India’s Keynesian Policies may cause S&P to downgrade their Credit Rating

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 13th, 2012

Week in Review

Monetary policy can be confusing.  Especially when the Keynesians start talking about it.  Bunch of policy wonks.  Pushing a defective ideology.  For it doesn’t do anything they say it will do.  Excessive government spending, and deficit spending, rarely ends well.  It only leads to larger debts, weaker growth and price inflation.  Wherever Keynesians try their policies (see Significant chance of cutting India rating in future: S&P by Neha Dasgupta and Swati Bhat posted 10/10/2012 on Reuters).

India still faced a one-in-three chance of a over the next 24 months, Standard & Poor’s said, although a series of reform steps launched in September had slightly improved the country’s prospects…

“Weaker-than-expected tax receipts, owing to weaker economic growth, and higher-than-budgeted subsidies are the main reasons behind it,” S&P said, referring to its deficit outlook.

The high deficit is counteracting the central bank’s efforts to control demand-driven price pressures, while the government’s use of domestic savings to finance the deficit is crowding out private investment and lowering growth prospects.

Governments tend to increase their spending during good economic times.  Because they can.  The problem is that good economic times don’t always last.  And when the economy tanks so do tax receipts.  Leaving the government with spending obligations that they no longer can afford to pay.  So they borrow more.  Run larger deficits.  And expand the money supply by lowering interest rates.  Which leads to, of course, price inflation.  And, finally, that oft asked question.  Is debt really anything to worry about when we owe money to ourselves?  Yes.  For when the government sells bonds to finance deficit spending it pulls investment capital from the private sector.  Where business owners could have used it to create economic activity.  And jobs.

So never be fooled by Keynesians and their rosy projections of economic growth.  For their policies hinder economic growth.  And cause credit downgrades.  Everywhere they’re tried.


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The Official Unemployment Rate falls to 7.8% but the U6 Unemployment Rate Holds Steady at 14.7%

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 6th, 2012

Week in Review

The jobs report is out.  And the Left is trumpeting the great fall in the unemployment rate from 8.1% in August to 7.8% in September (see Table A-15. Alternative measures of labor underutilization posted 10/5/2012 on Bureau of Labor Statistics).  This is the official U3 unemployment rate.  That only counts people looking for full-time employment.  It doesn’t include those working part-time because they can’t find full-time work.  And it doesn’t include the people who just gave up looking for full-time work because there just isn’t any out there.  Which throws a little cold water on this 7.8% number.  For it doesn’t reflect a gain in new jobs.  It just reflects that they are counting fewer unemployed people.

A more accurate picture of the current employment climate is the U6 unemployment rate.  This number counts everyone who can’t find a full-time job for whatever reason.  Some have given up their search.  Some have retired early.  Some are living off of government benefits.  Some are working part-time jobs.  Some are working a couple of part-time jobs to make ends meet.  Interestingly, although the U3 rate fell 3 points the U6 rate held steady at 14.7%.  Which is puzzling.  For everyone included in the U3 rate is included in the U6 rate.  So if U3 fell U6 should have fallen, too.  For U3 and U6 generally rise and fall with each other.  As they have done in the past.  Such as in the years from 2006 to 2012 (pulled from the same Bureau of Labor Statistics website).

During the 2006 mid-term elections the Democrats were saying the economy was just terrible.  They hammered the economic numbers saying it was one of the worst economies ever.  Of course, the numbers say otherwise.  Whether you’re looking at the U3 rate or the U6 rate.  The economic numbers were very strong right until that sustained Keynesian monetary expansion forcing interest rates below market values and the government pressure on mortgage lenders to lend to people who could not afford a conventional mortgage blew up in their faces.  Beginning with President Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Which is why these lenders turned to the subprime mortgage.  Approving so many people for mortgages that housing prices soared.  Creating a huge housing bubble just waiting to be pricked by a rise in interest rates.  Which had to come.  As expansionary monetary policy eventually creates inflation.  And the only way to stop that is by raising interest rates.  Which was the time bomb ticking buried deep within those adjustable rate subprime mortgages.

Facilitated by the federal government and their GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (who guaranteed and bought these toxic mortgages from the lenders they were pressuring to approve more toxic loans), subprime lending expanded.  As the GSEs sold these toxic mortgages to unsuspecting investors.  Which all blew up in the final months of 2008.  Creating the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.  The U3 rate rose as high as 10% in the fallout from this bad Keynesian expansionary monetary policy.  While the U6 rate soared as high as 17%.  Great Depression unemployment levels.  And neither has fallen much since these highs.  As the current numbers are closer to their highs than their previous lows.

Worse, the spread between U3 and U6 is far greater under President Obama then it was under George W. Bush.  Which tells us how poorly the U3 rate describes the current employment picture.  The greater the spread the more meaningless U3 is.  As it is simply not counting all the unemployed people in the economy.  The Left trumpets the 3 point fall in September but that only brings the U3 rate down to what the U6 rate was under Bush.  And the Left was calling the even lower U3 numbers under Bush some of the worst job numbers of all time.  So by their own standards President Obama is a far greater disaster to the economy than George W. Bush was.  For if it was horrible under Bush anything worse than Bush’s numbers must be more horrible.

