Week in Review
The fiscal cliff negotiations are all about deficit reduction. The Right wants to do it with spending cuts. The Left wants to do it with new taxes. So they can spend more. This is why they can’t reach an agreement. The Right wants to reduce the deficit. While the Left wants to increase spending. For benefits. For education. For investments in Green Energy. For infrastructure. For economic stimulus. Which will only increase the deficit. So the Democrats are not exactly sincere when they talk about deficit reduction. Which is why they can’t make a deal with the Republicans. Who are serious when they talk about deficit reduction.
Another reason why the Democrats want to spend so much money is that they are Keynesians. Who believe the government can bring an economy out of a recession with stimulus spending. Despite that failing every time we’ve tried it. In the United States in the Seventies. Again during the Obama administration. In the Eurozone. In Asia. Especially in Japan. Where they’ve been trying to stimulate themselves out of a recession since their Lost Decade. The Nineties (see Japan’s New Stimulus: The Race With China To The Bottom by Gordon G. Chang posted 12/30/2012 on Forbes).
The universal consensus is that the fall in manufacturing bolsters the case for Shinzo Abe’s plans to stimulate the economy. The new prime minister is pursuing a broad-based program of shocking Japan out of its fourth contraction since the turn of the century.
First, Abe is going to prime the pump in a big way…
Second, Abe is going to push the yen down to help struggling exporters…
Third, the just-installed prime minister is leaning on the Bank of Japan to open up the taps…
Markets may love Abe’s stimulus solutions, but they are at best short-term fixes. Tokyo, after all, has tried them all before with generally unsatisfactory results. What Japan needs is not another paved-over riverbed—past spending programs have resulted in useless infrastructure—but structural reform to increase the country’s competitiveness.
Tokyo’s political elite, unfortunately, has got hooked on the false notion that governments can create enduring prosperity. Two decades of recession and recession-like stagnation in Japan are proof that repeated government intervention in the economy does not in fact work.
If you keep trying to stimulate yourself out of a recession with Keynesian policies for over twenty years perhaps it’s time to give up on those failed policies. Of course to do that may require some spending and tax cuts. And you know how well that goes over with big government types. It’s why the Americans can’t make a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. And why the Japanese are going to try more of the same failed policies of the past.
Another impetus for these bad policies decisions is what’s happening in China. Whose economy is much younger than Japan’s economy. So they don’t have years of failed Keynesian policies digging their economy into a deep hole. And because of that they’re going to go big. Their stimulus is going to include the building of cities. And that’s what the Japanese see. That, and the (one time) economic explosion of their export economy. Something they once had in Japan. And would love to have again. So they are going to follow China’s lead. Even though their economic expansion is pretty much at its end.
Although there has been a “recovery” beginning in October, it looks like the upturn is already running out of steam. China’s technocrats know they’re in trouble: they are apparently planning to increase the central government’s planned deficit for 2013 by 41% to 1.2 trillion yuan ($192 billion). At present, it is now slated to be only 850 billion yuan. Much of the shortfall is going toward an urbanization push next year. Last year, Beijing announced its intention to build 20 new cities a year in each of the following 20 years.
The two biggest economies in Asia are ailing at the same time, and both Beijing and Tokyo have decided that government intervention is the shortest path to long-term growth. Neither government’s program, however, looks viable. Unfortunately, both China and Japan are going down the wrong road at the same time.
This could help the U.S. economy. If they enacted spending cuts for their deficit reduction they could cut tax rates to spur the economy along. And make the U.S. competitiveness soar while Japan and China dig themselves into deeper holes. But the Americans, being the foolish Keynesians they are, are going to follow the Japanese and the Chinese into economic stagnation. And with President Obama’s reelection they will stay Keynesian. Drive over the fiscal cliff. And compete with the Japanese to see who can have more lost decades
Tags: Abe, Beijing, China, competitiveness, deficit, deficit reduction, Democrats, fiscal cliff, infrastructure, Japan, Keynesian policies, Keynesians, Left, lost decade, new taxes, recession, Republicans, Right, spending cuts, stimulus, stimulus spending, tax cuts, Tokyo
(Originally published March 20, 2012)
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.
Tags: Adolf Hitler, assault on business, benefits, Calvin Coolidge, Coolidge, cost of business, cost of doing business, economic activity, electric, farm, farm prices, farmers, FDR, free market, gold standard, government benefits, government spending, Great Depression, Great Recession, Harding, Herbert Hoover, high taxes, inflation, interfere with market forces, investors, job creation, Keynesian economics, Keynesian policies, Keynesians, New Deal, New Deal programs, oil shock, Progressive, real economic growth, recession, Roaring Twenties, small government, Smoot-Hawley Tariff, spending, stock market crash, tax cuts, trade war, uncertainty, unemployment, unemployment rate, Warren Harding, World War II
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.
