The Austrian School of Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 3rd, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published February 27th, 2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bretton Woods System, Quasi Gold Standard, Inflation, Savings, Nixon Shock and Monetizing the Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 4th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published 2/5/2013)

The Bretton Woods System was a quasi Gold Standard where the U.S. Dollar replaced Gold

Government grew in the Sixties.  LBJ’s Great Society increased government spending.  Adding it on top of spending for the Vietnam War.  The Apollo Moon Program.  As well as the Cold War.  The government was spending a lot of money.  More money than it had.  So they started increasing the money supply (i.e., printing money).  But when they did they unleashed inflation.  Which devalued the dollar.  And eroded savings.  Also, because the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard this also created a problem with their trade partners.

At the time the United States was still in the Bretton Woods System.  Along with her trade partners.  These nations adopted the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency to facilitate international trade.  Which kept trade fair.  By preventing anyone from devaluing their currency to give them an unfair trade advantage.  They would adjust their monetary policy to maintain a fixed exchange rate with the U.S. dollar.  While the U.S. coupled the U.S. dollar to gold at $35/ounce.  Which created a quasi gold standard.  Where the U.S. dollar replaced gold.

So the U.S. had a problem when they started printing money.  They were devaluing the dollar.  So those nations holding it as a reserve currency decided to hold gold instead.  And exchanged their dollars for gold at $35/ounce.  Causing a great outflow of gold from the U.S.  Giving the U.S. a choice.  Either become responsible and stop printing money.  Or decouple the dollar from gold.  And no longer exchange gold for dollars.  President Nixon chose the latter.  And on August 15, 1971, he surprised the world.  Without any warning he decoupled the dollar from gold.  It was a shock.  So much so they call it the Nixon Shock.

To earn a Real 2% Return the Interest Rate would have to be 2% plus the Loss due to Inflation

Once they removed gold from the equation there was nothing stopping them from printing money.  The already growing money supply (M2) grew at a greater rate after the Nixon Shock (see M2 Money Stock).  The rate of increase (i.e., the inflation rate) declined for a brief period around 1973.  Then resumed its sharp rate of growth around 1975.  Which you can see in the following chart.  Where the increasing graph represents the rising level of M2.

M2 versus Retirement Savings

Also plotted on this graph is the effect of this growth in the money supply on retirement savings.  In 1966 the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard.  So assume the money supply equaled the gold on deposit in 1966.  And as they increased the money supply over the years the amount of gold on deposit remained the same.  So if we divide M2 in 1966 by M2 in each year following 1966 we get a declining percentage.  M2 in 1966 was only 96% of M2 in 1967.  M2 in 1966 was only 88% of M2 in 1968.  And so on.  Now if we start off with a retirement savings of $750,000 in 1966 we can see the effect of inflation has by multiplying that declining percentage by $750,000.  When we do we get the declining graph in the above chart.  To offset this decline in the value of retirement savings due to inflation requires those savings to earn a very high interest rate.

Interest Rate - Real plus Inflation

This chart starts in 1967 as we’re looking at year-to-year growth in M2.  Inflation eroded 4.07% of savings between 1966 and 1967.   So to earn a real 2% return the interest rate would have to be 2% plus the loss due to inflation (4.07%).  Or a nominal interest rate of 6.07%.  The year-to-year loss in 1968 was 8.68%.  So the nominal interest rate for a 2% real return would be 10.68% (2% + 8.68%).  And so on as summarized in the above chart.  Because we’re discussing year-to-year changes on retirement savings we can consider these long-term nominal interest rates.

Just as Inflation can erode someone’s Retirement Savings it can erode the National Debt

To see how this drives interest rates we can overlay some average monthly interest rates for 6 Month CDs (see Historical CD Interest Rate).  Which are often a part of someone’s retirement nest egg.  The advantage of a CD is that they are short-term.  So as interest rates rise they can roll over these short-term instruments and enjoy the rising rates.  Of course that advantage is also a disadvantage.  For if rates fall they will roll over into a lower rate.  Short-term interest rates tend to be volatile.  Rising and falling in response to anything that affects the supply and demand of money.  Such as the rate of growth of the money supply.  As we can see in the following chart.

