Say’s Law

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 2nd, 2013

Economics 101

(originally published August 6, 2012)

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.

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Economies of Scale

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 31st, 2012

Economics 101

Employers are very Reluctant to hire Additional Employees because Labor Costs are their Greatest Costs

When it comes to running a business there is nothing more costly than people.  Employee salaries and wages.  Payroll taxes.  And benefits.  People need a large paycheck to live on and will go to the employer that offers the highest pay.  Government has imposed costly taxes and regulatory costs.  And to further entice good workers employers have to sweeten the deal with some fringe benefits like health insurance, paid vacation time, holiday pay, paid sick days and retirement plans.  It adds up.  Something like this:

As you can see the amount of pay employees are familiar with (the working pay above) is far less than the total cost to the employer.  The employee doesn’t see the 63.1% markup on their working pay that their employer has to pay in addition to paying the employee.  As a business hires more employees these costs add up.  A small factory with 15 workers on the factory floor can cost the employer $1.6 million.  Which is why labor costs are the greatest costs of most businesses.  And why employers are very reluctant to add additional employees.

The more Productive you are the Lower your Unit Cost and the Lower the Selling Price in a Store

Besides labor costs a business like a factory will have material costs, too.  These are variable costs.  They’re variable because they vary with varying levels of production.  The more production there is the more variable costs there are.  In addition to variable costs businesses have fixed costs.  Often simply called overhead.

Factories make things.  Like things you can pick up off a store’s shelf.  Things with low prices on their price tags.  But when it can cost a small manufacturer $1.6 million JUST for its labor costs how can they sell things with such low prices?  By making a lot of those things to sell.  As much as they possibly can with their variable and fixed costs.  What we call economies of scale.  And the more they can make for their given costs the lower the unit cost is for each thing you can buy off a shelf at a store.   As you can see here:

Assuming a factory can produce anywhere from 1,250,000 to 2,750,000 units with a given labor force operating the same production equipment in a factory you can see how the unit cost falls the more they produce.  Which is why there is so much talk about productivity.  The more productive you are (the more you can produce for a given cost) the lower your unit cost.  And the lower the selling price in a store.  Increasing productivity could mean moving an assembly line a little faster.  Or replacing some people with machines.  Things that workers don’t like.  But things consumers love.  For they like low prices when they go shopping.

Employers are very Reluctant to Hire New Employees and Prefer Increasing Productivity with Automation

If you crunch these numbers for the labor costs of 16 and 17 workers you can see how unit costs rise as an employee or two is added to the production floor.  At an annual production of 2,000,000 units the unit cost increases $0.05 (4.6%) going from 15 to 16 workers.  Adding two workers increases the unit cost $0.11 (10.1%).  Doesn’t seem like a lot.  But we notice when something we once bought for $0.99 now costs $1.04.  And we don’t like it.  But business owners like it even less.  Here’s why.

Business may be booming.  Those on the factory floor may be working a lot of overtime to produce at a rate of 2,000,000 units per year.  And are growing unhappy with all of that overtime.  They keep demanding that the owner hire another person.  The owner does.  Increasing unit costs by $0.05.  But the owner hopes the booming economy will continue.  And that they can even increase the production rate.  For if they can sell an additional 250,000 units the unit cost can actually fall $0.07 to $1.02.  Making the addition of a new worker on the factory floor not increase costs.  As the increase in production will make costs fall greater than that increase in labor costs.

But it doesn’t always work like that.  Economic booms don’t always last.  When too many factories increase production to meet booming demand they bring too much supply to market.  Causing prices to fall.  And forcing factories to cut back on production rates.  So instead of increasing the production rate they may find themselves cutting back.  Perhaps going from 2,000,000 to 1,750,000.  A fall of 250,000 units.  Increasing the unit cost $0.21 (19.3%).  Which could very well raise the unit cost above the prevailing market price.  Requiring layoffs.  To get the unit cost back down to $1.09.  Allowing them to sell at the prevailing market price.  And at a production rate of 1,750,000 units that may require letting go more than just one worker.  Maybe even more than two.  Which is why employers are very reluctant to hire new employees.  And prefer increasing productivity with automation.  For it is far easier to make machines increase or decrease production rates than it is to hire and lay off people.  Making it easier and less costly to reach great economies of scale.  Which makes low prices.  And happy consumers.

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Macroeconomic Disequilibrium

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 24th, 2012

Economics 101

In the Barter System we Traded our Goods and Services for the Goods and Services of Others

Money.  It’s not what most people think it is.  It’s not what most politicians think it is.  Or their Keynesian economists.  They think it’s wealth.  That it has value.  But it doesn’t.  It is a temporary storage of value.  A medium of exchange.  And that alone.  Something that we created to make economic trades easier and more efficient.  And it’s those things we trade that have value.  The things that actually make wealth.  Not the money we trade for these things.

In our first economic exchanges there was no money.  Yet there were economic exchanges.  Of goods and services.  That’s right, there was economic activity before money.  People with talent (i.e., human capital) made things, grew things or did things.  They traded this talent with the talent of other people.  Other people with human capital.  Who made things, grew things or did things.  Who sought each other out.  To trade their goods and services for the goods and services of others.  Which you could only do if you had talent yourself.

This is the barter system.  Trading goods and services for goods and services.  Without using money.  Which meant you only had what you could do for yourself.  And the things you could trade for.  If you could find people that wanted what you had.  Which was the great drawback of the barter system.  The search costs.  The time and effort it took to find the people who had what you wanted.  And who wanted what you had.  It proved to be such an inefficient way to make economic transactions that they needed to come up with a better way.  And they did.

The Larger the Wheat Crop the Greater the Inflation and the Higher the Prices paid in Wheat

They found something to temporarily hold the value of their goods and services.  Money.  Something that held value long enough for people to trade their goods and services for it.  Which they then traded for the goods and services they wanted.  Greatly decreasing search costs.  Because you didn’t have to find someone who had what you wanted while having what they wanted.  You just had to take a sack of wheat (or something else that was valuable that other people would want) to market.  When you found what you wanted you simply paid an amount of wheat for what you wanted to buy.  Saving valuable time that you could put to better use.  Producing the goods or services your particular talent provided.

