Monetary Policy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 30th, 2012

Economics 101

Monetary Policy created the Housing Bubble and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Those suffering in the fallout of the Subprime Mortgage Crisis can thank monetary policy.  That tool used by the federal government that kept interest rates so low for so long.  Following the old Milton Friedman idea of a permanent level of inflation (but small and manageable) to stimulate constant economic growth.  Why?  Because when people are buying houses the economy is booming.  Because it takes a lot of economic activity to build them.  And even more to furnish them.  Which means jobs.  Lots and lots of jobs.

But there is a danger in making money too cheap to borrow.  A lot of people will borrow that cheap money.  Creating an artificial demand for ever more housing.  And not for your parent’s house.  But bigger and bigger houses.  The McMansions.  Houses 2-3 times the size of your parent’s house.  This demand ran up the price of these houses.  Which didn’t deter buyers.  Because mortgage rates were so low.  People who weren’t even considering buying a new house, let alone a McMansion, jumped in, too.  When the jumping was good.  To take advantage of those low mortgage rates.  There was so much house buying that builders got into it, too.  House flippers.  Who took advantage of those cheap ‘no questions asked’ (no documentation) mortgages (i.e., subprime) and bought houses.  Fixed them up.  And put them back on the market.

Good times indeed.  But they couldn’t last.  Because those houses weren’t the only thing getting expensive.  Price inflation was creeping into the other things we bought.  And all those houses at such inflated prices were creating a dangerous housing bubble.  So the Federal Reserve, America’s central bank, tapped the brakes.  To cool the economy down.  To reduce the growing inflation.  By raising interest rates.  Making mortgages not cheap anymore.  So people stopped buying houses.  Leaving a glut of unsold houses on the market.  Bursting that housing bubble.  And it got worse.  The higher interest rate increased the monthly payment on adjustable rate mortgages.  A large amount of all those subprime mortgages.  Causing many people to default on these mortgages.  Which caused the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  And the Great Recession.

The Federal Reserve System conducts Monetary Policy by Changing both the Money Supply and Interest Rates

Money is a commodity.  And subject to the laws of supply and demand.  When money is in high demand (during times of inflation) the ‘price’ of money goes up.  When money is in low demand (during times of recession) the ‘price’ of money goes down.  The ‘price’ of money is interest.  The cost of borrowing money.  The higher the demand for loans the higher the interest rate.  The less the demand for loans the lower the interest rate.

So there is a relationship between money and interest rates.  Adjusting one can affect the other.  If the money supply is increased the interest rates will decrease.  Because there is more money to loan to the same amount of borrowers.  When the money supply is decreased interest rates will increase.  Because there will be less money to loan to the same amount of borrowers.  And it works the other way.  If the interest rates are lowered people respond by borrowing more money.  Increasing the amount of money in the economy buying things.  If interest rates are raised people respond by borrowing less money.   Reducing the amount of money in the economy buying things.  We call these changes in the money supply and interest rates monetary policy.  Made by the monetary authority.  In most cases the central bank of a nation.  In the United States that central bank is the Federal Reserve System (the Fed).

The Fed changes the amount of money in the economy and the interest rates to minimize the length of recessions, combat inflation and to reduce unemployment.  At least in theory.  And they have a variety of tools at their disposal.  They can change the amount of money in the economy through open market operations.  Basically buying (increasing the money supply) or selling (decreasing the money supply) treasury bills, government bonds, company bonds, foreign currencies, etc., on the open market.  They can also buy and sell these financial instruments to change interest rates.  Such as the Federal funds rate.  The interest rate banks pay when borrowing from each other.  Moving money between their accounts at the central bank.  Or the Fed can change the discount rate.  The rate banks pay to borrow from the central bank itself.  Often called the lender of last resort.  Or they can change the reserve requirement in fractional reserve banking.  Lowering it allows banks to loan more of their deposits.  Raising it requires banks to hold more of their deposits in reserve.  Not used much these days.  Open market operations being the monetary tool of choice.