Interest Rate - Real plus Inflation and 6 Month CD

The average monthly interest rates for 6 Month CDs tracked the long-term nominal interest rates.  As the inflationary component of the nominal interest rate soared in 1968 and 1969 the short-term rate trended up.  When the long-term rate fell in 1970 the short-term rate peaked and fell in the following year.  After the Nixon Shock long-term rates increased in 1971.  And soared in 1972 and 1973.  The short-term rate trended up during these years.  And peaked when the long-term rate fell.  The short term rate trended down in 1974 and 1975 as the long-term rate fell.  It bottomed out in 1977 in the second year of soaring long-term rates.  Where it then trended up at a steeper rate all the way through 1980.  Sending short-term rates even higher than long-term rates.  As the risk on short-term savings can exceed that on long-term savings.  Due to the volatility of short-term interest rates and wild swings in the inflation rate.  Things that smooth out over longer periods of time.

Governments like inflationary monetary policies.  For it lets them spend more money.  But it also erodes savings.  Which they like, too.  Especially when those savings are invested in the sovereign debt of the government.  For just as inflation can erode someone’s retirement savings it can erode the national debt.  What we call monetizing the debt.  For as you expand the money supply you depreciate the dollar.  Making dollars worth less.  And when the national debt is made up of depreciated dollars it’s easier to pay it off.  But it’s a dangerous game to play.  For if they do monetize the debt it will be very difficult to sell new government debt.  For investors will demand interest rates with an even larger inflationary component to protect them from further irresponsible monetary policies.  Greatly increasing the interest payment on the debt.  Forcing spending cuts elsewhere in the budget as those interest payments consume an ever larger chunk of the total budget.  Which governments are incapable of doing.  Because they love spending too much.

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Obama’s myRAs are just another way to Transfer Money from the Private Sector to the Government

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 2nd, 2014

Week in Review

Social Security has failed to provide for our retirement.  So President Obama wants another government retirement program.  So it, too, can fail the American people (see What Americans think about Obama’s myRA retirement accounts by Melanie Hicken posted 1/31/2014 on CNNMoney).

Obama’s new ‘myRA’ retirement accounts aim to help millions of workers begin saving for retirement. The accounts will be backed by the government, charge no fees and you’ll be able to contribute directly from each paycheck…

“Why would anyone consider giving a broke and bankrupt government any more of your money? That’s foolish,” said 62-year-old reader Steve Keller…

[Kathryn Riss] and her husband keep the modest savings they do have in money market accounts, which earn less than 1%. The myRA, on the other hand, will invest in government savings bonds and provide returns of around 2% to 3%, depending on interest rates.

Why can’t people earn more than 1% on their retirement savings in a bank?  Because of the Federal Reserve.  And Keynesian economics.  That focuses on consumer spending with tunnel vision.  It’s the only thing that counts as far as they are concerned.  And keeping interest rates near zero is supposed to encourage people to borrow and spend money.  For they will only lose purchasing power if they don’t.  What with banks only offering something less than 1% interest.  Thanks to the Federal Reserve printing money.  Making it so plentiful that people can borrow it practically for free.  And if they are paying the banks practically nothing to borrow it that’s all the banks can afford to pay their depositors.  Practically nothing.

The government will invest those myRAs into government savings bonds?  Yeah, right.  The government is going to take that money and spend it.  Because they have a voracious appetite to spend.  Which is why the Social Security Trust Fund has nothing but IOUs in it.  Government bonds that the government can’t afford to redeem without printing more money.  The Keynesian source of all our woes to begin with.  Which will only get worse the more ways the government thinks of to transfer money from the private sector to the government.  Taxes.  Service charges, surcharges, fees, etc.  Regulatory fines and penalties.  Treasury bonds and bills.  Medicaid.  Medicare.  Obamacare.  And now myRAs.