Tags: Andrew Mellon, Austrian, bank failures, banking crises, banks, Benjamin Franklin, capital, capitalism, capitalists, cheap credit, Coolidge, depression, economic activity, economic growth, expansionary policies, farm, farmers, farming, FDR, Federal Reserve, Founding Fathers, Franklin, frugality, full employment, gold standard, Great Depression, Harding, Herbert Hoover, Hoover, industry, interest rates, John Maynard Keynes, Keynes, Keynesians, laissez faire capitalism, mechanization, Mellon, monetary policy, money, money supply, perseverance, prices, real economic activity, recession, Roaring Twenties, speculation, tariff, the Fed, wages, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson
Under the Bretton Woods System the Americans promised to Exchange their Gold for Dollars at $35 per Ounce
Wars are expensive. All kinds. The military kind. As well as the social kind. And the Sixties gave us a couple of doozies. The Vietnam War. And the War on Poverty. Spending in Vietnam started in the Fifties. But spending, as well as troop deployment, surged in the Sixties. First under JFK. Then under LBJ. They added this military spending onto the Cold War spending. Then LBJ declared a war on poverty. And all of this spending was on top of NASA trying to put a man on the moon. Which was yet another part of the Cold War. To beat the Soviets to the moon after they beat us in orbit.
This was a lot of spending. And it carried over into the Seventies. Giving President Nixon a big problem. As he also had a balance of payments deficit. And a trade deficit. Long story short Nixon was running out of money. So they started printing it. Which caused another problem as the US was still part of the Bretton Woods system. A quasi gold standard. Where the US pegged the dollar to gold at $35 per ounce. Which meant when they started printing dollars the money supply grew greater than their gold supply. And depreciated the dollar. Which was a problem because under Bretton Woods the Americans promised to exchange their gold for dollars at $35 per ounce.
When other nations saw the dollar depreciate so that it would take more and more of them to buy an ounce of gold they simply preferred having the gold instead. Something the Americans couldn’t depreciate. Nations exchanged their dollars for gold. And began to leave the Bretton Woods system. Nixon had a choice to stop this gold outflow. He could strengthen the dollar by reducing the money supply (i.e., stop printing dollars) and cut spending. Or he could ‘close the gold window’ and decouple the dollar from gold. Which is what he did on August 15, 1971. And shocked the international financial markets. Hence the name the Nixon Shock.
When the US supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War the Arab Oil Producers responded with an Oil Embargo
Without the restraint of gold preventing the printing of money the Keynesians were in hog heaven. As they hated the gold standard. The suspension of the convertibility of gold ushered in the heyday of Keynesian economics. Even Nixon said, “I am now a Keynesian in economics.” The US had crossed the Rubicon. Inflationary Keynesian policies were now in charge of the economy. And they expanded the money supply. Without restraint. For there was nothing to fear. No consequences. Just robust economic activity. Of course OPEC didn’t see it that way.
Part of the Bretton Woods system was that other nations used the dollar as a reserve currency. Because it was as good as gold. As our trading partners could exchange $35 for an ounce of gold. Which is why we priced international assets in dollars. Like oil. Which is why OPEC had a problem with the Nixon Shock. The dollars they got for their oil were rapidly becoming worth less than they once were. Which greatly reduced what they could buy with those dollars. The oil exporters were losing money with the American devaluation of the dollar. So they raised the price of oil. A lot. Basically pricing it at the current value of gold in US dollars. Meaning the more they depreciated the dollar the higher the price of oil went. As well as gas prices.
With the initial expansion of the money supply there was short-term economic gain. The boom. But shortly behind this inflationary gain came higher prices. And a collapse in economic activity. The bust. This was the dark side of Keynesian economics. Higher prices that pushed economies into recessions. And to make matters worse Americans were putting more of their depreciated dollars into the gas tank. And the Keynesians said, “No problem. We can fix this with some inflation.” Which they tried to by expanding the money supply further. Meanwhile, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on October 6, 1973, kicking off the Yom Kippur War. And when the US supported their ally Israel the Arab oil producers responded with an oil embargo. Reducing the amount of oil entering America, further raising prices. And causing gas lines as gas stations ran out of gas. (In part due to Nixon’s price controls that did not reset demand via higher prices to the reduced supply. And a ceiling on domestic oil prices discouraged any domestic production.) The Yom Kippur War ended about 20 days later. Without a major change in borders. With an Israeli agreement to pull their forces back to the east side of the Suez Canal the Arab oil producers (all but Libya) ended their oil embargo in March of 1974.
It was Morning in America thanks to the Abandonment of Keynesian Inflationary Policies
So oil flowed into the US again. But the economy was still suffering from high unemployment. Which the Keynesians fixed with some more inflation. With another burst of monetary expansion starting around 1975. To their surprise, though, unemployment did not fall. It just raised prices. Including oil prices. Which increased gas prices. The US was suffering from high unemployment and high inflation. Which wasn’t supposed to happen in Keynesian economics. Even their Phillips Curve had no place on its graph for this phenomenon. The Keynesians were dumfounded. And the American people suffered through the malaise of stagflation. And if things weren’t bad enough the Iranians revolted and the Shah of Iran (and US ally) stepped down and left the country. Disrupting their oil industry. And then President Carter put a halt to Iranian oil imports. Bringing on the 1979 oil crisis.
This crisis was similar to the previous one. But not quite as bad. As it was only Iranian oil being boycotted. But there was some panic buying. And some gas lines again. But Carter did something else. He began to deregulate oil prices over a period of time. It wouldn’t help matters in 1979 but it did allow the price of crude oil to rise in the US. Drawing the oil rigs back to the US. Especially in Alaska. Also, the Big Three began to make smaller, more fuel efficient cars. These two events would combine with another event to bring down the price of oil. And the gasoline we made from that oil.
