has been horrible because he embraces Keynesian economics.  He lied like a good Keynesian to the American people to pass his stimulus.  It did nothing.  As predicted by everyone that isn’t a Keynesian.  He continues to destroy the American economy with near zero interest rates.  Destroying our savings.  Creating stock market bubbles while the labor force participation rate falls to its lowest since the Seventies.  And caused the federal debt to soar to levels that we can never pay down.  Putting us on the road to Greece.  All because of the corrupt economic school of thought John Maynard Keynes gave us.  That governments everywhere are using to increase their size and power.  To elevate the government class into a new aristocracy.  That lives very well thanks to those people beneath them.  The working class.  That works longer while earning less.  Like the nobility and peasants of old.  And a little Orwellian.  As they built this upon a house of lies.  Beginning with changing the meaning of words (see Two Sides of the Same Debased Coin by Hunter Lewis posted 5/2/2013 on Ludwig von Mises Institute).

When we turn to Keynes’s economics, perhaps the most fantastic self-contradiction was that an alleged savings glut, too much supposed idle cash, could be cured by flooding the economy with more cash, newly printed by the government. Perhaps even more bizarrely, Keynes says that we should call this new cash “savings” because it represents “savings” just as genuine as “traditional savings.” That is, the money rolling off the government printing presses is in no way different from the money we earn and choose not to spend.

All this new “savings” enters the economy through the mechanism of low interest rates. At this point, Keynes further confounds his forerunners and elders by arguing that it is not high interest rates, as always thought, but rather low interest rates, that increase savings, even though we started by positing too much savings in the first place.

Keynes’s followers echo this even today. Greenspan, Bernanke, and Krugman have all written about a savings glut which is supposed to be at the root of our troubles, and have proposed more money and lower interest rates as a remedy, although they no longer call the new money “genuine savings.” They prefer quantitative easing and similar obscure euphemisms…

The General Theory does argue that interest rates could and should be brought to a zero level permanently (that’s pages 220–21 and 336)…

Keynesians hate savings.  They don’t want people saving their money.  They want them to spend every last dime.  And then borrow more money to spend when they run out of their own.  Because consumer spending is everything to them.  Spending is what drives economic activity.  And any money they save they don’t spend.  And drain out of the economy.  Which is why they want zero interest rates.  Or even negative interest rates.  To discourage people from saving.  For if you lose purchasing power when you put your money in the bank you might as well spend it now.  And generate economic activity.

This is, of course, a ‘live for the day and screw the future’ mentality.  For if people spend all of their money going out to dinner, buying new cars, going on more vacations, running up their credit cards, etc., that will create a lot of economic activity.  But when these people retire they will have to live like paupers.  Because they didn’t save for their retirement.  Even if someone loses their job and is out of work for a few months if they have no savings they will struggle to pay their mortgage or rent.  Struggle to put food on the table.  They will struggle to pay their utility bills.  And their credit card bills.  This is the problem of living as if your income stream will never end.  It sometimes does end.  And if you didn’t bank a rainy day fund you could find yourself suffering some extreme hardship as you can no longer afford to live like you once did.

Keynesians once called printed money ‘savings’.  Today they call tax cuts ‘spending’.  A little Orwellian doublespeak.  Change the meanings of words.  So they can fool the people into believing that the government printing money and depreciating the currency is the same thing as you working hard and saving for your retirement.  And not taking more of your hard-earned paycheck is irresponsible government spending.  The only government spending, incidentally, they find irresponsible.  This is a fundamental tenet of Keynesian economics.  Deceiving the people.  So politicians can continue to recklessly spend money they don’t have to buy votes for the next election.  And to reward their campaign contributors with the favors of crony capitalism.

These Romney advisors also, of course, believed in the fairy tale of borrow-and-spend stimulus. It is usually forgotten that Keynes assured us that each dollar of such stimulus would produce as much as twelve dollars of growth and not less than four dollars. Even the most ardent Keynesians have, of course, been unable to demonstrate as much as one dollar. How did Keynes know that you would get four dollars at least? He didn’t. He told the governor of the Bank of England, Norman Montague, that his ideas were “a mathematical certainty” but that was just a crude bluff.

What is empirically verifiable is that all debt, private or public, has been generating less and less growth for decades. In the ten years following 1959, the official figures say that you got 73 cents in growth for each dollar borrowed. By the time of the Crash of ’08, that was down to 19 cents. And I expect it was really negative by then and is deeply negative now.