When they passed the stimulus bill they promised they would have 5% unemployment by 2012.  Even the president said he would be a one-term president if this didn’t happen.  Despite all of their spending these numbers haven’t fallen much.  Despite their Summer Recovery pronouncements of 2010.  Their economic policies have all failed.  And there is a simple explanation for that.  Their policies were Keynesian policies.  And Keynesian policies have never worked.  Nor will they ever work.


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The Keynesian Contagion in the Eurozone is so Bad Investors are Paying People to hold their Money Elsewhere

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 11th, 2012

Week in Review

The Keynesian answer to everything is more spending.  By any means possible.  By taxes.  By borrowing.  Or by printing.  Despite Jimmy Carter’s stagflation of the Seventies.  Japan’s Lost Decade in the Nineties.  And the current sovereign debt crisis in Europe.  All Keynesian failures.  And the Keynesian answer to why they all failed.  Because they didn’t spend enough.  It’s amazing.  No matter how wrong they are they keep insisting that they are right.  And now things are so bad in the Eurozone that investors are paying people to hold their money until the current Keynesian contagion spreading through Europe dies out (see Negative interest rates spell final defeat for beleaguered savers by Jeremy Warner posted 8/6/2012 on The Telegraph).

Ignore, for the moment, what has happened to bond yields in the troubled eurozone periphery. That is an unnecessary tragedy unique to certain members of the euro. The bigger story is that across large parts of Europe, nominal interest rates are turning negative. Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland are already there, and now there is even some possibility of the UK joining them.

Last week, the yield on two-year gilts reached a record low, and though it has come back a bit since – boosted by the possibly mistaken belief that Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, is about to come riding to the rescue in the eurozone debt crisis – it still hovers at an almost unbelievable 0.05pc. Real yields on index-linked gilts have been negative for some years now, but this is the first time that nominal yields have looked like joining them.

The way things are going, investors will soon be forced to pay to lend the Government their money, a topsy-turvy, Through the Looking Glass world where the lender pays the borrower a rate of interest, rather than the other way around. The profligacy of government is rewarded, the thrift of its citizens is punished. For long something of a mug’s game, saving for the future becomes completely pointless, while pension funds, forced into gilts by solvency regulation, are further crucified.

As governments lower interest rates to try and stimulate economic activity that isn’t there (and won’t appear even with these low rates as proven by the fact that these low rates haven’t stimulated economic activity yet) this also lowers the interest rate on savings accounts.  So as the government pursues reckless Keynesian policies (lowering interest rates to stimulate the economy) those who live responsibly and save for their retirement see their savings shrink instead of grow.  Though this destroys lives it doesn’t necessarily bother Keynesians.  Who hate people who save their money instead of spending it.  Because in the Keynesian view savings reduce economic activity by pulling cash out of the economy.  Of course savings have typically been the source of investment capital that actually generates economic activity.  But the Keynesians ignore this fact.  As well as the one about destroying people’s retirement.  Which is why their policies destroy economies.

Ultra-low bond yields are a sign not so much of international confidence in the UK’s credit worthiness, but of a seriously impaired economy…

In the meantime, fear of a disorderly break-up continues to drive investors into safe-haven assets, which, in practice, means any half-way credit-worthy alternative to the eurozone periphery…

When a country’s bond interest rate falls it is typically a sign of a strong and healthy economy.  Things are going so well that people have little fear in loaning money to them.  And therefore the country doesn’t have to pay high interest rates to attract buyers for their bonds.  This is not what is happening now, though.  Money is flowing to Britain and the United States not because their economies are strong and robust (they’re not) but because their economies aren’t as horrible as in other countries.  Especially in the Eurozone.  Where interest rates are high because of the high risk of default.  Which drives investors to countries not with better and more robust economies.  But where the risk of default is lower.  The investors are basically saying that, yes, the economies of Britain and the United States are bad.  But they are not ‘Eurozone’ bad.  So they will park their money there.  And even pay (with negative bond yields) these countries to hold their money until some better investing opportunity comes along.  You see, it’s not about earning profits now.  It’s about trying to save what money they have until this current Keynesian contagion dies out.

Banks struggle to fund themselves at the same low rates as the Government because investors fear that a eurozone break-up would further undermine their solvency. Even in Britain, banks are once again seen as fundamentally unsafe…

When the economy is growing strongly, money changes hands with high velocity, creating a consequent demand for cash. To satisfy this demand, money is withdrawn from bonds, causing interest rates to rise. But with conditions as they are now, the reverse takes place. Low economic activity causes cash to flow back the other way and into bonds, driving yields into negative territory.

In such circumstances the Bank of England has little option but to carry on with quantitative easing, even though this has become something of a circular process. The Bank buys gilts to pump prime the economy with cash and investors use the cash to buy still more gilts…

Eventually, the Bank will need to go rapidly into reverse to prevent more serious inflation, a la 1970s. The velocity of money will rise, and all that freshly minted cash will suddenly start chasing goods, wages, assets and commodities, instead of sitting in bonds.

Before there was a large government debt market rich people invested in businesses.  Small business with venture capital.  And large businesses with corporate stocks and bonds.  Rich people got richer by investing in businesses that created jobs.  Increasing economic activity throughout the country.  They made greater profits.  And took greater risks.  With a large government debt market, though, they have another alternative.  Rich people can buy government bonds instead.  They don’t make as much but they don’t take anywhere near the same risk.  Unless they’re investing in the Eurozone.  Which they appear not to be doing these days.  In fact, with these bargain basement interest rates some are even borrowing money to invest in higher interest bonds of other countries.  We call this trading on the interest.  Or carry trading.  Borrow at low interest rates.  And using that money to buy investments with high interest rates.