Actually, there was something else President Carter did that would also affect the price of oil. He appointed Paul Volcker Chairman of the Federal Reserve in August of 1979. He was the anti-Keynesian. He raised interest rates to contract the money supply and threw the country into a steep recession. Which brought prices down. Wringing out the damage of a decade’s worth of inflation. When Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidency he kept Volcker as Chairman. And suffered through a horrible 2-year recession. But when they emerged it was Morning in America. They had brought inflation under control. Unemployment fell. The economy rebounded thanks to Reagan’s tax cuts. And the price of oil plummeted. Thanks to the abandonment of Keynesian inflationary policies. And the abandonment of oil regulation. As well as the reduction in demand (due to those smaller and more fuel efficient cars). Which created a surge in oil exploration and production that resulted in an oil glut in the Eighties. Bringing the price oil down to almost what it was before the two oil shocks.
Tags: $35 per ounce, Bretton Woods, Carter, depreciated dollars, dollar, gas prices, gold standard, inflation, Iran, Israel, Keynesian economics, Keynesians, monetary expansion, money supply, Morning in America, Nixon, Nixon Shock, oil, oil embargo, oil exporters, oil prices, oil producers, oil shock, OPEC, Paul Volcker, printing money, Reagan, recession, Ronald Reagan, stagflation, unemployment, Volcker, Yom Kippur War
Week in Review
The Keynesians will print more money. QE3 is on its way. The third round of quantitative easing. Because QE3 will pull this economy out of recession. Just as they said QE2 would. Just as they said QE1 would before that. And just because they failed the last two times they tried this doesn’t mean it will fail this time, too (see Fed Pulls Trigger, to Buy Mortgages in Effort to Lower Rates by Jeff Cox, CNBC, posted 9/13/2012 on Yahoo! Finance).
The Fed said it will buy $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities per month in an attempt to foster a nascent recovery in the real estate market. The purchases will be open-ended, meaning that they will continue until the Fed is satisfied that economic conditions, primarily in unemployment, improve…
Enacting the third leg of quantitative easing will take the Fed’s money creation past the $3 trillion level since it began the process in 2008.
According to the Wall Street Journal the Fed balance sheet stood at just below $1 trillion prior to the Great Recession. That is, pre QE1. Since then the Fed has increased that to $2.8 trillion prior to QE3. An increase of 180%. QE3 will take that above $3 trillion. And increase from the level before the Great Recession of over 200%. Meaning the monetary base after QE3 will be more than three times the monetary base prior to QE1. And all during the Obama presidency. In less than four years. And just like QE1 and QE2 this latest quantitative easing won’t work either. For like so many are saying if quantitative easing worked there would not have been a need for QE2 let alone QE3. So it won’t help the economy. But it will have an effect.
In addition, he addressed concerns that savers are being penalized from low interest rates, saying that the policy has allowed for growth in other areas.
“While low interest rates impose some costs, Americans will ultimately benefit most from the healthy and growing economy that low interest rates promote,” he said.
Small business owners have no idea of the full impact of Obamacare on their businesses. So they are not hiring anyone anytime soon. And then there’s Taxmageddon. The largest tax increase in history to occur 1/1/2013. Environmental policy. And so on. These are the things preventing people from hiring new employees. And no amount of cheap money will change that. Some people understand this. Keynesians don’t. In fact, the only thing they understand is spending money. The key to economic activity is putting as much money into the hands of spenders as possible. So they spend it. And the people that get this money spend it, too. And the people that get this money spend it after they get it. And so on. According to the Keynesian multiplier. Where spending begets more spending. Spending is good. But savings is not. According to Keynesians. They see saving as lost economic activity. Leakage from the economy. So they want people to save as little as possible. So they like low interest rates. Because it provides no incentive for people to save. So Keynesian policies penalize savers. They understand this. And they approve of this.
Of course with all the money the Fed is printing there will be inflation. It’s just a matter of time. We’d have double digit inflation right now based on the growth of the monetary base if there weren’t worse economies than the U.S. economy. Some Eurozone countries are so bad no one wants to invest in their economies. So they’re parking their money in the U.S. Even at these low interest rates. Even paying banks (i.e., negative interest rates) to hold their money. Because it is the safest alternative. But how long can this last?
The stock market, which had been slightly positive prior to the decision, shortly after 12:30 p.m., surged while bond yields, particularly farther out on the curve, jumped higher. Gold and other metals gained at least 1 percent across the board while the dollar slid against most global currencies…
Washington conservatives have been critical of the central bank’s money creation, which has caused its balance sheet to swell to $2.8 trillion. They worry that the growing money supply will lead to inflation, which has reared its head in food and energy prices but has remained tame through the broader economy.
Bill Gross, who runs bond giant Pimco, said the new round of easing would take the Fed’s balance sheet up to nearly $3.5 trillion if the purchases continue for a year.
“That potentially is reflationary,” he told CNBC. “We’re just to have to see if it works.”
Bonds issued when interest rates were higher have increased in value. Because you can’t buy bonds today at such a high interest rate. So older bonds (with higher interest rates) are worth more than newer bonds (at lower interest rates).