Keynes lied.  But that lie sanctioned governments to expand into the private sector economy.  So they embraced the lie.  And continue the lie.  Because none of these politicians want to give up the good life and get a real job.  They like it the old fashioned way.  Before the Founding Fathers had to muck it up with their attacks on the nobility.  They like being part of the aristocracy.  To live better than any of the poor schmucks that work a 40-hour week.  They just want to take a percentage of that poor schmuck’s earnings for themselves.  Rub elbows with the beautiful people.  And laugh at the working class.

The idea that you can take a dollar from the taxpayer, run it through a costly bureaucracy that a portion of that dollar has to pay for and think you’re going to generate more than a dollar in economic activity is absurd.  By the time that dollar reenters the economy the government has skimmed so much off the top that any economic activity it generates is negligible.  Now compare that to how the taxpayer who earned that dollar spends it.  He or she spends a dollar out of that dollar.  Because they’re not putting it through a costly bureaucracy before they spend it.

Which begs this question.  If a wage earner gets more economic activity when spending that money why not let that wage earner keep more of his or her money to spend?  For each additional dollar they can keep they can generate another dollar of economic activity.  Not the 19 cents the government will be lucky to generate from it.  Ah, well, if they can keep their money they may just do something responsible with it.  Like save it.  Which Keynesians hate.  And the government won’t be able to skim at least 81 cents from each dollar if they don’t tax it away.  Which Keynesians hate even more.

The common theme [of Keynesian Economics] is that market prices don’t matter…

Is this, then, the essence of Keynesianism, its blind destruction of the price mechanism on which any economy depends, as Mises demonstrated? Yes. But there may be an even deeper essence…

For the Victorians, spending within your means and avoiding debt were not just financial principles. They were moral principles. Keynes, who was consciously rebelling against these same Victorians, described their “copybook morality” as “medieval [and] barbarous.” He told his own inner circle that “I remain, and always will remain an immoralist…”

So, in conclusion, when we strip down Keynesianism to its essence, the relationship to crony capitalism becomes even clearer. Crony capitalism represents both a corruption of capitalism and a corruption of morals. Keynesianism also represents both a corruption of economics and a corruption of morals. Crony capitalism and Keynesianism are just two sides of the same debased coin.

The price mechanism allocates scarce resources that have alternative uses.  Through the laws of supply and demand.  Guaranteeing that the people who most want a resource—and are willing to pay more for it than others—will get that resource.  While those who don’t want that resource as badly are not willing to pay the higher prices others are willing to pay.

This is capitalism.  This is what enables you to go out and buy the things you want.  Because the price mechanism has automatically allocated millions upon millions of resources in the economy to get them into the things people most want to buy.  Crony capitalism smashes this apart.  By distorting market forces.  With government fiat.  Which allocates those resources first to their close friends who, in return, favor their friends in government with generous campaign contributions.  Or gifts of gratitude.  While others must pay a higher price.  If they can even get these resources at all.  Which they might not be able to do if they don’t please someone in government who has power over these resources.

This is crony capitalism.  Corrupt.  And immoral.  Just as is Keynesian economics.  Unlike the classical economics that made this country the number one economic power in the world.  Thanks to the gold standard, low taxes, low government spending, little government intervention into the private sector economy and thrift.  Things that kept a government moral.  However hard they may try not to be.

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FT167: “When we lived more austerely there was no need for painful austerity to cure a bloated government.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 26th, 2013

Fundamental Truth

Wise Men in Governments can Do Anything but Pay for their Nanny States

Economics changed in the early Twentieth Century.  America once again had a central bank.  Progressives were expanding the role of government.  And a new economist entered the scene that the progressives just loved.  For he was a macroeconomist who said government should have an active role in the economy.  A role where government tweaked the economy to make it better.  Stronger.  While avoiding the painful corrections on the downside of a business cycle.  Something laissez-faire capitalism caused.  And could not prevent.  But if wise men in government had the power to tweak the private sector economy they could.  At least this is what the progressives and Keynesian economists thought.

That economist was, of course, John Maynard Keynes.  Who rewrote the book on economics.  And what really excited the progressives was the chapter on spending an economy out of a recession.  Now there were two ways to increase spending in an economy.  You can cut tax rates so consumers have bigger paychecks.  Or the government can spend money that they borrow or print.  The former doesn’t need any government intervention into the private sector economy.  While the latter requires those wise men in government to reach deep into that economy.  Guess which way governments choose to increase spending.  Here’s a hint.  It ain’t the one where they just sit on the sidelines.