This is the price we pay with high government debt.  It pulls capital out of the private sector.  Provides a safer, non-job-creating option for rich investors.  And all of this extra money in the economy will sooner or later ignite inflation.  As well as threaten the solvency of the banking sector when some of these bets on carry trades go bad.  As a lot of these investors borrow money to make these trades leaving the banking sector exposed to huge risks when things go bad.  And they often do.

This is what Keynesian economics does.  Has done.  And always will do.  Yet governments still play their Keynesian games with interest rates.  And their interventions into the economy.  So why do governments keep going down this same destructive road?  Because they can.  And they just love spending other people’s money.


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FT129: “You can safely criticize and fire a white man for doing a poor job without being accused of discrimination.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 3rd, 2012

Fundamental Truth

It takes Two to Flirt but Only One to Sexually Harass

Today when you hire into a new company chances are they are going to sit you down and make you watch a video on sexual harassment.  Even if you’re not in a supervisory position.  But you will watch a video where some man will be making an uncomfortable workplace for a woman he supervises.  During the Eighties when the military was trying to get more women into the officer corps they taught officer candidates appropriate man-woman touching.  Resting a hand on a near shoulder while looking over her work was okay.  But placing a hand on a far shoulder was sexual harassment.

People like to socialize in the workplace.  And men especially like to socialize with attractive women in the workplace.  Which can create a minefield for an employer.  Even if they have all employees sit through sexual harassment training.   For there is a fine line between flirting and sexual harassment.  Social chatter often goes into subjects inappropriate for the workplace.  An employer may have some midlevel men that begin to spend too much time around the reception desk.  Men responsible for sales or maintaining customer relationships.  Who have become important cogs in the machine.  Even though they may cruise the single bars after work.  But as long as their personal life didn’t interfere with the workplace their personal life was their personal life.  Until, that is, they start flirting with the pretty women in the workplace.

Flirting is a two-way street.  It takes two to flirt.  But it only takes one to sexually harass.  An employer may like to hire a new receptionist who flirts less because it would be easier to hire a new receptionist than hire a new important cog.  This would be the easiest change to prevent flirting from escalating into harassment.  But doing that will require a lot of documentation of disciplinary actions against the receptionist.  Creating an uncomfortable workplace.  And the inevitable lawsuit for wrongful dismissal.  If the employer doesn’t act fast enough this innocent flirting can escalate to an unwelcomed grope in the supply closet.  Then it’s too late.  Now the employer has a lawsuit to deal with.  As well as having to fire the man responsible for the groping.  Causing an even more unpleasant atmosphere in the workplace.  A business disruption.  And an embarrassing task of explaining it to your customers.  At least those affected by the loss of this individual.

Not every Employee may have been the Best Candidate for their Job when the Labor Department encourages Diversity

This is a problem when you mix men and women in the workplace.  Most of the time there are no problems.  People do their jobs and go home to their families.  But problems happen.  Few will make it through their working career without working at a place without some kind of incident.  And it’s rare for a business owner not to have at least one incident in their business life.  Or to know someone who has.  Still, it doesn’t stop them from hiring women.  Not if they’re the best candidate for a position.  And the best candidates typically are those employees that just want to do their jobs and go home to their families.

But not every employee was the best candidate for their job.  Not when the labor department monitors a business’ diversity in hiring. Some businesses are in such a narrow niche market that there aren’t a lot of employees with the requisite skills to choose from.  When the pool of candidates is small chances are the there isn’t a lot of diversity in that pool.  New technologies are sometimes so new that few even know of them.  And the educational system is still playing catch-up.  But anyone ever audited by the government for diversity compliance (typically when federal money is involved) can attest that it is better to be diverse than to be audited.  So you hire people that may not be the best but you hope that with a lot of on-the-job training they will become an important cog in the machine.

Then you have people who just game the system.  Contractors who want to work in big cities have to meet a plethora of requirements just to bid on a project.  Especially when there is federal money involved.  Included in some of these requirements are diversity requirements.  And residency requirements.  They want to award these projects to city-based companies whose workers live in the city.  A noble goal if you’re trying to revitalize the local economy.  But a difficult requirement to meet in some new technologies.  Where they may have only a few companies qualified to do the work to begin with.  But if there is only one who meets the residency requirement this company is going to be at a distinct advantage.  Who can even underbid the project to seal the deal.  And once they have the project they can then bury the city with additional charges and delay the project until they get what they want.

Anyone who Dares to Criticize President Obama and his Policies is Quickly Labeled a Racist

I once sat in some meetings with such a contractor.  He was a smart guy.  He knew the new technology in the project like few others.  Which gave him an advantage in those meetings.  He went on about design mistakes and omissions but it was Greek to everyone at the table.  And nothing ever got done without a fight over additional money.  This guy used the system to delay the project and get the owner to capitulate and pay his additional claims.  Especially when they threatened to replace him with another contractor.  None of which he knew met the residency requirement.  And he said off-the-record to someone that if they did remove him from the project he would sue for discrimination.  Don’t know if that was true but everyone in those meetings acted as if it were.  This guy gave ulcers to everyone on the management team.  But they were always guarded with their comments.  Except for one.  Who let go a verbal barrage in one meeting that stunned everyone.  Saying what everyone wanted to say but didn’t.  Out of fear of being accused of racism.  For criticizing a black man.  So why did this one man speak his mind?  Two reasons.  When he sat in those meetings he was the smartest one in the room.  He didn’t hear Greek.  He just heard a lot of BS.  And he had no problem criticizing a black man.  For he, too, was a black man.