Gold increases in value when the value of the dollar drops. Because the price of gold is in dollars. So when you put more dollars into the monetary base you depreciate the dollar. And raise prices. Because it takes more weaker-dollars to buy the same things the once stronger-dollars bought.
So far inflation has been confined to food and energy. Where it is harder to hide. Especially oil. Because it’s sold by the barrel for dollars. So when you make the dollar weaker you send up the price of oil. And everything you make from oil. Like gasoline. Which is why gasoline prices are approaching record highs. Not because of a booming economy. But because of inflation.
There is inflation in food, too. But you can hide this a little. You can keep prices steady while reducing portion sizes. So the price per unit portion sold is higher. But people don’t notice this as much as they do the price at the pump. Where they cannot reduce the portion size. Because gas is sold by the gallon. Which means the full effect of Keynesian inflation monetary policy is reflected in the gas price. Which is why high gas prices anger us more than just about everything else.
So inflation is here. And at the rate they’re printing money it’s going to explode sooner or later. For they’re printing it at a far greater rate than they did during the stagflation of the Seventies. Giving Jimmy Carter that high misery index (unemployment rate plus the inflation rate). A policy that did not help Carter’s economy. Nor will it help the current economy. In fact, it will only take a bad economy and make it worse.
If printing money worked the Seventies would have been a decade of unprecedented growth. But they weren’t. In fact all nations that printed money suffered from high inflation. And poor economic growth. Yet they pursue the same policy today. Why? Because if they don’t it’s an admission that their policies have been failures. At the same time admitting that the Republican policies are better policies. And they would rather throw the country into another depression before admitting that.
Tags: bond yields, energy prices, Fed, food prices, gas prices, gasoline, gasoline prices, gold, Great Recession, inflation, interest rates, Keynesians, monetary base, money, multiplier, oil, QE1, QE2, QE3, quantitative easing, recession, savings, spending
Ronald Reagan would follow the Kennedy Example of Cutting Taxes to Grow the Economy
In 1961 West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard gave John F. Kennedy (JFK) some good advice. During JFK’s visit he told him not to make the same mistake the British had. He told Kennedy NOT to follow their policy of high taxation. Because it killed economic activity. And economic growth. England was suffering from her bad tax policy. He urged the American president not to make the same mistake.
JFK heeded Erhard’s advice. And cut tax rates. This did not please liberals in his Democrat Party. Who were all Keynesians. And believed in large government interventions into the private sector. Funded by large government expenditures. Which in the Keynesian world you got in one of three ways. Tax, borrow or print money. You did not cut tax rates. Which was blasphemous in Keynesian doctrine. You never, ever, cut tax rates. But Kennedy did. Arguing that “an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenue to balance the budget—just as it will never produce enough jobs or enough profits.”
A message Ronald Reagan would give time and again some 20 years later. And would follow the Kennedy example of cutting taxes to grow the economy. Generating more tax revenue without having to cut spending. The result of JFK’s ‘trickle-down’ economics were impressive. He cut the top marginal tax rate from 91% to 70%. And cut the 20% rate to 14% at the other end of the scale. What did people do with these tax savings? They saved. And invested. Savings rose from an annual growth rate of 2% to 9%. Business investment from 2% to 8%. New jobs grew at a rate of 100%. And unemployment fell by one third. With GDP rising some 40% in two years. And despite cutting tax rates tax revenue rose. The booming economy generating more tax revenue even at the lower rates. Even more than the Keynesians said Kennedy was going to cost the government with his tax cuts.
The Social Upheavals of the Sixties, the Race Riots and his Unpopular Vietnam War all took their Toll on LBJ
Liberals love JFK. But for none of these reasons. They prefer to wax poetically about his fight to end economic and racial injustice. Which were in reality low on his priority list. Addressing civil rights only after trouble was escalating in the south. But that’s the Left’s cherished memory of him. And of Camelot. The American royal family. They don’t talk about JFK’s trickle-down economics. His Bay of Pigs fiasco (the plan to oust Fidel Castro from Cuba that he withdrew support from after it met difficulty on the beaches). His Cuban missile crisis (near nuclear war with the Soviet Union) which his indecision at the Bay of Pigs may have invited. Or his war in Vietnam. No. They stay silent on the best part of his presidency. As well as the worst parts. And focus instead on the fairy tale that was Camelot. Ignoring completely his excellent economic policies and the strong economy they gave us. And all that tax revenue that poured into the treasury. Yes, they may have liked having that money. But they didn’t have to like how it got there.
Following JFK’s assassination Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) ascended to the presidency. An old school politician that knew how to make deals to advance legislation. And boy did he. He declared unconditional war on poverty. And unleashed the Great Society to spend America out of poverty. Keynesian to the core. Pure demand-side economics. Give poor people money which they will use to buy consumer goods. That Keynesian consumption that was so crucial to a healthy economy. So Johnson made good use of all that tax revenue JFK created with his tax cuts. And LBJ’s Great Society consumed enormous amounts of that tax revenue. As did JFK’s Vietnam War. Now LBJ’s war. Which LBJ escalated. Government expenditures exploded during the Johnson administration. And the spending obligations he put into place were only going to escalate future expenditures. Oh, and we were also trying to land a man on the moon during this time. All during a time when the world was changing. When a bunch of filthy hippies began to protest anything that didn’t somehow gratify them (their rallying cry was sex, drugs and rock & roll). And racial tensions simmered to the boiling point in our crowded cities.