Governments changed in the Twentieth Century.  Socialism swept through Europe.  And left social democracies in its wake.  Not quite socialism.  But pretty close.  It was the rise of the nanny state.  Cradle to grave government benefits.  A lot of free stuff.  Including pensions.  Health care.  College educations.  And a lot of government jobs in ever expanding government bureaucracies.  Where wise men in government made everything better for the people living in these nanny states.  And armed with their new Keynesian economic policies there was nothing they couldn’t do.  Except pay for their nanny states.

According to John Maynard Keynes raising Tax Rates reduces New Economic Activity

The problem with a nanny state is things change.  People have fewer babies.  Health care and medicines improve.  Increasing lifespans.  You put this together and you get an aging population.  The death knell of a nanny state.  For when those wise men in government set up all of those generous government benefits they assumed things would continue the way they were.  People would continue to have the same amount of babies.  And we would continue to die just about the time we retired.  Giving us an expanding population of new workers entering the workforce.  While fewer people left the workforce and quickly died.  So the tax base would grow.  And always be larger than those consuming those taxes.  In other words, a Ponzi scheme.

But then change came.  With the Sixties came birth control and abortion.  And we all of a sudden started having fewer babies.  While at the same time advances in medicine was increasing our lifespans.  Which flipped the pyramid upside down.  Fewer people were entering the workforce than were leaving it.  And those leaving it were living a lot longer into retirement.  Consuming record amounts of tax money.  More than the tax base could provide.  Leading to deficit spending.  And growing national debt.

Now remember those two ways to increase spending in the economy?  You either cut tax rates.  Or the government borrows and spends.  So if cutting tax rates will generate new economic activity (i.e., new spending in the economy) what will a tax increase do?  It will decrease spending in the economy.  And reduce new economic activity.  Which caused a problem for these nanny states with aging populations.  As the price tag on their nanny state benefits eventually grew greater than their tax revenue’s ability to pay for it.  So they increased tax rates.  Which reduced economic activity.  And with less economic activity to tax their increase in tax rates actually decreased tax revenue.  Forcing them to run greater deficits.  Which added to their national debts.  Increasing the interest they paid on their debt.  Which left less money to pay for those generous benefits.

President Obama’s Non-Defense Spending caused a Huge Spike in the National Debt not seen since World War II

It’s a vicious cycle.  And eventually you reach a tipping point.  As debts grow larger some start to question the ability of a government to ever repay their debt.  Making it risky to loan them any more money.  Which forces these countries with huge debts to pay higher interest rates on their government bonds.  Which leaves less money to pay for those generous benefits.  While their populations continue to age.  Taking you to that tipping point.  Like many countries in the Eurozone who could no longer borrow money to pay for their nanny states.  Who had to turn to the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund for emergency loans.  Which did provide those emergency loans.  Under the condition that they cut spending.  Money in exchange for austerity.  Something that just galls those Keynesian economists.  For despite all of their financial woes coming from having too much debt they still believe these governments should spend their way out of their recessions.  And never mind about the deficits.  Or their burgeoning debts.

But these Keynesians are missing a very important and obvious point.  The problem these nations have is due to their inability to borrow money.  Which means they would NOT have a problem if they didn’t need to borrow money.  So austerity will work.  Because it will decrease the amount of money they need to borrow.  Allowing their tax revenue to pay for their spending needs.  Without excessive tax rates that reduce economic activity.  Making the nanny state the source of all their problems.  For had these nations never became social democracies in the first place they never would have had crushing debt levels that cause sovereign debt crises.  But they did.  And their populations aged.  Making it a matter of time before their Ponzi schemes failed.  Something no nation with a growing nanny state and an aging population can avoid.  Even the United States.  Who kept true to their limited government roots for about 100 years.   Then came the progressives.  The central bank.  And Keynesian economics.  Putting the Americans on the same path as the Europeans (see US Federal Debt As Percent Of GDP).

Debt as Percent of GDP and Wars R2

With the end of the Revolutionary War they diligently paid down their war debt.  Which was pretty much the entire federal debt then.  As the federal government was as limited as it could get.  Then came the War of 1812 and the debt grew.  After the war it fell to virtually nothing.  Then it soared to pay for the Civil War.  Which changed the country.  The country was bigger.  Connected by a transcontinental railroad.  And other internal improvements.  Which prevented the debt from falling back down to pre-war levels.  Then it shot up to pay for World War I.  After WWI the Roaring Twenties replaced progressivism and quickly brought the debt down again.  Then Herbert Hoover brought back progressivism and killed the Roaring Twenties.  FDR turned a bad recession into the Great Depression.  By following all of that Keynesian advice to spend the nation out of recession.  From the man himself.  Keynes.  The massive deficit spending of the New Deal raised the debt higher than it was during World War I.  Changing the country again.  Introducing a state pension.  Social Security.  A Ponzi scheme that would struggle once the population started aging.