This is why some people like hiring white men.  Because they can criticize them.  And fire them for doing a poor job.  With the least amount of fear that someone will charge them for wrongful dismissal.  Or charge them with discrimination.  Having the ability to easily fire bad (or less than stellar) employees makes business easier.  And less costly.  So an employer has many considerations in the hiring process.  When it comes to older candidates with proven experience it typically is a pure meritocracy.  They hire the best qualified candidate.  For younger inexperienced candidates it may be less a meritocracy than hedging their risk.  Meet any diversity requirements first.  Then maybe hire people that they’ll be able to fire easier if they don’t work out.

It can be risky business criticizing a black man.  Or trying to fire one.  Consider President Obama.  Any objective analysis of his economic policies shows them to be an abject failure.  The official unemployment rate (U-3) hasn’t been below 8% since he’s been president.  The real unemployment rate that counts the underemployed and those who’ve quit looking for work (the U-6 unemployment rate) is just north of 15%.  Which is little better than it was during the Great Depression.  His Keynesian policies are doing no better than the Keynesian policies of Jimmy Carter.  His regulatory zeal has punished business.  It’s even putting the domestic coal and oil industries out of business.  And Obamacare has paralyzed small business with the fear of the unknown.  With no idea what the total cost will be to them they are not hiring anyone unless they absolutely have to.  After an objective economic analysis (leaving the politics out of it) there can be but one conclusion.  President Obama is not good for the American economy.  But anyone who dares criticize him and his policies is quickly labeled a racist.  Which begs the question what would they label those who criticize the president if President Obama was white?


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Argentina’s Keynesian Policies have given them the Weakest Economy in the Hemisphere

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 22nd, 2012

Week in Review

The Argentines are strong advocates of Keynesian economics.  And they’ll embrace it till the bitter end.  Even as their economy goes into the crapper (see WRAPUP 3-Argentina economy shrinks in May for first time since 2009 by Hilary Burke posted 7/21/2012 on Reuters).

Latin America’s No. 3 economy is decelerating sharply after posting China-like growth rates for much of the past nine years. High inflation, a sluggish global economy, waning demand from neighboring Brazil, falling grains production as well as new trade and currency controls have prompted the slowdown.

“Stagflation arrived with a vengeance. Argentina now has the weakest economy and the highest inflation in the hemisphere,” wrote Alberto Ramos, a senior economist at Goldman Sachs, adding that private estimates put inflation at closer to 24 percent a year…

Argentina’s unorthodox economic approach centers on heavy state participation in the economy to foment high growth, job creation and domestic demand. The government does not publicly acknowledge the cost of this, which is double-digit inflation.

“We are taking active policies, using our own resources, to generate the virtuous cycle of spending, consumption, investment. You have more demand, more production and that feeds back into more spending, more production, more consumption.”

This is pure Keynesian economics.  Like in the Carter years.  But even Jimmy Carter didn’t have an inflation rate as high as 24%.  So the Argentine stagflation may outdo the Carter stagflation.  No doubt beating Carter on the misery index, too (the sum of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate).  Proving once again that Keynesian economics doesn’t work.

Still this is exactly what President Obama wants to do with the U.S. economy.  And it’s what the leading Keynesian economists are advising him to do.  Invest.  Spend.  To stimulate the economy the only way the federal government can.  By deficit spending.  Financed with more borrowing.  Taking the federal debt to new heights.  Or simply by printing money.  As in another round of quantitative easing.  Even though none of this has worked in the last three and half years under President Obama.  Or in the Seventies during the Carter years.  Or even in Argentina today.

So when will they learn?  When will they abandon Keynesian economics?  Never.  Because governments love to spend money.  And Keynesian economics is all about spending money.  Why, some even call this spending virtuous.  But there is a price in being virtuous.  Asset bubbles (as in Japan resulting in their Lost Decade or in America during their subprime mortgage crisis resulting in their Great Recession).  A sluggish economy.  And double digit-inflation.  Things that never end well.  Just ask the Japanese.  The Americans.  Or the Argentines.


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The US and UK following Keynesian Policies and Suffering Jobless Recoveries

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 28th, 2012

Week in Review

The US is not the only country suffering through a ‘jobless’ recovery.  Which is just another way of saying continued recession.  Or double-dip recession.  The UK is having the same problems we’re having.  And using inept government policies to try and fix them.  Just like in the US (see A recession made in Downing Street – but not caused by cuts by ALLISTER HEATH posted 4/26/2012 on City A.M.).

The first problem has been the composition of the austerity package. Much of the tightening has been via tax hikes rather than spending cuts – capital gains, national insurance, stamp duty, value added tax, and now pasties and the rest. That was the wrong choice: lower taxes are good for growth, higher taxes are bad. The trick is to deliver austerity by cutting spending, not by hiking taxes.