Using wheat for money is an example of commodity money.  Something that has intrinsic value.  You could use it as money and trade it for other goods and services.  Or you could use it to make bread.  Which is what gives it intrinsic value.  Everyone needs to eat.  And bread being the staple of life wheat was very, very valuable.  For back then famine was a real thing.  While living through the winter was not a sure thing.  So the value of wheat was life itself.  The more you had the less likely you would starve to death.  Especially after a bad growing season.  When those with wheat could trade it for a lot of other stuff.  But if it was a year with a bumper crop, well, that was another story.

If farmers flood the market with wheat because of an exceptional growing season then the value for each sack of wheat isn’t worth as much as it used to be.  Because there is just so much of it around.  Losing some of its intrinsic value.  Meaning that it won’t trade for as much as it once did.  The price of wheat falls.  As well as the value of money.  In other words, the bumper crop of wheat depreciated the value of wheat.  That is, the inflation of the wheat supply depreciated the value of the commodity money (wheat).  If the wheat crop was twice as large it would lose half of its value.  Such that it would take two sacks of wheat to buy what one sack once bought.  So the larger the wheat crop the greater the inflation and the higher the prices (except for wheat, of course).  On the other hand if a fire wipes out a civilization’s granary it will contract the wheat supply.  Making it more valuable (because there is less of it around).  Causing prices to fall (except for wheat, of course).  The greater the contraction (or deflation) of the wheat supply the greater the appreciation of the commodity money (wheat).  And the greater prices fall.  Because a little of it can buy a lot more than it once did.

Keynesian Expansionary Monetary Policy has only Disrupted Normal Market Forces

Creating a bumper crop of wheat is not easy.  Unlike printing fiat money.  It takes a lot of work to plow the additional acreage.  It takes additional seed.  Sowing.  Weeding.  Etc.  Which is why commodity money works so well.  Whether it’s growing wheat.  Or mining a precious metal like gold.  It is not easy or cheap to inflate.  Unlike printing fiat money.  Which is why people were so willing to accept it for payment.  For it was a relative constant.  They could accept it without fear of having to spend it quickly before it lost its value.  This brought stability to the markets.  And let the automatic price system match supply to the demand of goods and services.  If things were in high demand they would command a high price.  That high price would encourage others to bring more of those things to market.  If things were not in high demand their prices would fall.  And fewer people would bring them to market.  When supply equaled demand the market was in equilibrium.

Prices provide market signals.  They tell suppliers what the market wants more of.  And what the market wants less of.  That is, if there is a stable money supply.  Because this automatic price system doesn’t work so well during times of inflation.  Why?  Because during inflation prices rise.  Providing a signal to suppliers.  Only it’s a false signal.  For it’s not demand raising prices.  It’s a depreciated currency raising prices.  Causing some suppliers to increase production even though there is no increase in demand.  So they will expand production.  Hire more people.  And put more goods into the market place.  That no one will buy.  While inflation raises prices everywhere in the market.  Increasing the cost of doing business.  Which raises prices throughout the economy.  Because consumers are paying higher prices they cannot buy as much as they once did.  So all that new production ends up sitting in wholesale inventories.  As inventories swell the wholesalers cut back their orders.  And their suppliers, faced with falling orders, have to cut back.  Laying off employees.  And shuttering facilities.  All because inflation sent false signals and disrupted market equilibrium.

This is something the Keynesians don’t understand.  Or refuse to understand.  They believe they can control the economy simply by continuously inflating the money supply.  By just printing more fiat dollars.  As if the value was in the money.  And not the things (or services) of value we create with our human capital.  Economic activity is not about buying things with money.  It’s about using money to efficiently trade the things we make or do with our talent.  Inflating the money supply doesn’t create new value.  It just raises the price (in dollars) of our talents.  Which is why Keynesian expansionary monetary policy has been such a failure.  For their macroeconomic policies only disrupt normal market forces.  Which result in a macroeconomic disequilibrium.  Such as raising production in the face of falling demand.  Because of false price signals caused by inflation.  Which will only bring on an even more severe recession to restore that market equilibrium.  And the longer they try to prevent this correction through inflationary actions the longer and more severe the recession will be.

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Production vs. Consumption

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 20th, 2012

Economics 101

To Prevent another Great Depression Keynes said the Key was Government Spending

John Maynard Keynes was a noted economist who analyzed the Great Depression.  And came to the opinion the problem was that there wasn’t enough consumption.  Consumers weren’t buying enough stuff.  That is, they weren’t spending enough money.  Which is key to consumption.  And a healthy economy.  According to Keynes.  And the people who embraced his economic theories.  What we now call Keynesian economics.

It was a whole new way to look at economics.  Consumption.  Or demand-side economics.  Which said demand created supply.  Contrary to Say’s law.  Which basically stated supply creates demand.  Tomáto.  Tomàto.  To most people.  All they understood was that it was better to have a job than to be unemployed.  Because if you had a job you could buy food for your family.  Pay for heat in the winter.  And pay a doctor if your child was sick.

To prevent another Great Depression Keynes said the key was government spending.  To make up for any decline in consumption.  The government could tax, borrow or print money as necessary to get money to spend.  Putting people to work on government projects.  Building things.  Like roads and bridges.  Or digging ditches.  So when businesses lay off people the government can put them back to work.  And pay them with the money they taxed, borrowed or printed.  These people would then take that money and spend it.  A priming of the economic pump as it were.  That, in theory, will provide consumption until the private sector begins hiring again.  Therefore eliminating recessions once and for all.

Economists attribute about 90% of GDP to Consumer Spending and Government Expenditures

There have been about 12 recessions since Keynes figured out how to end them once and for all.  The recent one being the worst since the Great Depression.  Even surpassing the misery of the Jimmy Carter economy.  A time when the impossible happened.  In the world of Keynesian economics, at least.  Government spending designed to decrease unemployment actually increased unemployment.  It turns out there was a downside to printing money.  Massive inflation.  And rational expectations that printing money will lead to massive inflation.  So while the Keynesian way worked in theory it failed in practice.  And not just once.  But a lot.  Yet it is still the model of most governments.  And it’s what colleges teach their students.  Why?  After it’s been so thoroughly debunked?  The answer to that question brings us back to consumption.  And Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

GDP is a measure of a country’s goods and services during a period of time.  That is, it is a measure of economic activity.  The bigger it is the better the economy.  And the more people that have jobs.  The formula for GDP is the sum of consumption, investments, government expenditures and net exports (exports – imports).  It’s this formula that keeps Keynesian economics alive.  Because of consumption.  And government expenditures.  This formula sanctions government spending because, according to the formula, it increases economic activity.  It is the driver of all stimulus spending.  And the welfare state.  Because government spending puts money ultimately into the pockets of consumers who spend it.  That is, government spending creates private consumption.  And consumption creates jobs (demand creates supply).  In the Keynesian world, that it.  There is only one problem.  The formula leaves out a lot of economic activity.