The social upheavals of the Sixties. The race riots. The unpopular war on our living room televisions. They all took their toll on LBJ. The race riots especially hurt him as he had spent so much money on ending economic and racial injustice. On a televised address he told the nation that he was through being the president. He wasn’t going to run for another term. And he wouldn’t accept a nomination for a second term. He basically thanked an ungrateful nation. And planned for his retirement. Leaving a fiscal mess for the next president. As well as a mess in Vietnam. And the job for cleaning up these messes fell to Richard Milhous Nixon.
When Nixon entered the Presidency all those Spending Obligations of the Great Society were Coming Due
Nixon had a lot of liberal tendencies. He was actually a member of the NAACP since 1950. Long before JFK or LBJ talked of civil rights. He believed in New Deal economics. Of the good government could do. He was also an environmentalist. Giving us the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And giving us emissions standards for our cars. He gave us the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA). And a flurry of other regulations. Not what you would expect from a Republican these days. Of course, few probably know this. But they probably do know about Watergate. At least the word ‘Watergate’. Which was pretty tame by today’s standards. Spying on the political opposition. Then lying about it.
When Nixon entered the presidency all those spending obligations of the Great Society were coming due. The cost of LBJ’s Great Society really hit the Nixon administration hard. Enormous amounts of money were flowing out to poor people (so they could spend it and buy consumer goods). To the war in Vietnam. To the Cold War. To the space program. To the enlarged federal government. Government spending was going off the chart. But it wasn’t having the affect on the economy the Keynesians said it would. They were taxing, borrowing and printing money like good little Keynesians. But they were devaluing the dollar in the process. And igniting inflation. Worse, the U.S. dollar was the reserve currency of the world. Foreign nations pegged their currency to the U.S. dollar. The U.S. pegged the dollar to gold. As the Americans devalued the dollar, though, the foreign countries traded their dollars for gold. Gold began to fly out of the country. So Nixon did what any responsible Keynesian would do. Instead of playing by the rules of the game he changed the rules. And decoupled the dollar from gold. The Nixon Shock. Ushering in the era of unfettered Keynesian economics. Deficit spending. Growing debt. High inflation. High unemployment. Stagflation. And malaise.
Jimmy Carter would see the worse of LBJ’s Great Society. As it left his economy in a mess. Despite all of that government spending. And Carter suffered because he, too, was a Keynesian. He believed in that GDP formula where GDP equaled the sum of consumption, investment, government expenditures and net exports (exports – Imports). And the formula clearly states that the way to increase GDP (and increase the number of jobs) was to increase government spending to give money to people so they could buy consumer goods (increasing government spending and consumption in the formula). It was simple arithmetic. But the formula left out about half of all economic activity. The intermediate business spending that takes place before any consumer goods enter our stores. Think of things consumers don’t buy. Like railroad track, blast furnaces, construction front-end loaders, etc. Economic activity that JFK encouraged with his tax cuts. As Ronald Reagan did so, too, some 20 years later. Which is why the JFK and the Reagan economies were far better than any Keynesian administration.
Even after more than a decade of unfettered Keynesian spending consumption was only 34% of all economic activity in 1982. Even though official GDP figures reported it at 65%. Why the discrepancy? Intermediate business spending. The stages of production before consumer goods. Coming in at 54% of real economic activity in 1982. Which is why the tax-cut policies of JFK and Ronald Reagan worked. And the spending policies of JBJ, Nixon and Carter didn’t. Trickle-down works. Because it creates jobs. And those lower tax rates generate higher tax revenues because more people are working and paying taxes. All things a Keynesian wants. But they will reject them because they resulted from the ‘wrong’ policies. Because Keynesians want to tax, borrow and print. Regardless of their effect on the economy.
Tags: Bay of Pigs, borrow, Camelot, Carter, civil rights, consumer goods, Consumers, consumption, cut tax rates, Democrat, dollar, economic and racial injustice, GDP, gold, government expenditures, Great Society, hippies, inflation, intermediate business spending, JFK, Jimmy Carter, Johnson, Kennedy, Keynesian, Keynesians, LBJ, liberals, Nixon, poverty, print money, race riots, Reagan, Ronald Reagan, spending, tax, tax rates, tax revenue, trickle-down, trickle-down economics, unemployment, Vietnam, Watergate
Week in Review
Taking money from Peter to give to Paul to spend does not increase net economic activity. Yes, Paul’s spending increases which adds to economic activity. But Peter’s spending decreases. Which subtracts from economic activity. This is the fatal flaw of stimulus spending. There is no net gain in economic activity. But the Keynesians don’t understand this. If they take money from Peter to pay Paul to dig a ditch and then fill it back in they see only Paul’s contribution to the economy when he spends his wages. They don’t see the reduction in Peter’s spending. Why? Because it’s not about economic stimulus. It’s about the spending. The taxes. And the power it gives them (see Morning Bell: Wind Energy Subsidies Are As Useful As VHS Tape Subsidies by Amy Payne posted 8/16/2012 on The Foundry).