There is more to Economic Activity than Monetary Policy

Fractional reserve banking multiplies these transactions.  Where banks create money out of thin air.  When the Fed increases the money supply a little this creates a lot of lendable funds.  As buyers borrow money from some banks and pay sellers.  Then sellers deposit that money in other banks.  And these banks hold a little of these deposits in reserve.  And loan the rest.  Borrowers create depositors as buyers meet sellers.  And complete economic transactions.  When the Fed reduces the money supply a little this process works in reverse.  Fractional reserve banking pulls a lot of money out of the economy.  Some treat these economic transactions, and the way to increase or decrease them, as simple math.  Always obeying their mathematical formulas.  We call these people Keynesian economists.  Named for the economist John Maynard Keynes.

Big interventionist governments embrace monetary policy.  Because they think they can easily manipulate the economy as they wish.  So they can tax and spend (Keynesian fiscal policy).  And when economic activity declines they can simply use monetary policy to restore it.  But there is one problem.  It doesn’t work.  If it did there would not have been a Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  Or any of the recessions we’ve had since the advent of central banking.  Including the Great Depression.  As well as the Great Recession.

There is more to economic activity than monetary policy.  Such as punishing fiscal policy (high taxes and stifling regulations).  Technological innovation.  Contracts.  Property rights.  Etc.  Any one of these can influence risk takers.  Business owners.  Entrepreneurs.  The job creators.  The people who create economic activity.  And no amount of monetary policy will change this.

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FT102: “Unlike welfare benefits health care costs are transferred to the young, not the rich.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 27th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

An Undereducated and Inexperienced Electorate benefits Democrats

Tax and spend liberals tax the rich to help the poor.  Something the rich don’t completely object to.  For many rich people are in favor of a safety net for those falling on hard economic times.  The rich just object to the growing welfare state.  Where the governments take ever larger sums of money out of the private economy to spend for political purposes.  To buy votes.

A lot of these feel-good welfare programs appeal to the young.  Who don’t understand policy.  Economics.  Or the effect of high taxes on the economy.  They don’t know.  Because no one taught them.  Their public school education has, instead, taught them about the perils of global warming.  And the evils of capitalism.  Which makes them staunch Democrat voters.  Until they start earning a living.  And begin raising a family.  When a lot of them become Republicans.  Which is why Democrats characterize the Republican Party as nothing but a bunch of old rich people who hate poor people.  Which they’re not.  They’ve just grown up.  And now understand things economic.

That’s why the Democrats need this youth vote.  And even floated the idea of lowering the voting age to 16.  Interesting considering the legal drinking age is 21 in most states.  Which begs the question if they are too irresponsible to drink until they reach the age of 21 why would anyone think they’re responsible enough to vote at 18 let alone 16?  But clearly an undereducated and inexperienced electorate benefits Democrats.  Who will vote for them without any idea of the consequence of their policies.

Obamacare will Require the 97% of Young People who don’t Consume Health Care Benefits to Pay for those who Do

The young support Obamacare.  And national health care.  Because they don’t understand health care.  Or the fact that more than 40% of all patients in the health care system are age 65 or older.  While they, those age 18-29, make up just 3% of all patients.

This is different from all other welfare programs.  Where we tax the rich to help the poor.  Many of the rich also happen to be age 65 or more.  So we’re basically taxing rich old people to help the poor.  Now note the difference with health care.  We’re not ‘taxing’ rich old people to help sick people.  We’re ‘taxing’ young healthy people to pay for sick old people.  And the vast majority of the young are not rich.  They are just at the beginning of their careers.  But they are healthy.  Which brings us to a very critical point in the health care debate.  Healthy people don’t see the doctor.  Because they don’t need to.  Which makes many of these young people choose not to buy health insurance.  Because they don’t need to.  Not when only 3% of them are consuming health care services.  Which is why health insurance is so expensive.  The only people who want to buy it are the biggest consumers of health care services.  That would be like people buying auto insurance only after their car was stolen.  Which doesn’t spread the risk over many policies for a small fee.  It doesn’t spread the risk at all.  And the cost of one insurance policy must approach the cost to replace a stolen car.  Which is not insurance in any sense of the word.