Using this formula economists report that consumption makes up about 70% of GDP.  And government spending about 20%.  These numbers are huge.  That’s about 90% of GDP attributed to consumer spending and government expenditures.  Which is why Keynesians love this formula.   Because it empowers them to tax, borrow and print so they can spend.  All in the name of creating jobs.  And GDP.  But what about the things people make or do that consumers don’t buy?  Like engineering and design services.  Printing presses and ink.  The extraction of raw materials?  Coal mining.  Blast furnaces making steel for use in manufacturing?  Heavy construction equipment?  Machine tools and production equipment?  Assembly lines?  Robots on the assembly line?  Locomotive engines and rolling stock?  Airplanes?  All the people and equipment in the transportation industry?  Etc.  There is a lot of economic activity that makes things or does things that consumers don’t buy.  So where is it in the GDP formula?  Don’t look for it.  Because it’s just not there.

Intermediate Business Spending accounts for about Half of all Economic Activity

Before Keynes the focus was on production.  Not consumption.  Before Keynes we looked at the stages of production.  All of that economic activity that happens before you can buy anything in a store.  Everything between the extraction of raw materials to the final finished good.  Where millions of workers are engaged in economic activity that a consumer knows nothing about when they buy a consumer good.  If you factor in this economic activity into the GDP equation it changes things.  And it changes it in a way that Keynesians and government officials don’t like.

Consumption is the last stage in the stages of production.  The final step in a flurry of economic activity that preceded it.  If you count up this intermediate business spending it comes to about half of all economic activity.  It’s about twice consumer spending.  And about four times government expenditures.  Greatly reducing the roles of consumption and government expenditures in the GDP equation.  And in the economy.  As well as providing the answer to why Keynes didn’t end recessions once and for all with his new economic theory.  Because his new economic theory was wrong.  You don’t create jobs by giving money to people to spend.  You create jobs by making it easy for businesses to hire people.

So demand does NOT create supply like Keynes said.  Supply creates demand.  Like Say said.  And what’s the conclusion we can draw?  Big activist governments do not help a country’s economy.  They just pull money out of the stages of productions.  Where it can create jobs.  And puts it into government.  Where it creates unemployment and inflation.  As demonstrated by all the big Keynesian governments of Europe.  Those social democracies struggling under the weight of their government spending.  Who borrowed money to sustain that spending.  Bringing on the European sovereign debt crisis.  Because of that GDP equation that said they could tax, borrow and print to spend to their heart’s content.  Thanks to a man named Keynes.

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Say’s Law

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 6th, 2012

Economics 101

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.

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Inventories

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 23rd, 2012

Economics 101

Before a Business Earns any Sales Revenue they have to Spend Cash to Build an Inventory

To sell something a business needs to have it on hand first.  Because when it comes to manufactured goods we rarely custom manufacture things.  No.  When businesses sell something it’s something they already have in their inventories.  So how do they get things into inventory?  With cash.  Businesses buy goods and place them in their inventories.  They exchange some of their cash for the goods they hope to sell at a later date.  And the bigger the inventory they maintain the more cash it will take.  Cash they have to spend before they sell these goods.  Which requires financing.  Each large business, in fact, has a finance department.  That works to raise cash.  So the businesses can buy inventory (and pay their operating and overhead expenses) before they start selling anything.

This is how the retail stores work.  For manufacturers it’s a little different.  They make things.  Out of other things.  Things that go through various stages of production before becoming a finished good.  So to make these things requires different types of inventories.  Raw goods.  Work in process.  And finished goods.  When they pull raw goods out of inventory and begin working with them they become work in process inventory.  When finished goods come off the final production line they enter finished goods inventory.  The finance department secures the cash to buy the raw materials.  And for the equipment and labor used through the stages of production to produce a finished good.  Which enters finished goods inventory until they sell and ship these goods.

Before a business earns any sales revenue they have to spend huge amounts of cash first to move material through these inventories.  Cash they can’t use for anything else.  Like paying their overhead expenses.  Or servicing their debt.  So it’s a delicate balancing act.  You need inventory to produce revenue.  But if you run out of cash you can’t produce any inventory.  Or pay your bills.  A large inventory creates a large variety of things for customers to buy.  But if customers aren’t buying that large inventory will consume cash leaving a business struggling to pay its bills.  If they become so cash-strapped they will cut their prices to unload slow moving inventory.  Cut back on production rates.  Even cut back on expenses.  As in cost-cutting.  And lay-offs.

Good Inventory Management is Crucial for the Financial Health of a Business

A business doesn’t start generating cash until they start selling their finished goods.  Sales numbers may sound high but most sales revenue goes to pay for the costs of producing inventory.  A firm’s accounting department records these revenues.  And matches them to the cost of goods sold.  Which in a retailer is what they paid to bring those goods into inventory.  A manufacturer may use a term like cost of sales.  Which would include all the costs they incurred throughout the stages of production from bringing raw material into the plant.  To the labor to process that material.  To the energy consumed.  Etc.  Everything that was an input in the production process to place a finished good into inventory.  So from their sales revenue they subtract their costs of goods sold (or cost of sales).  The number they arrive at is gross profit.  Which has to pay for everything else.  Rent, utilities, marketing and advertising, non-production salaries and benefits, insurances, taxes, etc.  And, of course, interest on the cash their finance department borrowed to start everything off.

There is a unique relationship between inventories and sales.  There are countless things that happen in a business but what happens between inventories and sales receives particular attention.  A business’ greatest cost is the cost of goods sold.  Or cost of sales.  Everything that falls above gross profit on their income statement (the financial statement that shows a firm’s profitability).  This cost is a function of inventory.  The bigger the inventory the bigger the cost.  The smaller the inventory the smaller the cost.  This is a direct relationship.  You move one the other follows.  Whereas the relationship between sales and inventory is a little different.  The higher the sales revenue the bigger the inventory cost.  Because you have to have inventory to sell inventory.  However, there is no such corresponding relationship for falling sales.  As sales can fall for a variety of reasons.  And they can fall with a falling inventory level.  They can fall with a steady inventory level.  And they can fall with a rising inventory level.