The next issue is that the government’s supply-side agenda has failed miserably. By now, developers should have been set free to build new airports and even cities; the labour market should have been liberalised; job-reducing red tape eliminated; the top rate of tax abolished; mad EU rules abolished, and so on and so forth. Britain needed a revolution; it was granted a few over-hyped reforms…

…excessive inflation has slashed real incomes and real wealth; this, rather than cuts, is what has depressed spending the most…

Last but not least, banking rules. It was right to ensure banks held more capital and that credit became priced rationally – but the reforms have spiralled out of control…

What is most depressing is that the double-dip (if that is indeed what it is) will wrongly discredit austerity, even though the state remains incredibly profligate…

President Obama has broken deficit and debt records.  While he chastises the Right for irresponsibly spending beyond their means.  Demanding that they raise taxes to pay for this irresponsible spending.  That somehow higher taxes will fix all of America’s ills.  Or, at the least, address the social injustice of prosperity.  And happiness.

Both the UK and the US are steadfastly following the failed policies of John Maynard Keynes.  Demand-side Keynesian economics.  Tax and spend.  Because they’ve ‘worked so well’ in the past.  Of course they haven’t.  They never have.  And they never will.  What works are supply-side economics.  Those policies embraced by Margaret Thatcher.  And Ronald Reagan.  Who enjoyed real economic recoveries.  The kind that created jobs.

Politics never change.  Politicians dumb down public education so the people never learn the lessons of history.  That all of their policies are tried and failed.  So they make the same arguments every election cycle.  And the young believe in the goodness of these policies.  The fairness of these policies.  Never knowing the lives they have destroyed through the years.  Which is why politicians work so hard to get the youth vote.  Before they learn the truth.  And become conservative.


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Tax Cuts, Roaring Twenties, Farm Prices, Smoot-Hawley Tariff, Stock Market Crash, New Deal, Great Depression and the Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 20th, 2012

History 101

Tax Cuts and the Small Government Policies of Harding and Coolidge gave us the Roaring Twenties

Keynesians blame the long duration of the Great Depression (1929-1939) on the government clinging to the gold standard.  Even renowned monetarist economist Milton Friedman agrees.  Though that’s about the only agreement between Keynesians and Friedman.   Their arguments are that the US could have reduced the length and severity of the Great Depression if they had only abandoned the gold standard.  And adopted Keynesian policies.  Deficit spending.  Just like they did in the Seventies.  The decade where we had both high unemployment and high inflation.  Stagflation.  Something that’s not supposed to happen under Keynesian economics.  So when it did they blamed the oil shocks of the Seventies.  Not their orgy of spending.  Or their high taxes.  And they feel the same way about the Great Depression.

Funny.  How one price shock (oil) can devastate all businesses in the US economy.  So much so that it stalled job creation.  And caused high unemployment.  Despite the government printing and spending money to create jobs.  And to provide government benefits so recipients could use those benefits to stimulate economic activity.  All of that government spending failed to pull the country out of one bad recession.  Because of that one price shock on the cost of doing business.  Yet no one talks about the all out assault on business starting in the Hoover administration that continued and expanded through the Roosevelt administration.

Herbert Hoover may have been a Republican.  But he was no conservative.  He was a big government progressive.  And believed that the federal government should interfere into the free market.  To make things better.  Unlike Warren Harding.  And Calvin Coolidge.  Who believed in a small government, hands-off policy when it came to the economy.  They passed tax cuts.  Following the advice of their treasury secretary.  Andrew Mellon.  Which gave business confidence of what the future would hold.  So they invested.  Expanded production.  And created jobs.  It was these small government policies that gave us the Roaring Twenties.  An economic boom that electrified and modernized the world.  With real economic growth. 

If an Oil Shock can prevent Businesses from Responding to Keynesian Policies then so can FDR’s all out War on Business

The Roaring Twenties was a great time to live if you wanted a job.  And wanted to live in the modern era.  Electric power was spreading across the country.  People had electric appliances in their homes.  Radios.  They went to the movies.  Drove cars.  Flew in airplanes.  The Roaring Twenties was a giant leap forward in the standard of living.  Factories with electric power driving electric motors increased productivity.  And reduced air pollution as they replaced coal-fired steam boilers that up to then powered the Industrial Revolution.  This modernization even made it to the farm.  Farmers borrowed heavily to mechanize their farms.  Allowing them to grow more food than ever.  Bumper crops caused farm prices to fall.  Good for consumers.  But not those farmers who borrowed heavily.

Enter Herbert Hoover.  Who wanted to use the power of government to help the farmers.  By forcing Americans to pay higher food prices.  Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates.  Thinking that a boom in the stock market was from speculation and not the real economic growth of the Twenties.  So they contracted the money supply.  Cooling that real economic growth.  And making it very hard to borrow money.  Causing farmers to default on their loans.  Small rural banks that loaned to these farmers failed.  These bank failures spread to other banks.  Weakening the banking system.  Then came the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Passed in 1930.  But it was causing business uncertainty as early as 1928.  As the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was going to increase tariffs on just about everything by 30%.  Basically adding a 30% tax on the cost of doing business.  That the businesses would, of course, pass on to consumers.  By raising prices.  Because consumers weren’t getting a corresponding 30% pay hike they, of course, could not buy as much after the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Putting a big cramp in sales revenue.  Perhaps even starting an international trade war.  Further cramping sales.  Something investors no doubt took notice of.  Seeing that real economic growth would soon come to a screeching halt.  And when the bill moved through committees in the autumn of 1929 the die was cast.  Investors began the massive selloff on Wall Street.  The Stock Market Crash of 1929.  The so-called starting point of the Great Depression.  Then the Smoot-Hawley Tariff became law.  And the trade war began.  As anticipated.