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Democrat Policies are forcing Young Couples back home with Mom and Dad

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 28th, 2013

Week in Review

Since the Keynesians took over government we said goodbye to the classical economics that made America the number one economic power in the world.  Free market capitalism.  Based on a strong banking system.  And a sound currency.  People saved as much as they could.  Banks converted their savings into investment capital.  And investors and entrepreneurs built the world’s number one economy.  Because people worked hard and saved for their future.  While raising their families.  In their houses.  Without Mommy and Daddy helping them.  Unlike people do today (see Young Couples Moving Back Home To Save Money For Baby posted 12/22/2013 on CBS Miami).

“Young couples, when they have a child or when they’re planning to have a child, are moving back in with their parents,” said Carmen Wong Ulrich, BabyCenter Financial expert,. “Ten percent of young women are staying, living at home with their parents to save money to have children. This is a new trend.”

Alexis Kort, her husband Josh and their baby Charlotte moved in with Alexis’ parents when they relocated to their hometown.

“You don’t necessarily think about it before you have a kid and then all of a sudden you’re like ‘Wait a second, how do we make this work financially?’,” said Kort…

This trend extends beyond housing. A survey found that nearly 30 percent of new parents get financial assistance from their parents. Ulrich points out that parents who support their children who have children have less time to save for their retirement.

“Supporting grown children is a strain and it can be a strain on your own financial future,” said Ulrich.

You can blame the Democrats for this.  They’re all Keynesians.  And believe in printing (and devaluing) money to keep interest rates artificially low.  So low that you actually lose money now if you put it into a savings account.  So people spend it before it loses its purchasing power.

And Keynesians believe in government spending.  To stimulate the economy.  Which they pay for with taxes.  Lots of taxes.  Between the devaluation of the dollar (which raises prices) and the rising tax bite there’s less money to save.  And with the Keynesians pushing for more consumption and less savings (to stimulate the economy) kids aren’t saving.  They’re spending.  Living in the now.  Without a care in the world about tomorrow.  Which is why kids today are moving back in with their parents.  Because they’d rather pay a cellular bill the size of a car payment than save for their future.

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FT202: “You can’t indulge selfishness, narcissism and hedonism and expect the young to give up their life of consumption and gratification.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 27th, 2013

Fundamental Truth

The Generation that won World War II Sacrificed and Saved for the Future

The generation that lived through the Great Depression and World War II were a hardy people.  They knew a thing or two about sacrifice.  And going without.  For their wants often went unfulfilled.  And they were a skinny people.  As there was not a lot of food to eat.  First because of the Great Depression.  When people could barely afford to stay alive.  And then World War II.  Where the government rationed almost everything for the war effort.

So they spent little.  Saved what they could.  Got used to not having what they wanted.  And always worked hard for a better future.  Sound familiar?  No.  Of course not.  No one’s like this today.  That hardy generation survived the Great Depression and won World War II.  Making the world safe for democracy to flourish.  Their free market capitalism made a prosperous world of plenty.  So their children would never have to live in a world they had lived in.  As it turned out, though, that was a mistake.

Their children were not like their parents.  These baby boomers were not as hardy as their parents were.  While they struggled and went without the baby boomers didn’t.  The baby boomers became the Me Generation.  Because it was all about them.  They rejected the hard work and sacrifice of their parents.  And didn’t save for a better tomorrow.  No.  For them it was all about the here and now.

The Me Generation rebelled against their Parents and became Anti-Parents

The Me Generation didn’t save like their parents.  They spent.  Changing the economy forever.  From one made strong and healthy driven by private savings that banks converted into investment capital.  To a Keynesian one.  Where Keynesian economists viewed savings as economic leaks from the economy.  No.  Spending was better.  Consumption was better than saving.  Besides, what did we have to save for anymore with the Federal Reserve printing money?  And the government paying our way for us in retirement?

The Me Generation was only too happy to help transform the government from one of savings and investment to one of consumptionand gratification.  And they lived Life in the Fast Lane (by Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Don Henley, recorded by the Eagles in 1976 on the studio album Hotel California).   “Everything all of the time.”  And when that wasn’t enough there was cocaine to fill the remaining emptiness.  “There were lines on the mirror, lines on her face.”  Sometimes the drug use became so intense it interfered with another past time of the Me Generation.  Sex.  “He was too tired to make it, she was too tired to fight about it.”