In business sales are everything.  There are few problems healthy sales can’t solve.  It can even overcome some of the worst cost management.  So rising sales revenue is good.  While falling sales revenue is not.  There are many reasons why sales fall.  But the reason that most affects inventories is typically a bad economy.  When people scale back their purchases in response to a bad economy a firm’s sales fall.  And when their sales fall their inventories, of course, rise.  Until management scales back production to reflect the weaker demand.  Because there is no point building things when people aren’t buying.  Those who don’t scale back production will see their sales fall and their inventories rise.  Creating cash problems.  Because sales aren’t creating cash.  And a growing inventory consumes cash.  Making it difficult to meet their daily expenses.  Such as payroll and benefits.  As well as paying interest on their debt.  Which can lead to insolvency.  And bankruptcy.  So good inventory management is crucial for the financial health of a business.

If Retail Sales are Falling and Inventories are Rising Bad Times are Coming

Businesses target specific inventory levels.  During good economic times they increase inventory levels because people are buying more.  During bad economic times they decrease inventory levels because people are buying less.  And they monitor changes in the actual sales and inventory levels continuously.  Adjusting inventory levels to match changes in sales.  To balance the need to have an inventory flush with goods to sell.  While keeping the cost of that inventory to the lowest level possible.  All businesses do this.  And if you track the aggregate of the inventory levels of all businesses you can get a good idea about what’s happening in the economy.

John Maynard Keynes used inventory levels in his macroeconomics formulas.  The ‘big picture’ of the economy.  Looking at inventories tied right into jobs.  If sales are outpacing inventory levels then businesses hire new workers to increase inventory levels.  So sales growing at a greater rate than inventory levels suggest that businesses will be creating new jobs and hiring new workers.  A good thing.  If inventory levels are growing greater than sales it’s a sign of an economic slowdown.  Suggesting businesses will be reducing production and laying off workers.  Not a good thing.

Because of the stages of production changes in finished goods inventories can create or destroy a lot of jobs.  For if the major retailers are cutting back on inventory levels due to weak demand that will ripple all the way through the stages of production back to the extraction of raw materials out of the ground.  Which makes inventory levels a key economic indicator.  And when we combine it with sales you can pretty much learn everything you need to know about the economy.  For if retail sales are falling and inventories are rising bad times are coming.  And a lot of people will probably soon be losing their jobs.  As the economy falls into a recession.  Which won’t end until these economic indicators turn around.  And sales grow faster than inventories.  Which indicates a recovery.  And jobs.  As they ramp up production to increase inventory levels to meet the new growing demand.

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Recession and Depression

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 25th, 2012

Economics 101

A Depression is an Exceptionally Bad Recession 

When campaigning for the presidency Ronald Reagan explained what a recession, a depression and a recovery were.  He said a recession is when your neighbor loses his job.  A depression is when you lose your job.  And a recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his job.  This was during the 1980 presidential election.  Where Reagan included that famous question at the end of one of the debates.  “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  And the answer was “no.”  Ronald Reagan surged ahead of Jimmy Carter after that and won by a landslide.  And he won reelection by an even bigger landslide in 1984.

There are a couple of ways to define a recession.  Falling output and rising unemployment.  Two consecutive quarters of falling Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  A decline in new factory orders.  The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, officially marks the start and end dates of all U.S. recessions.  They consider a lot of economic data.   It’s not an exact science.  But they track the business cycle.  That normal economic cycle between economic expansion and economic contraction.  The business cycle has peaks (expansion) and troughs (contraction).  A recession is the time period between a peak and a trough.  From the time everyone is working and happy and buying a lot of stuff.  Through a period of layoffs where people stop buying much of anything.  Until the last layoff before the next economic expansion begins.

A depression has an even more vague science behind it.  We really don’t have a set of requirements that the economy has to meet to tell us we’re in a depression.  Since the Great Depression we haven’t really used the word anymore for a depression is just thought of as an exceptionally bad recession.  Some have called the current recession (kicked off by the subprime mortgage crisis) a depression.  Because it has a lot of the things the Great Depression had.  Bank failures.  Liquidity crises.  A long period of high unemployment.  In fact, current U.S unemployment is close to Great Depression unemployment if you measure more apples to apples and use the U-6 rate instead of the official U-3 rate that subtracts a lot of people from the equation (people who can’t find work and have given up looking, people working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job, people underemployed working well below their skill level, etc.).  For these reasons many call the current recession the Great Recession.  To connect it to the Great Depression.  Without calling the current recession a depression.

Whether Inventories sell or not Businesses have to Pay their People and their Payroll Taxes

So what causes a recession?  Good economic times.  Funny, isn’t it?  It’s the good times that cause the bad times.  Here’s how.  When everyone has a job who wants a job a lot of people are spending money in the economy.  Creating a lot of economic activity.  Businesses respond to this.  They increase production.  Even boost the inventories they carry so they don’t miss out on these good times.  For the last thing a business wants is to run out of their hot selling merchandise when people are buying like there is no tomorrow.  Businesses will ramp up production.  Add overtime such as running production an extra day of the week.  Perhaps extend the working day.  Businesses will do everything to max out their production with their current labor force.  Because expanding that labor force will cause big problems when the bloom is off of the economic rose.

But if the economic good times look like they will last businesses will hire new workers.  Driving up labor costs as businesses have to pay more to hire workers in a tight labor market.  These new workers will work a second shift.  A third shift.  They will fill a manufacturing plant expansion.  Or fill a new plant.  (Built by a booming construction industry.  Just as construction workers are building new houses in a booming home industry.)  Businesses will make these costly investments to meet the booming demand during an economic expansion.  Increasing their costs.  Which increases their prices.  And as businesses do this throughout the economy they begin to produce even more than the people are buying.  Inventories begin to build up until inventories are growing faster than sales.  The business cycle has peaked.  And the economic decline begins.

Inventories are costly.  They produce no revenue.  But incur cost to warehouse them.  Worse, businesses spent a lot of money producing these inventories.  Or I should say credit.  Typically manufacturers buy things and pay for them later.  Their accounts payable.  Which are someone else’s accounts receivable.  A lot of bills coming due.  And a lot of invoices going past due.  Because businesses have their money tied up in those inventories.  But one thing they can’t owe money on is payroll.  Whether those inventories sell or not they have to pay their people on time or face some harsh legal penalties.  And they have to pay their payroll taxes (Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, withholding taxes, etc.) for the same reasons.  As well as their Workers’ Compensation insurance.  And they have to pay their health care insurance.  Labor is costly.  And there is no flexibility in paying it while you’re waiting for that inventory to sell.  This is why businesses are reluctant to add new labor and only do so when there is no other way to keep up with demand.