The wind production tax credit is set to expire at the end of this year, which has the industry crying out for continued subsidies.
And for good reason.
The subsidy is already equivalent to 50 percent to 70 percent of the wholesale price of electricity.
Wind power makes up a small sliver of our power generation. Can you imagine the taxpayer cost if it made up a large portion of our power generation? One shudders to think of a greatly expanding wind power sector and the additional taxation it would require.
Wait a minute. If the fuel is free why does government have to subsidize the generation of this power? Good question. For although the fuel is free (as in sunshine and wind) the infrastructure to convert this free fuel into electricity is very expensive. It takes an enormous amount of solar panels and windmills to generate useable power. As well as ancillary equipment to store it or attach it to the grid. And if the government didn’t pay at least half of this cost solar and wind ‘power plants’ couldn’t generate power at market prices. Either they would produce power that no one would buy. And after operating awhile without any revenue they would go out of business. Or they would simply go out of business without even trying to generate power that no one would buy. Simply put their power would come with a much higher price tag without those subsidies. And it’s really hard to charge more for something that is identical to something selling for far less. Like electric power coming from a coal-fired power plant.
All electric generation probably receives subsidies. Because that’s what politicians do. They go to Washington and try to get federal money for their district. But that’s just the usual graft. Fossil fuel and nuclear power generated power don’t need subsidies. They are so reliable and cost efficient that they form the backbone of our baseload power generation. They run all of the time providing reliable inexpensive electric power. Natural gas-fired turbines come on to help with peak load demands. And solar power and wind power are so unreliable and costly that they serve neither baseload power requirements nor peak load requirements. They are little more than novelties. And a vehicle to funnel vast sums of taxpayer funds to political allies. Think Solyndra. And the Obama administration.
Tags: baseload, economic activity, economic stimulus, electric power, electricity, Keynesians, spending, stimulus spending, subsidies, tax credit, taxes, wind power
Keynesians believe if you Build Demand Economic Activity will Follow
People hate catching a common cold. And have long wanted a cure for the common cold. For a long time. For hundreds of years. But no one had ever filled this incredible demand. All this time doctors and scientists still haven’t been able to figure that one out. Despite knowing with that incredible demand, and our patent rights, whoever does figure that one out will become richer than Bill Gates. Which is quite the incentive for figuring out the ingredients to make one little pill. So why hasn’t anyone found the cure for the common cold?
There are many reasons. But let’s just ignore them. Like a Keynesian economist ignores a lot of things in their economic formulas. In fact, let’s try and enter the head of some Keynesian economists. And have them answer the question why there isn’t a cure for the common cold. Based on their economic analysis you might hear them say that we have a cure for the common cold. Because a high demand makes anything happen. Or you might hear them say we don’t have a cure because enough people haven’t caught a cold yet. And that we need to get more people to catch colds so we increase the demand for a cure.
Keynesians believe if you build demand economic activity will follow. Like in that movie where they build a baseball diamond in a cornfield and those dead baseball players come back to play on it. So Keynesians believe in government spending. And love stimulus spending. As well as taxing people to give their money to other people to spend. Because having money to spend stimulates demand. Consumers will consume things. And increase consumption. So suppliers will bring more things to market. And create more jobs to meet that consumption demand. Unless people save that money. Which is something Keynesians hate. Because saving reduces consumption. Which is about the worst thing you could do in the universe of Keynesian economics. Save money. For in that universe spending trumps saving. In fact, spending trumps everything. No matter how you create that spending. Keynesians actually believe taxing people so they can pay other people to dig a ditch and then fill that ditch back in stimulates economic activity. Because these ditch diggers/fillers will take their paycheck and spend it.
Today People wait Anxiously for the next Apple Release to Learn what the Next Thing is that they Must Have
Of course there is a problem with this economic theory. When you take money away from others they haven’t created new economic activity. They just transferred that spending to someone else. The people who earned that money spend less while the people who didn’t earn it spend more. It’s a wash. Some spending goes down. While some spending goes up. Actually there is a net loss in economic activity. Because that money has to pass through government hands. Where some of it sticks. Because bureaucrats have to eat, too. So the people receiving this money don’t receive as much as what was taxed away. So Keynesian stimulus doesn’t really stimulate. It actually reduces economic activity from what it might have been. Because of the government’s cut.
And it gets worse. Because this consumption demand doesn’t really create jobs. We get nothing new out of it. What do people demand? Things they see. Things they know about. For it is hard to demand something that doesn’t exist. You see a commercial for another incredible Apple product and you want it. Thanks to some great advertising that explained why you must have it. In other words, when you give money to people all they will do is buy things they’ve always wanted. Things that already exist. Old stuff. It’s sort of the chicken and the egg thing. Which came first? Wanting something? Or the thing that people want?
Raising taxes on Apple to create a more egalitarian society by redistributing their wealth will let people buy more of the old stuff. But it won’t help Apple create more new things to bring to market. Things we don’t even know about yet. If we tax them so much that it leaves little left for them to invest in research and development how are they going to develop new things? Things we don’t even know about yet? Things that we will learn that we must have? Once upon a time no one was asking for portable cassette players. Then Sony came out with the Walkman. And everyone had to have one. Once upon a time there were no MP3 players. No smartphones. No tablet computers. Now people must have these things. After their manufacturers told us why we must have them. Today people wait anxiously for the next Apple release to learn what the next thing is that they must have.