So while their parents won the Second World War they were partying and getting high and having as much casual sex as their excessive drug use allowed.  And because of it the Seventies gave us a new drug in the Eighties.  Crack.  And a war on drugs.  As well as AIDS.  Thank you, Me Generation.  For rebelling against your parents and becoming anti-parents.  Destroying our past culture and traditions.  And our religion.  Just so you can have “everything all of the time.”  Right now.  Without ever waiting to gratify an urge or desire.

Obamacare will Fail because the Young won’t give up their Life of Consumption and Gratification

The counterculture (i.e., the anti-parents) movement then entered academia.  Took over the curriculum in our public schools.  And our colleges and universities.  Where they taught our kids that everything their parents told them was wrong.  That they are destroying the environment.  That American imperialism is the greatest threat to world peace.  That the Founding Fathers were rich white slave owners who wrote the Constitution to further their greed.  That free market capitalism is cruel, callous and unfair.  While government is kind, feeling and fair.

The Me Generation learned something valuable as they entered academia.  And government.  That there are a lot of young people who vote.  And because many of them grew up already rebelling against their parents they pushed these people closer to them.  The anti-parents.  Helping them to hold on to political power.  So they appealed to all the things young people want.  Such as sex.  By providing free birth control and access to abortion.  They attack Christianity and tell their students there is nothing wrong with their life of consumption and gratification.  And, of course, they favor decriminalizing drugs.  And are making great headway in that area with marijuana.  I mean, kids just love the Democrats.  For they indulge their every want and desire.  Without parenting them to sacrifice and save for their future.  Like their insufferable parents.

So our young have never been defined more by selfishness, narcissism and hedonism.  Always living for the moment.  Without a care in the world for the future.  Making even the Me Generation seem selfless.  Who lived in relative anonymity in their narcissistic world.  Unlike today’s youth.  Who can’t survive without Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.   And must share every iota of their existence with the entire world.  Because it’s all about them.  The world revolves around them and the pursuit of their life of consumption and gratification.  So it is rather ironic that the very thing that keeps Democrats in power—indulging in the youth voters’ selfishness, narcissism and hedonism—could deal such a threatening blow to their power.  For Obamacare to work they need these young voters to be more like their parents and less like the people they are.  Thanks to the Democrat indoctrination in our public schools, colleges and universities.  To sacrifice some of their wants and desires to help their parent’s generation.  To consume less.  So the people they rebelled against can have free medical care.

This is why Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) will fail.  The young and healthy do not want to give up their life of consumption and gratification.  Which means they’re not buying health insurance.  Only the old and sick are.  Because they need health care.  While the young and healthy don’t.  So they are not going to buy costly health insurance policies that they feel they will never use.  Instead they’ll pay the lower-cost fine.  So they can continue to live their life of consumption and gratification.  That the Democrats told them all their life was what they should do.  Not to save for the future.  Or sacrifice.  For their parents.  Their community.  Or their God.  So the Affordable Care Act will fail.  Because you can’t indulge selfishness, narcissism and hedonism and expect the young to give up their life of consumption and gratification.

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Panic of 1907, Federal Reserve Act and Depression of 1920

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 17th, 2013

History 101

In 1907 the Heinze Brothers thought Investors were Shorting the Stock of their United Copper Company

Buying and selling stocks is one way to get rich.  Typically by buying low and selling high.  But you can also get rich if the stock price falls.  How you ask?  By short-selling the stock.  You borrow shares of a stock that you think will fall in price.  You sell them at the current price.  Then when the stock price falls you buy the same number of shares you borrowed at the lower price.  And use these to return the shares you borrowed.  You subtract the price you pay to buy the cheaper shares from the proceeds of selling the costlier shares for your profit.  And if the price difference/number of shares is great enough you can get rich.

In 1907 the Heinze brothers thought investors were shorting the stock of their United Copper Company.  So they tried to turn the tables on them and get rich.  They already owned a lot of the stock.  They then went on a buying spree with the intention of raising the price of the stock.  If they successfully cornered the market on United Copper Company stock then the investors shorting the stock would have no choice but to buy from them to repay their borrowed shares.  Causing the short sellers to incur a great loss.  While reaping a huge profit for themselves.