Of course, the Keynesians ignore this lead up to the Great Depression.  This massive government intrusion into the free market.  And the next president would build on this intrusion into the free market.  Ignoring the success of the small-government and tax cuts of Harding and Coolidge.  As well as ignoring the big-government free-market-intrusion failures of Herbert Hoover.  The New Deal programs of FDR were going to explode government spending to heights never before seen in peace time.  Causing uncertainty like never seen before in the business community.  It was an all out assault on business.  Taxes and regulation that increased the cost of business.  And massive government spending for new benefits and make-work programs.  All paid for by the people who normally create jobs.  Which there wasn’t a lot of during the great Depression.  Thanks to programs like Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, Homeowners Loan Corporation, Tennessee Valley Authority, Agricultural Adjustment Act, National Industrial Recovery Act, Public Works Administration, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Glass–Steagall Act, Securities Act of 1933, Civil Works Administration, Indian Reorganization Act, Social Security Act, Works Progress Administration, National Labor Relations Act, Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, Surplus Commodities Program, Fair Labor Standards Act, Rural Electrification Administration, Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration, etc.  Oil shocks of the Seventies?  If an oil shock can prevent businesses from responding to Keynesian policies then an all out war on business in the Thirties could do the same.  And worse.  Far, far worse.  Which is why the Great Depression lasted 10 years.  Because the government turned what would have been a normal recession into a world-wide calamity.  By trying to interfere with market forces.

Only Real Economic Growth creates Jobs, not Government Programs

The unemployment rate in 1929 was 3.1%.  In 1933 it was 24.9%.  It stayed above 20% until 1936.  Where it fell as low as 14.3% in 1937.  It then went to 19.0%, 17.2% and 14.6% in the next three years.  These numbers stayed horrible throughout the Thirties because the government wouldn’t stop meddling.  Or spending money.  None of the New Deal programs had a significant effect on unemployment.  The New Deal failed to fix the economy the way the New Dealers said it would.  Despite the massive price tag.  So much for super smart government bureaucrats.

What finally pulled us out of the Great Depression?  Adolf Hitler’s conquering of France in 1940.  When American industry received great orders for real economic growth.  From foreign countries.  To build the war material they needed to fight Adolf Hitler.  And the New Deal programs be damned.  There was no time for any more of that nonsense.  So during World War II businesses had a little less uncertainty.  And a backlog of orders.  All the incentive they needed to ramp up American industry.  To make it hum like it once did under Harding and Coolidge.  And they won World War II.  For there was no way Adolf Hitler could match that economic output.  Which made all the difference on the battlefield.

Still there are those who want to blame the gold standard for the Great Depression.  And still support Keynesian policies to tax and spend.  Even today.  Even after 8 years of Ronald Reagan that proved the policies of Harding and Coolidge.  We’re right back to those failed policies of the past.  Massive government spending to stimulate economic activity.  To pull us out of the Great Recession.  And utterly failing.  Where the unemployment rate struggles to get below 9%.  The U-3 unemployment rate, that is.  The rate that doesn’t count everyone who wants full time work.  The rate that counts everyone, the U-6 unemployment rate, currently stands at 14.9%.  Which is above the lowest unemployment rate during the Great Depression.  Proving once again only real economic growth creates jobs.  Not government programs.  No matter how many trillions of dollars the government spends. 

So much for super smart government bureaucrats.


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World War I, Gold Standard, German Reparations, Hyperinflation, Credit-Anstalt, Keynesian Policies and the Great Depression

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 13th, 2012

History 101

Nations abandoned the Gold Standard to Borrow and Print Money freely to pay for World War I 

Banks loan to each other.  They participate in a banking system that moves capital from those who have it to those who need it.  It’s a good system.  And a system that works.  Providing businesses and entrepreneurs with the capital to expand their businesses.  And create jobs.  As long as all the banks in the system go about their business responsibly.  And their governments go about their business responsibly.  Sadly, neither always does.

World War I changed the world in so many ways for the worse.  It killed a generation of Europeans.  Bankrupted nations.  Redrew the borders in Europe as the victors divvied up the spoils of war.  Setting the stage for future political unrest.  Gave us Keynesian economics.  Saw the beginning of the decline of the gold standard.  A deterioration of international trade.  A rise of protectionism and nationalism.  Punishing German reparations.  To pay for a war that they didn’t necessarily start.  Nor did they necessarily lose.  Which created a lot of anger in Germany.  And provided the seed for the Great Depression.