Say’s Law states that Supply Creates Demand
Supply leads demand. We can’t ask for the unknown. We can only ask for what the market has shown us. Which is why Keynesian economics doesn’t work. Because focusing on demand doesn’t work. Giving people money to spend doesn’t stimulate creativity in the market place. Because that money was taxed out of the market place. Reducing profits. Leaving less for businesses to invest into research and development. And reducing their incentive to take big risks to bring the next big thing to market. Like a phone you can talk to and ask questions. Again something no one was demanding. But now it’s something everyone wants.
Jean-Baptiste Say (1767–1832) was a French economist. Another brilliant French mind that contributed to the Enlightenment. And helped advance Western Civilization. He observed how supply led demand. Understood production was key in the economy. He knew to create economic activity you had to focus on the producers. Not the consumers. Because if we encourage brilliant minds to bring brilliant things to market the demand will follow. As history has shown. And continues to show. Every time a high-tech company brings something new to market that they have to explain to us before we realize we must have it. Or said in another way, supply creates demand. A little law of economics that we call Say’s law.
If Keynesian economics worked no one would have to have a job. The government could print money for everyone. And the people could take their government dollars and consume whatever was in the market place. Which, of course, would be pretty sparse if no one worked. If there were no Steve Jobs out there thinking of brilliant things to bring to market. Because supply creates demand. Demand doesn’t create supply. For fists full of money won’t stimulate any economic activity if there is nothing to buy. So using Keynesian stimulus as a cure for a recession is about as effective as someone’s homemade cure for the common cold. You take the homemade concoction and in a week or two it cures you. Of course, the cold just ran its course. Which is how recessions end. After they run their course. Which can be a short course if there isn’t too much Keynesian intervention.
Tags: Apple, common cold, Consumers, consumption, create jobs, cure for the common cold, demand, economic activity, government spending, incentive, Jean-Baptiste Say, jobs, Keynesian economist, Keynesians, market, money, production, recession, research and development, saving, Say's Law, spending, stimulate demand, stimulus spending, suppliers, supply, Supply creates demand, taxes, taxing
Week in Review
Since 2009 we’ve been hearing about the European sovereign debt crisis. Also known as the Eurozone crisis. And here we are in 2012. Despite numerous rescue packages and recovery plans the crisis continues on. Greece can’t borrow money in the credit markets because no one believes Greece will ever be able to pay them back. For Greece has been running some pretty big deficits. Which has accumulated an enormous pile of debt. Resulting from their large spending obligations for public sector wages and pensions. They don’t have the money. They can’t borrow the money. So a massive Greek default is likely. Which because of the common currency will be felt throughout the Eurozone (see Germany’s AAA rating under threat after Moody’s cuts outlook by Jamie Dunkley posted 7/24/2012 on The Telegraph).
Moody’s warned the outlook for the ratings of Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands is negative because the threat of a Greek exit from the eurozone and the need for greater financial support for struggling eurozone countries from the strongest members of the bloc.
In a statement, issued after the close of the US markets, it added: “The level of uncertainty about the outlook for the area and the potential impact of plausible scenarios on member states, are no longer consistent with stable outlooks.”
Not some pleasant choices. Have a Greek default damage your credit rating. Or make your taxpayers pay for another nation’s debt. Which begs the obvious question. Or should. How is having other people pay for spending you can’t afford going to solve your problem of spending more than you have? If Greece doesn’t cut their spending nothing will change in the long run. They will need another emergency bailout following this emergency bailout. Because this emergency bailout doesn’t address the source of their trouble. Excessive government spending.
Keynesians encourage excessive government spending because they think it’s stimulative. That it creates economic activity. In fact the Keynesian solution to the Greek crisis is more government spending to stimulate the economy. Which begs the obvious question. Or should. If government spending does all of this why after all of their government spending is Greece on the precipice of bankruptcy? Huh? Answer that one smart Keynesian person.
Tags: Bankruptcy, credit rating, default, Eurozone, Eurozone crisis, excessive government spending, government spending, Greece, Greek, Greek crisis, Keynesians, sovereign debt crisis
Higher Debt Balances accrue Higher Interest Costs that Reduce Income
The Greek debt crisis has been in the news for a long time. Which has contributed to the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Most people understand that it’s bad. But they may not understand how bad. Or understand what exactly happened. What caused it. And why they can’t fix it. For it’s been a crisis since 2009. And all we hear is that it’ll be apocalyptic if we don’t bail out Greece and save the Euro. Which would be bad. As most apocalypses tend to be.
To get a general understanding we’ll use an analogy. Let’s say you just got a new job and are now earning $80,000 annually. Your future is bright. And you’re very happy. You buy a big house. And you run up your credit cards furnishing it with lots of nice stuff. Because you’re earning $80,000 a year and can easily afford it. Well, perhaps not easily. But you can still put food on the table. And take a nice vacation with your better half. But then a recession sets in. They cut your bonus. And some of your benefits (taking a large health care deduction out of your check). But that house payment remains the same. As do your credit card bills. So you cut out the vacation. And eat more hamburger and less steak. To adjust to the lost income. Then worse comes.