Then came World War II and the federal debt soared to its highest levels.  After the war a long decline in the debt followed.  At the end of that decline was the Vietnam War.  And LBJ’s Great Society.  Which arrested the fall in the debt.  Its lowest point since the Great Depression.  Which was about as large as the debt during the Civil War and World War I.  Showing the growth in non-defense spending.  Then came Reagan’s surge in defense spending to win the Cold War.  Once the Americans won the Cold War the debt began to fall again.  Until the Islamist terrorist attacks on 9/11.  Halting the fall in the debt as the War on Terror replaced the Cold War.  Then came the Great Recession.  And President Obama.  Whose non-defense spending caused a huge spike in the national debt.  Taking it to a level not seen since World War II.  When an entire world was at war.  But this debt is not from defense spending.  It’s from an expanded nanny state.  As President Obama takes America into the direction of European socialism.  And unsustainable spending.  Which can end in only but one way.  Austerity.  Painful austerity.  Not like the discomfort of the sequester cuts that only were cuts in the rate of future growth.  But real cuts.  Like in Greece.

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Why the Democrats won’t Privatize Social Security

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 24th, 2013

Politics 101

FDR Transformed the Country because he had a Great Crisis to Exploit like the Great Depression

Once upon a time in a place that seems far, far away there was once a people that saved for retirement.  The savings rate was so high in this mystical land that businesses were able to borrow money at low interest rates to expand their business.  And there was great employment.  Then came an evil ogre who hated savings.  And responsible behavior.  He saw money saved as money leaked out of the economy.  Hurting economic activity.  His motto was spend don’t save.  And don’t worry about how you will take care of yourself in retirement.  So this evil ogre set out to destroy savings and responsible behavior.

That evil ogre’s name was John Maynard Keynes.  Who empowered governments with his inflationary monetary policies.  Allowing governments to spend a lot of money.  Giving them a lot of power.  By getting as many people dependent on the government as possible.  Keynes met with Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  To offer him ideas of how to spend his way out of the Great Depression.  FDR didn’t think much of Keynesian economics.  For he did try to maintain the gold standard.  But he loved spending money.  And getting people dependent on the government.

FDR gave us Big Government.  He did the things Woodrow Wilson wanted to do.  But Wilson couldn’t because he didn’t have a crisis like the Great Depression to exploit.  FDR did.  And he was able to transform the country because of it.  People saved less.  And government spent more.  Which led to deficit spending, massive debt and inflation.  And perhaps the cruelest thing he did was impoverish the retiring class.  By taking their wealth through taxes and inflation.  And making them dependent on a meager Social Security benefit.

Social Security Contributions would create a Bigger Nest Egg if Invested in the Private Sector

After seeing so many poor, hungry, homeless, etc., during the Great Depression government did something.  They punished those who saved responsibly for their retirement.  By redistributing their wealth to those who didn’t.  It seemed fair and just and kind.  And there was an element of that in providing a social safety net for our most vulnerable people.  But that wasn’t the intent of Social Security.  FDR wanted to transform the country.  Which he did.  And today they forecast Social Security will go bankrupt in the coming years.  Requiring ever more wealth redistribution.  All while making Social Security recipients live a more impoverished retirement than they would have.  Had they saved for their own retirement.  A true transformation of the richest country in the world.

So let’s look at the numbers.  Your Social Security contributions are technically saved in a ‘retirement account’ that accrues interest.  Each payroll period both employer and employee contribute to this ‘retirement account’.  Via a tax rate on a person’s gross pay up to a maximum amount (see Historical Payroll Tax Rates).  So let’s see what this would have done in the private sector.  Year by year.  With the following assumptions.  The worker enters the workforce at 18 and works until retiring at age 65.  The worker earns the maximum amount for Social Security taxes.  So all of his or her earnings are subject to the Social Security tax.  With each successive year we add the current contribution to the running balance in his or her retirement account.  The annual balance earns interest at 6% (including anywhere from 2-4% real return on their retirement investment and the rest of that 6% accounts for inflation).  The following chart shows the beginning 5 years and the final 5 years.