Well, that was the plan.  But it didn’t quite go as planned.  For they did not control as much of the stock as they thought they did.  So when the short-sellers had to buy new shares to replace their borrowed shares they could buy them elsewhere.  And did.  When other investors saw they weren’t going to get rich on the cornering scheme the price of the stock plummeted.  For the stock was only worth that inflated price if the short-sellers had to buy it at the price the Heinze brothers dictated.  When the cornering scheme failed the stock they paid so much to corner was worth nowhere near what they paid for it.  And they took a huge financial loss.  But it got worse.

The Panic of 1907 led to the Federal Reserve Act of 1913

After getting rich in the copper business in Montana they moved east to New York City.  And entered the world of high finance.  And owned part of 6 national banks, 10 state banks, 5 trusts (kind of like a bank) and 4 insurance companies.  When the cornering scheme failed the Heinze brothers lost a lot of money.  Which spooked people with money in their banks and trusts.  As these helped finance their scheme.  So the people rushed to their banks and pulled their money out.  Causing a panic.  First their banks.  Then their trusts.  Including the Knickerbocker Trust Company.  Which collapsed.  As the contagion spread to other banks the banking system was in risk of collapsing.  Causing a stock market crash.  Resulting in the Panic of 1907.

Thankfully, a rich guy, J.P. Morgan, stepped in and saved the banking system.  By using his own money.  And getting other rich guys to use theirs.  To restore liquidity in the banking system.  To avoid another liquidity crisis like this Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act (1913).  Giving America a central bank.  And the progressives the tool to take over the American economy.  Monetary policy.  By tinkering with interest rates.  And breaking away from the classical economic policies of the past that made America the number one economic power in the world.  Built on a foundation of thrift, savings, investment, free trade, the gold standard, etc.  Where people saved for the future.  The greater their savings the more investment capital there was.  And the lower interest rates were.

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) changed all of that.  By printing money to keep interest rates artificially low.  Giving us boom and bust cycles as people over invest and over build because of cheap credit.  Leading to bubbles (the boom) in asset prices that painful recessions (the bust) correct.  Instead of the genuine growth that we got when our savings determined interest rates.  Where there is no over-investing or over-building.  Because the limited investment capital did not permit it.  Guaranteeing the efficient flows of capital to generate real economic activity.

Warren Harding’s Tax Cuts ignited Economic Activity and gave us the Modern World

Thanks to the Fed there was a great monetary expansion to fund World War I.  The Fed cut the reserve requirements in half for banks.  Meaning they could loan more of their deposits.  And they did.  Thanks to fractional reserve banking these banks then furthered the monetary expansion.  And the Fed kept the discount rate low to let banks borrow even more money to lend.  The credit expansion was vast.  Creating a huge bubble in asset prices.  Creating a lot of bad investments.  Or malinvestments.  Economist Ludwig von Mises had a nice analogy to explain this.  Imagine a builder constructing a house only he doesn’t realize he doesn’t have enough materials to finish the job.  The longer it takes for the builder to realize this the more time and resources he will waste.  For it will be less costly to abandon the project before he starts than waiting until he’s built as much as he can only to discover he will be unable to sell the house.  And without selling the house the builder will be unable to recover any of his expenses.  Giving him a loss on his investment.

The bigger those bubbles get the farther those artificially high prices have to fall.  And they will fall sooner or later.  And fall they did in 1920.  Giving us the Depression of 1920.  And it was bad.  Unemployment rose to 12%.  And GDP fell by 17%.  Interestingly, though, this depression was not a great depression.  Why?  Because the progressives were out of power.  Instead of the usual Keynesian solution to a recession Warren Harding (and then Calvin Coolidge after Harding died in office) did the opposite.  There was no stimulus deficit-spending.  There was no playing with interest rates.  Instead, Harding cut government spending.  Nearly in half.  And he cut tax rates.  These actions led to a reduction of the national debt (that’s DEBT—not deficit) by one third.  And ignited economic activity.  Ushering in the modern world (automobiles, electric power, radio, telephone, aviation, motion pictures, etc.).  Building the modern world generated real economic activity.  Not a credit-driven bubble.  Giving us one of the greatest economic expansions of all time.  The Roaring Twenties.  Ending the Depression of 1920 in only 18 months.  Without any Fed action or Keynesian stimulus spending.