The Fed tries to Remove the Recessionary Side of the Business Cycle with Small but ‘Manageable’ Inflation

As sales dry up businesses reduce their prices to unload that inventory.  To convert that inventory into cash so they can pay their bills.  At the same time they are cutting back on production.  With sales down they are only losing money by building up inventories of stuff no one is buying.  Which means layoffs.  They idle their third shifts.  Their second shifts.  Their overtime.  They shut down plants.  A lot of people lose jobs.  Sales fall.  And prices fall.  As businesses try to reduce their inventories.  And stay in business by enticing the fewer people in the market place to buy their reduced production at lower prices.

During the economic expansion costs increased.  Labor costs increased.  And prices increased.  Because demand was greater than supply.  Businesses incurred these higher costs to meet that demand.  During the contraction these had to fall.  Because supply exceeded demand.  Buyers could and did shop around for the lowest price.  Without fear of anything running out of stock and not being there to buy the next day.  Or the next week.  And when prices stop falling it marks the end of the recession and the beginning of the next expansion.  When supply equals demand once again.  Prices, then, are key to the business cycle.  They rise during boom times.  And fall during contractions.  And when they stop falling the recession is over.  This is so important that I will say it again.  When prices stop falling a recession is over.

Jimmy Carter had such a bad economy because his administration still followed Keynesian economic policies.  Which tried to massage the business cycle by removing the contraction side of it.  By using monetary policy.  The Keynesians believed that whenever the economy starts to go into recession all the government has to do is to print money and spend it.  And the government printed a lot of money in the Seventies.  So much that there was double digit inflation.  But all this new money did was raise prices during a recession.  Which only made the recession worse.  This was the turning point in Keynesian economics.  And the end of highly inflationary policies.  But not the end of inflationary policies.

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) still tries to remove the recessionary side of the business cycle.  And they still use monetary policy to do it.  With a smaller but ‘manageable’ amount of inflation.  During the great housing bubble that preceded the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession the Fed kept expanding the money supply to keep interest rates very low.  This kept mortgage rates low.  People borrowed money and bought big houses.  Housing prices soared.  These artificially low interest rates created a huge housing bubble that eventually popped.  And because the prices were so high the recession would be a long one to bring them back down.  Which is why many call the current recession the Great Recession.  Because we haven’t seen a price deflation like this since the Great Depression.

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Consumption, Savings, Fractional Reserve Banking, Interest Rates and Capital Markets

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 23rd, 2012

Economics 101

Keynesians Prefer Consumption over Savings because Everyone Eventually Dies

Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of total economic activity.  This consumption drives the economy.  In fact, someone built a school of economics around consumption.  Keynesian economics.  And he loved consumption.  John Maynard Keynes even created a formula for it.  The consumption function.  Which basically says the more income a person has the more that person will consume.  Even created a mathematical formula for it.  No doubt about it, Keynesians are just gaga for consumption.

Of course, Keynesians don’t love everything.  They aren’t all that fond of saving.  Which they see as a drain on economic activity.  Because if people are saving their money they aren’t doing as much consuming as they could.  In fact, their greatest fear when they propose stimulus spending (by giving people more money to spend) to jump-start an economy out of a recession is that people may take that money and save it.  Or, worse yet, pay down their credit card balances.  Which is something most responsible people do during bad economic times.  To lower their monthly bills so they can still pay them if they find themselves living on a reduced income.  Of course, being responsible doesn’t increase consumption.  Nor does it make Keynesians happy.

Keynesians don’t like people behaving responsibly.  They want everyone to live beyond their means.  To borrow money to buy a house.  To buy a car.  Or two.  To use their credit cards.  To keep shopping.  Above and beyond the limits of their income.  To spend.  And to keep spending.  Always consuming.  Creating endless economic activity.  And never worry about saving.  Because everyone eventually dies.  And what good will all that saving be then?

To Help Create more Capital from a Low Savings Rate we use Fractional Reserve Banking

Intriguing argument.  But too much consuming and not enough saving can be a problem, though.  Because before we consume we must produce.  And those producing the things we consume need capital.  Large sums of money businesses use to pay for buildings, equipment, tools and supplies.  To make the things consumers consume.  And where does that capital come from?  Savings.

A low savings rate raises the cost of borrowing.  Because businesses are competing for a smaller pool of capital.  Which raises interest rates.  Because capital is an economic commodity, subject to the law of supply and demand.  Also, with people living beyond their means by consuming far more than they are saving has caused other problems.  Borrowing to buy houses and cars and using credit cards to consume more has led to dangerous levels of personal debt.  Resulting in record personal bankruptcies.  Further raising the cost of borrowing.  As these banks have to increase their interest rates to make up for the losses they incur from those personal bankruptcies.

To help create more capital from a low savings rate we use fractional reserve banking.  Here’s how it works.  If you deposit $100 into your bank the bank keeps a fraction of that in their vault.  Their cash reserve.  And loan out the rest of the money.  When lots of people do this the banks have lots of money to loan.  Which people and businesses borrow.  Who borrow to buy things.  And when buyers buy things sellers will then take their money and deposit it into their banks.  The buyer’s borrowed funds become the seller’s deposited funds.  These banks will keep a fraction of these new deposits in their vaults.  And loan out the rest.  Etc.  As this happens over and over banks will create money out of thin air.  Providing ever more capital for businesses to borrow.  Which all works well.  Unless depositors all try to withdraw their deposits at the same time.  Exceeding the cash reserve locked up in a bank’s vault.   Creating a run on the bank.  Causing it to fail.  Which can also raise the cost of borrowing.  Or just make it difficult to find a bank willing to loan.  Because banks not only loan to consumers and businesses.  They loan to other banks.  And when one bank fails it could very well cause problems for other banks.  So banks get nervous and are reluctant to lend until they think this danger has passed.

A Keynesian Stimulus Check may Momentarily Substitute for a Paycheck but it can’t Create Capital

Consumption, savings, investment and production are linked.  Consumption needs production.  Production needs investment.  And investment needs savings.  Whether it is someone depositing their paycheck into a bank that lends it to others.  Or rich investors who amassed and saved great wealth.  Who invest directly into a corporation by buying new shares of their stock (from an underwriter, not in the secondary stock market).  Or by buying their bonds.