Here we can see the power of compound interest.  As we earn interest on both our contributions and the previous interest we earned.  Note that the total contributions for 48 years of work total $282,608.38.  Which earned a total of $540,413.12 in interest.  Bringing the retirement nest egg up to $823,021.50.  Again, this is assuming that the Social Security contributions were actually private retirement savings.  That thing John Maynard Keynes hated.  So this is what a retiree would have to live on in retirement.  Had his or her money not gone to the government.

The Purpose of Social Security was to make People Dependent on Government and Redistribute Wealth

Now let’s look at what kind of retirement that nest egg will provide.  Starting with some more assumptions.  Let’s say the retiree lives 35 years in retirement.  Reaching a grand old age of 100.  Not your typical retirement.  But one this retirement nest egg can provide.  For someone with fairly modest means.  Each year the retiree lives on $53,553.  At the end of the year they earn interest on their remaining balance.  Which helps to stretch that $823,021.50 over those 35 years.  The following chart shows the beginning 5 years and the final 5 years of that retirement.

Note how that $282,608.38 in retirement contributions can provide $1,874,355 in retirement payments.  Again, that’s the miracle of compound interest.  So what kind of retirement would Social Security have provided?  Someone who retires after working till age 65 who was earning $110,100 near retirement will receive approximately $24,720 annually in retirement.  Over 35 years of retirement that comes to $865,200 in retirement benefits.  Which is $1,009,155 less than someone would get investing in a private sector retirement plan.  Or a reduction of 53.8%.  Which is what people lose when letting the government provide for their retirement.  So Social Security is a very poor retirement plan.  Besides going bankrupt.  Which is why the Republicans want to give younger workers the option to opt out of Social Security and provide for their own retirement.  Which makes sense.  And would probably increase their quality of life in retirement.  As shown above.  So why are the Democrats so opposed to privatization of Social Security?

Because the purpose of Social Security was not to provide a quality retirement.  It was to make people dependent on government.  To redistribute wealth.  Increasing the power of government.  And for those things Social Security is a resounding success.  But there is one other thing why Democrats oppose privatizing Social Security.  What would happen if the person that built up that $823,021.50 nest egg died 5 years into retirement?  Who would get the remaining $781,392.18?  The retiree’s family.  Whereas if a Social Security beneficiary dies 5 years into retirement the government keeps their money.  To spend as they please.

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The Federal Reserve, Roaring Twenties, Stock Market Crash, Banking Crises, Great Depression and John Maynard Keynes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 25th, 2012

History 101

The Federal Reserve increased the Money Supply to Lower Interest Rates during the Roaring Twenties

Benjamin Franklin said, “Industry, perseverance, & frugality, make fortune yield.”  He said that because he believed that.  And he proved the validity of his maxim with a personal example.  His life.  He worked hard.  He never gave up.  And he was what some would say cheap.  He saved his money and spent it sparingly.  Because of these personally held beliefs Franklin was a successful businessman.  So successful that he became wealthy enough to retire and start a second life.  Renowned scientist.  Who gave us things like the Franklin stove and the lightning rod.  Then he entered his third life.  Statesman.  And America’s greatest diplomat.  He was the only Founder who signed the Declaration of Independence, Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France (bringing the French in on the American side during the Revolutionary War), Treaty of Paris (ending the Revolutionary War very favorably to the U.S.) and the U.S. Constitution.  Making the United States not only a possibility but a reality.  Three extraordinary lives lived by one extraordinary man.

Franklin was such a great success because of industry, perseverance and frugality.  A philosophy the Founding Fathers all shared.  A philosophy that had guided the United States for about 150 years until the Great Depression.  When FDR changed America.  By building on the work of Woodrow Wilson.  Men who expanded the role of the federal government.  Prior to this change America was well on its way to becoming the world’s number one economy.   By following Franklin-like policies.  Such as the virtue of thrift.  Favoring long-term savings over short-term consumption.  Free trade.  Balanced budgets.  Laissez-faire capitalism.  And the gold standard.  Which provided sound money.  And an international system of trade.  Until the Federal Reserve came along.

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) is America’s central bank.  In response to some financial crises Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act (1913) to make financial crises a thing of the past.  The Fed would end bank panics, bank runs and bank failures.  By being the lender of last resort.  While also tweaking monetary policy to maintain full employment and stable prices.  By increasing and decreasing the money supply.  Which, in turn, lowers and raises interest rates.  But most of the time the Fed increased the money supply to lower interest rates to encourage people and businesses to borrow money.  To buy things.  And to expand businesses and hire people.  Maintaining that full employment.  Which they did during the Roaring Twenties.  For awhile.