A set of entangling treaties brought nations eagerly into World War I.  There was great patriotic fervor.  And a belief that this war would be Napoleonic.  Some glorious battles.  With the victors negotiating a favorable peace.  Sadly, no one learned the lessons of the Crimean War (1853-1856).  Which killed approximately 600,000 (about 35% of those in uniform).  Or the American Civil War (1861-1865).  Which killed approximately 600,000 (about 20% of those in uniform).  The first modern wars.  Where the technology was ahead of the Napoleonic tactics of the day.  Modern rifled weapons made accurate killing weapons.  And the telegraph and the railroads allowed the combatants to rush ever more men into the fire of those accurate killing weapons.  These are the lessons they didn’t learn.  Which was a pity.  Because the weapons were much more lethal in World War I (1914-1918).  And far more advanced than the tactics of the day.  Which were still largely Napoleonic.  Mass men on the field of battle.  Fire and advance.  And close with the bayonet.  Which they did in World War I.  And these soldiers advanced into the withering fire of the new machine gun.  While artillery rounds fell around them.  Making big holes and throwing shredded shrapnel through flesh and bone.  WWI killed approximately 10,000,000 (about 15% of those in uniform).  And wounded another 20 million.  To do that kind of damage costs a lot of money.  Big money.  For bullets, shells, rifles, artillery, machine guns, warships, planes, etc., don’t grow on trees.  Which is why all nations (except the U.S.) went off of the gold standard to pay for this war.  To shake off any constraints to their ability to raise the money to wage war.  To let them borrow and print as much as they wanted.  Despite the effect that would have on their currency.  Or on foreign exchange rates.

As Countries abandoned the Gold Standard they depreciated their Currencies and wiped out People’s Life Savings

Well, the war had all but bankrupted the combatants.  They had huge debts and inflated currencies.  Large trade deficits.  And surpluses.  A great imbalance of trade.  And it was in this environment that they restored some measure of a gold standard.  Which wasn’t quite standard.  As the different nations adopted different exchange rates.  But they moved to get their financial houses back in order.  And the first order of business was to address those large debts.  And the ‘victors’ decided to squeeze Germany to pay some of that debt off.  Hence those punishing reparations.  Which the victors wanted in gold.  Or foreign currency.  Which made it difficult for Germany to return to the gold standard.  As the victors had taken most of her gold.  And so began the hyperinflation.  As the Germans printed Marks to trade for foreign currency.  Of course we know what happened next.  They devalued the Mark so much that it took wheelbarrows full of them to buy their groceries.  And to exchange for foreign currency.

Elsewhere, in the new Europe that emerged from WWI, there was a growth in regional banking.  Savvy bankers who were pretty good at risk evaluation.  Who were close to the borrowers.  And informed.  Allowing them to write good loans.  Meanwhile, the old institutions were carrying on as if it was still 1914.  Not quite as savvy.  And making bad loans.  The ones the more savvy bankers refused to write.  Weak banking regulation helped facilitate these bad lending practices.  Leaving a lot of banks with weak balance sheets.  Add in the hyperinflation.  Heavy debts.  Higher taxes (to reduce those debts).  Trade imbalances.  And you get a bad economy.  Where businesses were struggling to service their debt.  With many defaulting.  As a smaller bank failed a bigger bank would absorb it.  Bad loans and all.  Including an Austrian bank.  A pretty big one at that.  The largest in Austria.  Credit-Anstalt.  Which was ‘too big to fail’.  But failed anyway.  And when it did the collapse was heard around the world. 

As banks failed the money supply contracted.  Causing a liquidity crisis.  And deflation (less money chasing the same amount of goods).  Currency appreciation (further hurting a country’s balance of trade).  And low prices.  Which made it harder for borrowers to service their debt with the lower revenue they earned on those lower prices.  So there were more loan defaults.  Bank runs.  And bank failures.  Spreading the contagion to Amsterdam.  To Warsaw.  Germany.  Latvia.  Turkey.  Egypt.  Britain.  Even the U.S.  Soon countries abandoned the gold standard.  So they could print money to save the banks.  Lower interest rates.  Depreciate their currencies.  And wipe out large swathes of wealth denominated in that now depreciated currency.  What we call Keynesian policies.  People’s life savings became a fraction of what they were.  Making for a longer working life.  And a more Spartan retirement. 

Abandoning the Gold Standard didn’t fix the U.S. Economy in 1971

Meanwhile in the U.S. the government was destroying the U.S. economy.  Trying to protect domestic prices they passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Raising the price for businesses and consumers alike.  And kicking off a trade war.  Both of which greatly reduced U.S. exports.  New labor legislation keeping wages above market prices while all other prices were falling.  And higher taxes to pay for New Deal social programs.  Wiping out business profits and causing massive unemployment.  Then came the fall in farm prices due to increased farm productivity.  Thanks to farmers mechanizing their farms and greatly increasing their harvests.  Thus lowering prices.  Making it hard to service the bank loans they got to pay for that mechanization.  Thus leading to bank failures in the farming regions.  That spread to the cities.  Causing a liquidity crisis.  And deflation.

Then came Credit-Anstalt.  And all the woe that followed.  Which caused a speculative run in Britain.  Which made the British decide to leave the gold standard.  To stem the flow of gold out of their country.  Which destroyed whatever confidence was still remaining in their banking system.  People thought that the U.S. would be next.  But the Americans defended the dollar.  And instead raised interest rates (by reducing the money supply).  To keep the dollar valuable.  And to protect the exchange rate.  Making it less attractive to exchange cash for gold.  And to restore confidence in the banking system.  Of course, this didn’t help the liquidity crisis.  Which Keynesians blame for the length and the severity of the Great Depression.