Obamacare includes an individual mandate to purchase health insurance.  Which means the 97% of young people who don’t consume any health care benefits will pay for those who do.  Including the more than 40% age 65 and older.  Which makes it the only government program to transfer costs to those who can least afford them.  Those just starting their careers.  Those age 18-29.

The Youth will Understand Obamacare Forcing them to Buy an Expensive Insurance Policy

The Democrats usually can count on the youth vote.  Because they are undereducated and inexperienced.  And vote for their policies without understanding the consequences of these policies.  But they will understand Obamacare forcing them to buy an expensive insurance policy.  Especially if they have to give up using their smartphone to pay for it.  Which will educate and experience them fast.  Making them responsible grownups.  And Republicans sooner rather than later.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #28: “Politicians love failure because no one ever asked government to fix something that was working.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 24th, 2010

GOVERNMENT FIXES PROBLEMS.  Or so they say.  And the people think.  When something isn’t right in the country, the people demand that government do something about it.  And politicians are more than happy to oblige.  It strokes their egos.  Increases their budgets.  Their staffs.  And they get to do what they like best.  Tell others what to do.  Well, that, and spend money.

Politicians are happiest when government grows.  Because when it does, there’s more stuff to do.  More people to manage.  Bigger offices to move into.  More people to hire.  And the more they hire, the more people are indebted to them.  Who love them.  Respect them.  Are in awe of them.  Which inflates their egos even more.  As if that was even possible.  And, of course, there’s more money to spend. 

As government grows, so does their job security.  I mean, there may come the day that the good people may not reelect them.  As devastating as that may be, they can be comforted in the fact that they will leave Washington far richer than they were upon entering Washington.  And there’ll always be a place for them in an ever expanding government.  A cabinet position.  An agency position.  Or, perhaps, they’ll be named a czar.  Of something.  In charge of a policy issue.  Away from the oversight powers of Congress.  Anything is possible.  As long as government grows.  And there is more money to spend.

And just why is that?  Why does government continue to grow?  Simple.  They don’t fix problems.  They’re always ‘fixing’ problems.  But they’re never fixed.  They’re always a work in progress.  Because a fixed problem doesn’t require their services any longer.

DON’T THINK SO?  Suppose the government gives you a federal job.  An important one.  You’re in charge of the Office of Getting People to Happily Accept the Banning of Smoking in Public Places.  They give you a big office.  A staff.  A budget.  And a title.  You feel pretty good.  Important.  You diligently go about your work.  You take polls.  You analyze data.  You place public service announcements.  You intensify your polling before and after local laws are implemented banning smoking in public places. 

You analyze your data.  You correlate satisfaction with dissatisfaction.  Pacification with irritability.  Your numbers look good.  As more and more localities ban smoking from most public spaces the more your numbers show that the satisfaction/dissatisfaction ratio is trending favorably.  The trending is flatter with pacification/irritability but the trending is still favorable.  You conclude that these new laws come in, on average, at 9.875.  And that’s very good on the scale you created to measure overall effectiveness and acceptance of new laws to influence social behavior.   You happily report your findings to your superior.

“What are you,” your superior asks, “stupid?  Trying to put yourself out of a job?  Are you trying to cut my budget?  Because that’s exactly what’s going to happen if you turn in a report like this.  Now here’s what you’re going to do.  You’re going to report that your findings indicate some improvements in some select demographics.  But overall there is still much work to do.  Then write up a proposal for additional work required and throw in a budget that increases your current budget by 12%.  For starters.  Then I’ll critique your findings and find your funding request insufficient because of a mistake you made in your analysis.  Have it on my desk by the end of the week.”

Sound ridiculous?  That’s probably because it is.  And probably all too true.  I mean, how many federal programs do politicians shut down because they were successful in achieving their objective?  I think few.  If any.  Because no one wants to put themselves out of a job.  Especially a federal job.  Because there’s no job like a federal job.  At least, not in the private sector.