Collectively we call these capital markets.  Where businesses go when they need capital.  If interest rates are low they may borrow from a bank.  Or sell bonds.  If interest rates are high they may issue stock.  Generally they have a mix of financing that best fits the investing climate in the capital markets.  To protect them from volatile movements in interest rates.  And from competition from other corporations issuing new stock that could draw investors (and capital) away from their new stock issue.  Even to secure capital when no one is lending.  By going contrary to Keynesian policy and saving for a rainy day.  By buying liquid investments that earn a small return on investment and carrying them on their balance sheet.  They don’t earn much but can be sold quickly and converted into cash when no one is lending.

A lot must happen before consumers can consume.  In fact, high consumption can pull capital away from those who make the things they consume.  Because without capital businesses can’t expand production or hire more workers.  And no amount of Keynesian stimulus can change that.  Because there are two things necessary for consumption.  A paycheck.  And consumer goods produced with capital.  A stimulus check may momentarily substitute for a paycheck.  But it can’t create capital.  Only savings can do that.

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LESSONS LEARNED #27: “Yes, it’s the economy, but the economy is not JUST monetary policy, stupid.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 19th, 2010

WHAT GAVE BIRTH to the Federal Reserve System and our current monetary policy?  The Panic of 1907.  Without going into the details, there was a liquidity crisis.  The Knickerbocker Trust tried to corner the market in copper.  But someone else dumped copper on the market which dropped the price.  The trust failed.  Because of the money involved, a lot of banks, too, failed.  Depositors, scared, created bank runs.  As banks failed, the money supply contracted.  Businesses failed.  The stock market crashed (losing 50% of its value).  And all of this happened during an economic recession.

So, in 1913, Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act, creating the Federal Reserve System (the Fed).  This was, basically, a central bank.  It was to be a bank to the banks.  A lender of last resort.  It would inject liquidity into the economy during a liquidity crisis.  Thus ending forever panics like that in 1907.  And making the business cycle (the boom – bust economic cycles) a thing of the past.

The Fed has three basic monetary tools.  How they use these either increases or decreases the money supply.  And increases or decreases interest rates.

They can change reserve requirements for banks.  The more reserves banks must hold the less they can lend.  The less they need to hold the more they can lend.  When they lend more, they increase the money supply.  When they lend less, they decrease the money supply.  The more they lend the easier it is to get a loan.  This decreases interest rates (i.e., lowers the ‘price’ of money).  The less they lend the harder it is to get a loan.  This increases interest rates (i.e., raises the ‘price’ of money). 

The Fed ‘manages’ the money supply and the interest rates in two other ways.  They buy and sell U.S. Treasury securities.  And they adjust the discount rate they charge member banks to borrow from them.  Each of these actions either increases or decreases the money supply and/or raises or lowers interest rates.  The idea is to make money easier to borrow when the economy is slow.  This is supposed to make it easier for businesses to expand production and hire people.  If the economy is overheating and there is a risk of inflation, they take the opposite action.  They make it more difficult to borrow money.  Which increases the cost of doing business.  Which slows the economy.  Lays people off.  Which avoids inflation.

The problem with this is the invisible hand that Adam Smith talked about.  In a laissez-faire economy, no one person or one group controls anything.  Instead, millions upon millions of people interact with each other.  They make millions upon millions of decisions.  These are informed decisions in a free market.  At the heart of each decision is a buyer and a seller.  And they mutually agree in this decision making process.  The buyer pays at least as much as the seller wants.  The seller sells for at least as little as the buyer wants.  If they didn’t, they would not conclude their sales transaction.  When we multiply this basic transaction by the millions upon millions of people in the market place, we arrive at that invisible hand.  Everyone looking out for their own self-interest guides the economy as a whole.  The bad decisions of a few have no affect on the economy as a whole.

Now replace the invisible hand with government and what do you get?  A managed economy.  And that’s what the Fed does.  It manages the economy.  It takes the power of those millions upon millions of decisions and places them into the hands of a very few.  And, there, a few bad decisions can have a devastating impact upon the economy.

TO PAY FOR World War I, Woodrow Wilson and his Progressives heavily taxed the American people.  The war left America with a huge debt.  And in a recession.  During the 1920 election, the Democrats ran on a platform of continued high taxation to pay down the debt.  Andrew Mellon, though, had done a study of the rich in relation to those high taxes.  He found the higher the tax, the more the rich invested outside the country.  Instead of building factories and employing people, they took their money to places less punishing to capital.

Warren G. Harding won the 1920 election.  And he appointed Andrew Mellon his Treasury secretary.  Never since Alexander Hamilton had a Treasury secretary understood capitalism as well.  The Harding administration cut tax rates and the amount of tax money paid by the ‘rich’ more than doubled.  Economic activity flourished.  Businesses expanded and added jobs.  The nation modernized with the latest technologies (electric power and appliances, radio, cars, aviation, etc.).  One of the best economies ever.  Until the Fed got involved.

The Fed looked at this economic activity and saw speculation.  So they contracted the money supply.  This made it hard for business to expand to meet the growing demand.  When money is less readily available, you begin to stockpile what you have.  You add to that pile by selling liquid securities to build a bigger cash cushion to get you through tight monetary times.

Of course, the economy is NOT just monetary policy.  Those businesses were looking at other things the government was doing.  The Smoot-Hartley tariff was in committee.  Across the board tariff increases and import restrictions create uncertainty.  Business does not like uncertainty.  So they increase their liquidity.  To prepare for the worse.  Then the stock market crashed.  Then it got worse. 

It is at this time that the liquidity crisis became critical.  Depositors lost faith.  Bank runs followed.  But there just was not enough money available.  Banks began to fail.  Time for the Fed to step in and take action.  Per the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.  But they did nothing.  For a long while.  Then they took action.  And made matters worse.  They raised interest rates.  In response to England going off the gold standard (to prop up the dollar).  Exactly the wrong thing to do in a deflationary spiral.  This took a bad recession to the Great Depression.  The 1930s would become a lost decade.

When FDR took office, he tried to fix things with some Keynesian spending.  But nothing worked.  High taxes along with high government spending sucked life out of the private sector.  This unprecedented growth in government filled business with uncertainty.  They had no idea what was coming next.  So they hunkered down.  And prepared to weather more bad times.  It took a world war to end the Great Depression.  And only because the government abandoned much of its controls and let business do what they do best.  Pure, unfettered capitalism.  American industry came to life.  It built the war material to first win World War II.  Then it rebuilt the war torn countries after the war.