The Roaring Twenties would have gone on if Herbert Hoover had continued the Harding/Mellon/Coolidge Policies

The Great Depression started with the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  And to this date people still argue over the causes of the Great Depression.  Some blame capitalism.  These people are, of course, wrong.  Others blamed the expansionary policies of the Fed.  They are partially correct.  For artificially low interest rates during the Twenties would eventually have to be corrected with a recession.  But the recession did not have to turn into a depression.  The Great Depression and the banking crises are all the fault of the government.  Bad monetary and fiscal policies followed by bad governmental actions threw an economy in recession into depression.

A lot of people talk about stock market speculation in the Twenties running up stock prices.  Normally something that happens with cheap credit as people borrow and invest in speculative ventures.  Like the dot-com companies in the Nineties.  Where people poured money into these companies that never produced a product or a dime of revenue.  And when that investment capital ran out these companies went belly up causing the severe recession in the early 2000s.  That’s speculation on a grand scale.  This is not what happened during the Twenties.  When the world was changing.  And electrifying.  The United States was modernizing.  Electric utilities, electric motors, electric appliances, telephones, airplanes, radio, movies, etc.  So, yes, there were inflationary monetary policies in place.  But their effects were mitigated by this real economic activity.  And something else.

President Warren Harding nominated Andrew Mellon to be his treasury secretary.  Probably the second smartest person to ever hold that post.  The first being our first.  Alexander Hamilton.  Harding and Mellon were laissez-faire capitalists.  They cut tax rates and regulations.  Their administration was a government-hands-off administration.  And the economy responded with some of the greatest economic growth ever.  This is why they called the 1920s the Roaring Twenties.  Yes, there were inflationary monetary policies.  But the economic growth was so great that when you subtracted the inflationary damage from it there was still great economic growth.  The Roaring Twenties could have gone on indefinitely if Herbert Hoover had continued the Harding and Mellon policies (continued by Calvin Coolidge after Harding’s death).  There was even a rural electrification program under FDR’s New Deal.  But Herbert Hoover was a progressive.  Having far more in common with the Democrat Woodrow Wilson than Harding or Coolidge.  Even though Harding, Coolidge and Hoover were all Republicans.

Activist Intervention into Market Forces turned a Recession into the Great Depression

One of the things that happened in the Twenties was a huge jump in farming mechanization.  The tractor allowed fewer people to farm more land.  Producing a boom in agriculture.  Good for the people.  Because it brought the price of food down.  But bad for the farmers.  Especially those heavily in debt from mechanizing their farms.  And it was the farmers that Hoover wanted to help.  With an especially bad policy of introducing parity between farm goods and industrial goods.  And introduced policies to raise the cost of farm goods.  Which didn’t help.  Many farmers were unable to service their loans with the fall in prices.  When farmers began to default en masse banks in farming communities failed.  And the contagion spread to the city banks.  Setting the stage for a nation-wide banking crisis.  And the Great Depression.

One of the leading economists of the time was John Maynard Keynes.  He even came to the White House during the Great Depression to advise FDR.  Keynes rejected the Franklin/Harding/Mellon/Coolidge policies.  And the policies favored by the Austrian school of economics (the only people, by the way, who actually predicted the Great Depression).  Which were similar to the Franklin/Harding/Mellon/Coolidge policies.  The Austrians also said to let prices and wages fall.  To undo all of that inflationary damage.  Which would help cause a return to full employment.  Keynes disagreed.  For he didn’t believe in the virtue of thrift.  He wanted to abandon the gold standard completely and replace it with fiat money.  That they could expand more freely.  And he believed in demand-side solutions.  Meaning to end the Great Depression you needed higher wages not lower wages so workers had more money to spend.  And to have higher wages you needed higher prices.  So the employers could pay their workers these higher wages.  And he also encouraged continued deficit spending.  No matter the long-term costs.

Well, the Keynesians got their way.  And it was they who gave us the Great Depression.  For they influenced government policy.  The stock market crashed in part due to the Smoot Hawley Tariff then in committee.  But investors saw the tariffs coming and knew what that would mean.  An end to the economic boom.  So they sold their stocks before it became law.  Causing the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  Then those tariffs hit (an increase of some 50%).  Then they doubled income tax rates.  And Hoover even demanded that business leaders NOT cut wages.  All of this activist intervention into market forces just sucked the wind out of the economy.  Turning a recession into the Great Depression.

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