You lose your job. Go on unemployment. Which doesn’t pay your bills. So you desperately look for a new job. In the bad economy the best job you can get pays only $50,000. Which is a lot more than unemployment. But a far cry from $80,000. You can keep making your house payment. But you have to slash nonessential spending. And cut up your credit cards. Because those high credit card balances require a payment that’s almost as big as your house payment. Almost your entire paycheck goes to your creditors. All because you started spending money you didn’t have because you thought that $80,000 job would never go away. In fact you spent based on what your income would grow to. Beyond that $80,000. This is the Greek debt crisis. Only without the spending cuts.
A Policy of Constant Inflation Monetizes Old Debt and Bumps People up into Higher Tax Brackets
Like the rest of Europe Greece became a social democracy. Which is socialism-light. The people learned they had the keys to the treasury. All they had to do was to vote for people who liked using that key. And they did. Government spending soared beginning in the Seventies. The public sector grew. Creating a lot of government jobs. With some generous pay and benefits. But the country was also a welfare state. Which meant everyone got a state pension. State health care. And other state social benefits. You didn’t have to work for the government to enjoy the generosity of the state. And the state was generous.
And the generous government spending just grew more generous. Strong economic growth allowed more spending. And more borrowing. (From 2000 to 2007 Greece led the Eurozone in economic growth. Which probably sealed their fate. Because the increased spending during boom times they could never sustain during bad economic times. And bad economic times were coming.) Budget deficits became a part of the Greek government. For they were also Keynesians. Who believed in the value of running deficits. And accruing debt. They devalued their currency. Which helped make their exports cheaper. And it monetized their debt. A policy of constant ‘but manageable’ inflation made old debt worth less. And easier to pay off. Just as inflation made people’s savings accounts worth less over time. But running budget deficits year after year increased their outstanding debt. Starting slowly at first. Then growing greater. Prior to 1984 Greek debt as a percentage of GDP was below 40%. By 1998 it was above 60%. By 1990 it was above 80%. By 1994 it was above 100%. By 2010 it was above 140%. By 2011 it was above 160%.
The Keynesians don’t see a problem with this. Because they believe if you keep depreciating the currency the older debt just goes away. It’s like redeeming a $100 savings bond from 1875. Back then $100 was a lot of money to the government. Today it’s the loose change they drop from their pockets that isn’t worth bending down to pick up. Metaphorically, of course. In time with steady inflation those old debts simply become chump change. And there’s something else Keynesians love about inflation. It’s a hidden tax. Sometime it’s not possible politically to raise taxes. So they can use inflation to bump people into higher tax brackets. Making them pay a higher percentage of their income to the government. Which brings us to another Greek problem.
At the Heart of the Greek Debt Crisis is the Welfare State
Greece is a welfare state. Like other welfare states they have to fund that welfare with taxes. So they have high tax rates. Because it’s what the people want. That welfare state. Which requires those high tax rates. But they have a problem. People don’t like paying taxes. Especially the Greeks. Who have taken avoiding paying taxes to an art. Which plays a big problem in the Greek debt crisis. People demanding all of that government spending. Yet refusing to pay the taxes to pay for it. Causing great problems. Especially when they joined the common currency. The Euro.
The common currency changed things. They could no longer depreciate their currency. Because it wasn’t their currency anymore. It was the Eurozone’s currency. Joining the Euro was like giving a bunch of people credit cards and telling them they had to restrict their purchases so that their annual deficit and total debt fell below certain percentages of their income. And those numbers to join the Euro were as follows. Their deficit had to be below 3% of GDP. And their debt had to be below 60% of GDP. If all the members kept within these limits they would maintain their good credit rating. And be able to use their ‘credit cards’ responsibly. And not shock the European Central Bank when they opened the credit card statement at the end of the accounting period.
It appears that Greece massaged their numbers with some creative bookkeeping to meet the requirements to join the Euro. And to stay within the currency union they may have misreported their economic numbers. (When the crisis began the Greeks officially reported that their deficit was 5% of GDP. Which exceeded the allowable 3% but was salvageable. After some outside audits they revised their 2009 deficit up to 15.6% of GDP. Making the crisis more of an apocalypse). Why did they do this? Because they wanted to keep spending. But they couldn’t depreciate their currency anymore. The economy was in recession which higher tax rates wouldn’t help. Not to mention all of the tax evasion. So that left borrowing as their only avenue to sustain that excessive government spending. Sort of like trying to solve the problem of having your credit cards cancelled for nonpayment by getting new credit cards to use to accumulate even more debt that you can’t repay. They’ve gotten one bailout package already. And a second one is theirs if they commit to some austerity. Which the people have rejected. At least those rioting in the streets. And considering how generous those benefits had been it’s hard to blame these people. For life as they knew it is over for them. Thanks to irresponsible government spending that made them dependent on the government.
So there are a lot of factors that caused the Greek debt crisis. But at its heart is one thing. The welfare state. For if there was no excessive government spending they wouldn’t have had those large deficits. Debt. Or debt crisis.
Tags: austerity, common currency, debt, debt crisis, deficit, depreciate their currency, Euro, Eurozone, government spending, Greece, Greek, Greek debt, Greek debt crisis, high tax rates, inflation, Keynesians, public sector, social democracy, tax evasion, taxes, welfare state
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