By contrast FDR used almost every Keynesian tool available to him to end the Great Depression.  But his massive New Deal spending simply failed to end it.  After a decade or so of trying.  Proving that government spending cannot spend an economy out of recession.  But cuts in government spending and cuts in tax rates can.  Which is why the Great Recession lingers on still.  Some 6 years after the collapse of one of the greatest housing bubbles ever.  Created by one of the greatest credit expansions ever.  For President Obama is a Keynesian.  And Keynesian policies only lead to boom-bust cycles.  Not real economic growth.  The kind we got from classical economic policies.  Built on a foundation of thrift, savings, investment, free trade, the gold standard, etc.  The economic policies that made America the number economic power in the world.

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Powerful Government Forces suppressing the Economic Principles of Friedrich Hayek in China and America

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 16th, 2013

Week in Review

Large governments like to control their economies.  And their people.  Because those in power always want one thing.  More power. 

The United States became the world’s number one economic power before the federal government grew into the thing it is today.  Way too big.  Reaching way too far into the private sector economy.  Before Keynesian economics became all the rage to empower the growth of governments there was classical economics.  With simple principles.  Thrift.  People thought long-term and saved their money instead of buying everything they wanted today.  Banks collected their savings and transformed them into investment capital.  The more people saved (i.e., the thriftier they were) the more capital there was available to loan to entrepreneurs.  Thus lowering interest rates.  There was also sound money.  Backed by gold.  In various forms of the gold standard.  That held the value of money over time.  And the federal government taxed little.  Regulated little.  And spent little.  These classical economic principles stimulated strong economic growth.  (Principles similar to the Austrian school of economics championed by Friedrich Hayek.)  And it is these principles that we have moved away from as we turned to Keynesian economics.  And a form of state-capitalism that we have today.

During the Nineties China turned to classical economic principles.  As they slowly allowed people some economic liberty.  But just a taste of it.  For the ruling Chinese communists did not want what happened during the collapse of the Soviet Union to happen in China.  The Chinese Communist Party would not collapse like it did in the former Soviet Union.  While there were free thinkers that embraced the principles of Friedrich Hayek the state kept them on a short leash.  A leash that appears to be even shorter these days (see A Lonely Passion: China’s Followers of Friedrich A. Hayek by DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW published 10/30/2013 on The New York Times).

Hayek believed that economic planning by the state leads to a loss of individual liberty, and that a private economy run by people whose rights are protected and enlarged by good laws delivers the best life.

‘‘There is some distance between Hayek and the current realities’’ in China, Gao Quanxi, a prominent Chinese Hayekian and law professor at Beihang University in Beijing, said in an interview this week.

Mr. Gao was probably choosing his words carefully. The gap is enormous, as he explained last Friday in a talk at the Unirule Institute of Economics, a think tank in Beijing…

In his talk, titled ‘‘Reconsidering Hayek’s Theoretical Legacy,’’ Mr. Gao did not mince words: China is less free now than 10 years ago, at the end of the Jiang Zemin era. There is no ‘‘free market of ideas’’ in universities. Publishing on topics the authorities disapprove of has become more difficult. The state is on the march…

Capitalism, several participants said, functions in China according to the unwritten rules created by the power holders, not by good laws, as Hayek urged.

‘‘Communism has failed. Socialism has failed. What we have here is statism. And Hayek really opposed that. So how should we understand Hayek in the context of today’s China?’’ asked Mr. Gao…

Many economists, scholars and politicians believe that China is facing deep challenges to its economic model, that it needs to shift from a fixed investment-fueled economy, where the hand of the state is heavy, to one with more private enterprise and market forces.

President Obama and the Chinese communists share something in common.  They both are trying to move their economies in the same direction.  Only the Chinese communists don’t publicly bash capitalism as much as President Obama and his fellow Democrats do.