DURING THE 1980s, in Japan, government was partnering with business.  It was mercantilism at its best.  Japan Inc.  The economy boomed.  And blew great big bubbles.  The Keynesians in America held up the Japanese model as the new direction for America.  An American presidential candidate said we must partner government with business, too.  For only a fool could not see the success of the Japanese example.  Japan was growing rich.  And buying up American landmarks (including Rockefeller Center in New York).  National Lampoon magazine welcomed us to the 90s with a picture of a Japanese CEO at his desk.  He was the CEO of the United States of America, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Honda Motor Company.  The Japanese were taking over the world.  And we were stupid not to follow their lead.

But there was no invisible hand in Japan.  It was the hand of Japan Inc.  It was Japan Inc. that pursued economic policies that it thought best.  Not the millions upon millions of ordinary Japanese citizens.  Well, Japan Inc. thought wrong. 

There was collusion between Japanese businesses.  And collusion between Japanese businesses and government.  And corruption.  This greatly inflated the Japanese stock market.  And those great big bubbles finally burst.  The powerful Japan Inc. of the 1980s that caused fear and trembling was gone.  Replaced by a Japan in a deflationary spiral in the 1990s.  Or, as the Japanese call it, their lost decade.  This once great Asian Tiger was now an older tiger with a bit of a limp.   And the economy limped along for a decade or two.  It was still number 3 in the world, but it wasn’t what it used to be.  You don’t see magazine covers talking about it owning other nations any more.  (In 2010, China took over that #3 spot.  But China is a managed economy.   Will it suffer Japan’s fate?  Time will tell.)

The Japanese monetary authorities tried to fix the economy.  Interest rates were zero for about a decade.  In other words, if you wanted to borrow, it was easy.  And free.  But it didn’t help.  That huge economic expansion wasn’t real.  Business and government, in collusion, inflated and propped it up.  It gave them inflated capacity.  And prices.  And you don’t solve that problem by making it easier for businesses to borrow money to expand capacity and create jobs.  That’s the last thing they need.  What they need to do is to get out of the business of managing business.  Create a business-friendly climate.  Based on free-market principles.  Not mercantilism.  And let that invisible hand work its wonders.

MONETARY POLICY CAN do a lot of things.  Most of them bad.  Because it concentrates far too much power in too few hands.  The consequences of the mistakes of those making policy can be devastating.  And too tempting to those who want to use those powers for political reasons.  As we can see by Keynesian ‘stimulus’ spending that ends up as pork barrel spending.  The empirical data for that spending has shown that it stimulates only those who are in good standing with the powers that be.  Never the economy.

Sound money is important.  The money supply needs to keep pace with economic expansion.  If it doesn’t, a tight money supply will slow or halt economic activity.  But we have to use monetary policy for that purpose only.  We cannot use it to offset bad fiscal policy that is anti-business.  For if the government creates an anti-business environment, no amount of cheap money will encourage risk takers to take risks in a highly risky and uncertain environment.  Decades were lost trying.

No, you don’t stimulate with monetary policy.  You stimulate with fiscal policy.  There is empirical evidence that this works.  The Mellon tax cuts of the Harding administration created nearly a decade of strong economic growth.  The tax cuts of JFK were on pace to create similar growth until his assassination.  LBJ’s policies were in the opposite direction, thus ending the economic recovery of the JFK administration.  Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts produced economic growth through two decades. 

THE EVIDENCE IS there.  If you look at it.  Of course, a good Keynesian won’t.  Because it’s about political power for them.  Always has been.  Always will be.  And we should never forget this.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #27: “Yes, it’s the economy, but the economy is not JUST monetary policy, stupid.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 17th, 2010

DURING UNCERTAIN ECONOMIC times, people act differently.  If business is down where you work, your company may start laying off people.  Your friends and co-workers.  Even you.  If there is a round of layoffs and you survive, you should feel good but don’t.  Because it could have been you.  And very well can be you.  Next time.  Within a year.  In the next few months.  Any time.  You just don’t know.  And it isn’t a good feeling.

So, should this be you, what do you do?  Run up those credit cards?  By a new car?  Go on a vacation?  Take out a home equity loan to pay for new windows?  To remodel the kitchen?  Buy a hot tub?  Or do you cut back on your spending and start hoarding cash?  Just in case.  Because those unemployment payments may not be enough to pay for your house payment, your property taxes, your car payment, your insurances, your utilities, your groceries, your cable bill, etc.  And another loan payment won’t help.  So, no.  You don’t run up those credit cards.  Buy that car.  You don’t go on vacation.  And you don’t take that home equity loan.  Instead, you hunker down.  Sacrifice.  Ride it out.  Prepare for the worse.  Hoard your cash.  Enough to carry you through a few months of unemployment.  And shred those pre-approved credit card offers.  Even at those ridiculously low, introductory interest rates.

To help hammer home this point, you think of your friends who lost their jobs.  Who are behind on their mortgages.  Who are in foreclosure.  Whose financial hardships are stressing them out to no ends.  Suffering depression.  Harassed by collection agencies.  Feeling helpless.  Not knowing what to do because their financial problems are just so great.  About to lose everything they’ve worked for.  No.  You will not be in their position.  If you can help it.  If it’s not already too late.

AND SO IT is with businesses.  People who run businesses are, after all, people.  Just like you.  During uncertain economic times, they, too, hunker down.  When sales go down, they have less cash to pay for the cost of those sales.  As well as the overhead.  And their customers are having the same problems.  So they pay their bills slower.  Trying to hoard cash.  Receivables grow from 30 to 45 to 90 days.  So you delay paying as many of your bills as possible.  Trying to hoard cash.  But try as you might, your working capital is rapidly disappearing.  Manufacturers see their inventories swell.  And storing and protecting these inventories costs money.  Soon they must cut back on production.  Lay off people.  Idle machinery.  Most of which was financed by debt.  Which you still have to service.  Or you sell some of those now nonproductive assets.  So you can retire some of that debt.  But cost cutting can only take you so far.  And if you cut too much, what are you going to do when the economy turns around?  If it turns around?