IN THE PRIVATE sector, your work has to have value.  When people are voluntarily paying for goods or services, you can’t have fat payrolls and fat budgets to produce goods and services no one wants.  You can only do that when government pays.  And by government I mean you and me.  With our taxes.  Which we have little choice but to pay.  For we are forced to under penalty of law.  Which can be pretty persuasive in making you pay for stuff you don’t want.  For we wouldn’t normally give away our hard-earned pay for the ridiculous wastes of resources known as government work.  To make the lives of federal workers better than ours.  And speaking of federal workers, what’s that joke?  Question:  What is federal work?  Answer:  Work for the unemployable.  There’s a lot of truth in that.  For a lot of these people couldn’t make it in the private sector.  And if they had to, they would only do so with the utmost bitter resentment.  They’d resent the longer hours.  The huge cut in pay.  The huge cut in benefits.  And the accountability.

You see, in the private sector, failure has consequences.  People get fired.  If a business is losing money because of silly projects they’re pursuing, the board of directors will fire the corporate officers.  If it’s a small business, the owner may lose his or her life savings.  And their house (which is often mortgaged up to the hilt to support their business).  There will be change after failure.  And it will be painful to many.  Unfeeling.  Cold.  But necessary.  But it’s different in government. 

When politicians fail, they reward themselves.  When their policies fail, the politicians simply say they need more time to make those policies work.  And more money.  That’s always the answer.  And they get away with it.  More money.  Keep throwing money at the problem.  No matter what a train wreck their programs turn out to be.  Or what the unintended consequences are.

POLITICIANS LIKE TO tinker.  Often in things they shouldn’t.  Because when they do, bad things often happen.  Those unintended consequences.  For when it comes down to it, they’re not very smart.  They could have graduated from their Ivy League schools at the top of their class, but they often know squat about the things they’re meddling in.  Most of them are lawyers.  And what does a lawyer know about economics?  Foreign policy?  National security?  Bupkis.  But it never stops them. 

And it doesn’t even matter.  Because their motives were honorable.  They acted with the best of intentions.  At least, that’s what they say.  As do their supporters.  And when everything goes to hell in a handbasket, they don’t mind.  Just more problems for government to fix.  More programs.  More staff.  And more money to spend.

Of course, we ultimately pay the price for their actions.  Whether it’s recession, depression or a more dangerous world to live in.  Which is often the case.  More times than not.

EVER WONDER WHY everything is a crisis?  Because a crisis needs urgent action.  By politicians in Washington.  And that urgent action is typically vast new government programs with an exploding federal bureaucracy.  Along with explosive federal spending.  And because it’s a crisis, there’s no time to lose.  If we don’t take immediate action the consequences could be dire.  There’s no time for debate.  For opposition.  To read a bill.  No.  We have to act and we have to act NOW.  Before this crisis gets any worse.

And when things do get worse after we take all that urgent action, you know what they’ll say?  That they were wrong?  Yeah, right.  In some fantasy world maybe.  No.  Instead, they’ll say just imagine how bad things would have been if they didn’t act like they did.  That we should be thankful things are only as bad as they are, for they could have been a whole lot worse if government didn’t act.  Why, they’ll be patting themselves on the back.  While you suffer more.

Hard to fight that logic.  I mean, they can say anything.  If their action takes unemployment to record levels, they can say unemployment would have been twice as high if they didn’t do what they did.  Twice as high would be worse.  But how do they know it would have been twice as high?  How can they prove it?  Well, they don’t have to.  Because you can’t disprove it.  And those who gamble know that a tie goes to the house.  So they’re right.  Because you can’t prove otherwise.  So they act accordingly.  And their supporters go along.  And the answer to the new problems that are worse than the original problems?  You guessed it.  More of the same.  More government programs.  More government spending.  At least, that’s what the historical record shows.

POLITICIANS LOVE FAILURE.  They thrive on it.  It gives them life.  Success, on the other hand, destroys them.  Removes their raison d’être.  Their reason for being.  A prospering nation, after all, doesn’t need government to fix anything.  And that’s no good.  Especially if that’s the business you’re in.  Fixing things.  Fixers need to fix.  But it needs to remain a work in progress.  So there’s still fixing to do.  Always.  And forever.   

And they’ll never let a good crisis go to waste.

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