Of course, it wasn’t the gold standard that caused the fall of Credit-Anstalt.  It was poor lending practices.  A weak banking regulation that allowed those poor lending practices.  And a lot of bad government policy throughout Europe.  Especially those punishing German reparations.  And the gold standard didn’t cause the economic collapse in the United States.  For it worked well the previous decade.  Providing all the capital required to produce the Roaring Twenties that modernized the world.  It was government and their intrusive policies into the free market that caused the economic collapse.  And abandoning the gold standard wouldn’t have changed that.  Or made the economy better.  And we know this because leaving the gold standard didn’t solve all of the countries woes in 1971.  Because the government was still implementing bad Keynesian policies.


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China adopts Keynesian Policies and Wastes Capital on a lot of Hayekian Malinvestments

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 22nd, 2012

Week in Review

Keynesians love Big Government.  And state capitalism.  Where the state actively intervenes in the private sector.  So you know the Keynesians love China.  As the Chinese leadership loves Keynes (see Keynes v Hayek in China posted 11/17/2011 on The Economist).

The present leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, have embraced Keynesian prescriptions with great determination. In response to the financial crisis of 2008 they approved an audacious stimulus package, unbalancing the government’s books and spurring the country’s banks to lend. That helped defend their peculiar brand of capitalism from a crushing slowdown…

Whereas Keynes worried about inadequate investment—too little entrepreneurial spending to keep everyone gainfully employed—Hayek worried about bad investment. If credit were too easy, he argued, entrepreneurs would embark on overambitious projects that take too long to reach fruition and make insupportable claims on society’s resources.

It is not hard to find overambitious projects in China: think of the country’s “ghost cities”, such as Ordos in Inner Mongolia, which is being built by government fiat long before people are ready to live in it…

Spurred on by the government, China’s banks increased their lending by almost 9.6 trillion yuan ($1.5 trillion) in 2009. That is roughly twice the size of the Indian banking system, as Bank Credit Analyst, a research company, has pointed out. In other words, China’s lenders added two Indias to their loanbooks in the space of a year…

China’s authorities now admit what was always obvious: many of these projects will fail to raise enough revenue to repay their creditors. Defaults have already surfaced in Yunnan province and elsewhere. Some of these projects will be abandoned halfway. They are what Hayek would call “malinvestments”, investments in capacity that no one is willing to pay for or wait for.

It is clear that China’s Keynesian policies have produced exactly what Hayek said they would.  A whole bunch of malinvestments.  A great misallocation of productive capital.  Building things that no one wants.  Such as empty apartment buildings in ‘ghost’ cities.  Capitalists could have used that capital to build who knows what.  But we’ll never know.  Because the free market didn’t allocate that capital to where capitalists would have used it to produce things people wanted.  Pretty much anything but empty apartment buildings in ‘ghost’ cities.

If those empty apartment buildings have to demolished a Keynesian would be okay with that.  Because those demolition crews would be paid.  And they would then take those wages and buy stuff.  Thus generating more economic activity.  Just as a Keynesian would be okay with you buying 4 identical flat-screen televisions only to throw 3 away.  Because the purchase of 4 flat-screens generates more economic activity than the purchase of only one.  So if you’re a fan of Keynesian economics and state capitalism you can do your part.  Whenever you buy anything by an extra 3 so you can throw them away.  And see how Keynesian economics makes you, the capital provider, feel.

I’m guessing it may convert you from a Keynesian to a Hayekian.  When you learn how terrible it is to waste good capital, a.k.a. your paycheck.


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Our Keynesian Mess isn’t as Bad as Europe’s Keynesian mess

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 26th, 2011

Week in Review

As the Keynesian policies fail the Keynesians circle the wagons (see Treasury potatoes posted 11/22/2011 on The Economist).

TREASURY bond yields fell today as the supercommittee failed to agree on a deficit reduction plan. Paul Krugman says this means the market can’t be worried about long-term deficits. More likely, they are worried about near-term austerity (since the supercommittee’s failure makes an extension of the payroll tax cut less likely). Ezra Klein makes a similar point here about the stock market’s drop.

I don’t really know why bond yields fell today, though I’d guess it has more to do with what’s going on in Europe than America. Still, I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that fears of deficits and default lead to lower, not higher, bond yields. In a liquidity trap, government bonds behave increasingly like money and will reflect not just the usual drivers of expected inflation and deficits, but the demand for liquidity and safety…

The Keynesian economists are wrong.  As usual.  So why do investors keep buying American bonds even after S&P downgrades their credit rating?  And when the supercommittee punts?  Much like the full House did?  The Keynesians say it’s not the debt or the deficit that scares them.  It’s that government may stop spending recklessly.  That’s what a Keynesian thinks an investor fears most.  The goofballs that they are.

Here’s a thought.  Could Keynesian economics have failed so grandly in the Eurozone that by comparison our Keynesian failures here look less risky?

If we keep spending like we are we will end up like Greece.  Italy.  And all of the other Eurozone countries that are desperately trying to avoid bankruptcy.  Note the key is ‘will end up like’.  Meaning that we haven’t.  Yet.  Which is why American bonds are more attractive than these others.  Because our Keynesian mess isn’t as bad as their Keynesian messes.  Yet.


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