You can borrow money.  But what good is that going to do?  Add debt, for one.  Which won’t help much.  You might be able to pay some bills, but you still have to pay back that borrowed money.  And you need sales revenue for that.  If you think this is only a momentary downturn and sales will return, you could borrow and feel somewhat confidant that you’ll be able to repay your loan.  But you don’t have the sales now.  And the future doesn’t look bright.  Your customers are all going through what you’re going through.  Not a confidence builder.  So you’re reluctant to borrow.  Unless you really, really have to.  And if you really, really have to, it’s probably because you’re in some really, really bad financial trouble.  Just what a banker wants to see in a prospective borrower.

Well, not really.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite.  A banker will want to avoid you as if you had the plague.  Besides, the banks are in the same economy as you are.  They have their finger on the pulse of the economy.  They know how bad things really are.  Some of their customers are paying slowly.  A bad omen of things to come.  Which is making them really, really nervous.  And really, really reluctant to make new loans.  They, too, want to hoard cash.  Because in bad economic times, people default on loans.  Enough of them default and the bank will have to scramble to sell securities, recall loans and/or borrow money themselves to meet the demands of their depositors.  And if their timing is off, if the depositors demand more of their money then they have on hand, the bank will fail.  And all the money they created via fractional reserve banking will disappear.  Making money even scarcer and harder to borrow.  You see, banking people are, after all, just people.  And like you, and the business people they serve, they, too, hunker down during bad economic times.  Hoping to ride out the bad times.  And to survive.  With a minimum of carnage. 

For these reasons, businesses and bankers hoard cash during uncertain economic times.  For if there is one thing that spooks businesses and banks more than too much debt it’s uncertainty.  Uncertainty about when a recession will end.  Uncertainty about the cost of healthcare.  Uncertainty about changes to the tax code.  Uncertainty about new government regulations.  Uncertainty about new government mandates.  Uncertainty about retroactive tax changes.  Uncertainty about previous tax cuts that they may repeal.  Uncertainty about monetary policy.  Uncertainty about fiscal policy.  All these uncertainties can result with large, unexpected cash expenditures at some time in the not so distant future.  Or severely reduce the purchasing power of their customers.  When this uncertainty is high during bad economic times, businesses typically circle the wagons.  Hoard more cash.  Go into survival mode.  Hold the line.  And one thing they do NOT do is add additional debt.

DEBT IS A funny thing.  You can lay off people.  You can cut benefits.  You can sell assets for cash.  You can sell assets and lease them back (to get rid of the debt while keeping the use of the asset).  You can factor your receivables (sell your receivables at a discount to a 3rd party to collect).  You can do a lot of things with your assets and costs.  But that debt is still there.  As are those interest payments.  Until you pay it off.  Or file bankruptcy.  And if you default on that debt, good luck.  Because you’ll need it.  You may be dependent on profitable operations for the indefinite future as few will want to loan to a debt defaulter.

Profitable operations.  Yes, that’s the key to success.  So how do you get it?  Profitable operations?  From sales revenue.  Sales are everything.  Have enough of them and there’s no problem you can’t solve.  Cash may be king, but sales are the life blood pumping through the king’s body.  Sales give business life.  Cash is important but it is finite.  You spend it and it’s gone.  If you don’t replenish it, you can’t spend anymore.  And that’s what sales do.  It gets you profitable operations.  Which replenishes your cash.  Which lets you pay your bills.  And service your debt.

And this is what government doesn’t understand.  When it comes to business and the economy, they think it’s all about the cash.  That it doesn’t have anything to do with the horrible things they’re doing with fiscal policy.  The tax and spend stuff.  When they kill an economy with their oppressive tax and regulatory policies, they think “Hmmm.  Interest rates must be too high.”  Because their tax and spending sure couldn’t have crashed the economy.  That stuff is stimulative.  Because their god said so.  And that god is, of course, John Maynard Keynes.  And his demand-side Keynesian economic policies.  If it were possible, those in government would have sex with these economic policies.  Why?   Because they empower government.  It gives government control over the economy.  And us.

And that control extends to monetary policy.  Control of the money supply and interest rates.  The theory goes that you stimulate economic activity by making money easier to borrow.  So businesses borrow more.  Create more jobs.  Which creates more tax receipts.  Which the government can spend.  It’s like a magical elixir.  Interest rates.  Cheap money.  Just keep interest rates low and money cheap and plentiful and business will do what it is that they do.  They don’t understand that part.  And they don’t care.  They just know that it brings in more tax money for them to spend.  And they really like that part.  The spending.  Sure, it can be inflationary, but what’s a little inflation in the quest for ‘full employment’?  Especially when it gives you money and power?  And a permanent underclass who is now dependent on your spending.  Whose vote you can always count on.  And when the economy tanks a little, all you need is a little more of that magical elixir.  And it will make everything all better.  So you can spend some more.

But it doesn’t work in practice.  At least, it hasn’t yet.  Because the economy is more than monetary policy.  Yes, cash is important.  But making money cheaper to borrow doesn’t mean people will borrow money.  Homeowners may borrow ‘cheap’ money to refinance higher-interest mortgages, but they aren’t going to take on additional debt to spend more.  Not until they feel secure in their jobs.  Likewise, businesses may borrow ‘cheap’ money to refinance higher-interest debt.  But they are not going to add additional debt to expand production.  Not until they see some stability in the market and stronger sales.  A more favorable tax and regulatory environment.  That is, a favorable business climate.  And until they do, they won’t create new jobs.  No matter how cheap money is to borrow.  They’ll dig in.  Hold the line.  And try to survive until better times.

NOT ONLY WILL people and businesses be reluctant to borrow, so will banks be reluctant to lend.  Especially with a lot of businesses out there looking a little ‘iffy’ who may still default on their loans.  Instead, they’ll beef up their reserves.  Instead of lending, they’ll buy liquid financial assets.  Sit on cash.  Earn less.  Just in case.  Dig in.  Hold the line.  And try to survive until better times.

Of course, the Keynesians don’t factor these things into their little formulae and models.  They just stamp their feet and pout.  They’ve done their part.  Now it’s up to the greedy bankers and businessmen to do theirs.  To engage in lending.  To create jobs.  To build things.  That no one is buying.  Because no one is confident in keeping their job.  Because the business climate is still poor.  Despite there being cheap money to borrow.

The problem with Keynesians, of course, is that they don’t understand business.  They’re macroeconomists.  They trade in theory.  Not reality.  When their theory fails, it’s not the theory.  It’s the application of the theory.  Or a greedy businessman.  Or banker.  It’s never their own stupidity.  No matter how many times they get it wrong.

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