When China was enjoying double digit GDP growth the liberals in the United States wanted to do what the Chinese were doing.  To manage the economy more.  As they thought they were even more brilliant than communist state planners in China.  And could even outperform the Chinese economy.  If they could only control it.  Decide what we make.  Like solar panels.  And electric cars.  Of course, most of China’s economic growth produced exports.  And they sold well because of China’s low wages.  Which is pretty much all they had going for them.  Their middle class did not grow.  And with the worldwide decline in economic activity thanks to Keynesian economic policies by state planners everywhere who think they are smarter than the market their export market cooled.  As it cooled so did their GDP growth.

China is suffering a little economic malaise now because they don’t have a thriving middle class of entrepreneurs starting small businesses.  All they have are large state-run factories.  That produce exports.  Because they don’t have a thriving middle class to buy these products.  Which is what happens when you don’t have individual liberty.  Friedrich Hayek understood this.  Pity the Chinese communists don’t.  Or President Obama and his fellow Democrats.  Then again, perhaps they do.  But they know the price of individual liberty is less government power.  And that’s just something anathema to communists.  President Obama.  And Democrats.

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Is the New York Times ready to blame Bill Clinton for the Subprime Mortgage Crisis?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 18th, 2013

Week in Review

President Obama likes to say that the Republicans only want to try the failed policies of the past.  And he’s both right and wrong.  For the Republicans do want to implement the policies of the past.  Because these policies did NOT fail.  Contrary to President Obama’s recurring bleat.  For the policies of President Reagan were based on classical economics.  Those same policies that made America the world’s number one economic power.  While the policies of the left, Keynesian economic policies, have failed every time they’ve been tried.  And reduced America’s economic prowess.

Before John Maynard Keynes came along during World War I the U.S. economy was steeped in the philosophy of our Founding Fathers.  Thrift.  Frugal.  Rugged individualism.  These are the things that made America great.  For over a hundred years Americans worked hard and saved their money.  Spending as little for the here and now.  Always planning for the future.  They put everything they didn’t have to spend into the bank.  As everyone put away these small amounts of money banks turned the aggregate of these numerous small deposits into capital.  Which investors borrowed at reasonable interest rates because we had a high savings rate.  Providing plenty of capital to grow the American economy.  Thanks to a sound banking system.   That exercised sound lending practices.  With investment capital a high savings rate provided.

This system worked so well because people balanced risk with reward.  Bankers made wise lending decisions based on the likelihood of those loans being repaid.  And investors with a history of wise and responsible borrowing had continued access to that investment capital.  While banks who took too great a risk failed.  And investors who took great risks soon found themselves broke with no further access to investment capital.  This balance of risk and reward complimented with a populace that was thrifty and frugal with their money created Carnegie Steel.  The Standard Oil Company.  And the Ford Motor Company.  Risk takers.  Who balanced risk with reward.  And paid a heavy price when they took too great a risk that had no reward.

But the days of Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) and Henry Ford are gone.  These men probably couldn’t—or wouldn’t— do what they did in today’s regulatory environment the left has created.  The higher taxes.  And the financial instability caused by the left’s destruction of the banking system.  As the left has made high-finance a plaything for their rich friends.  By transferring all risk to the taxpayer.  Allowing bankers to take great risks.  With little downside risk.  Giving us things like the subprime mortgage crisis.  Where President Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending (1994) unleashed 10 federal agencies on banks to pressure them to loan to the unqualified or else.  So they did.  Using the Adjustable Rate Mortgage as the vehicle to get the unqualified into homeownership.  These with no-documentation mortgage applications, zero-down, interest-only, etc., put people into homes by the droves.  Especially those who could not afford them.  Of course, banks just won’t loan to the unqualified without some federal assistance.  Which came in the guise of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Who bought those toxic mortgages from these lenders, repackaged them into collateralized debt obligations and sold them to unsuspecting investors.  And, well, you know the rest.

So Bill Clinton gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.  It’s always the same.  Whenever liberals get into power they do the same thing over and over again.  They destroy the economy with policies that only benefit them and their rich friends.  America’s aristocracy.  Yet they talk the talk so well people believe that THIS time things will be different.  But they never are.  Already President Obama is talking about doing the same things to increase homeownership that got us into the subprime mortgage crisis.  And his disastrous policies didn’t even prevent his reelection.  Because he can talk the talk so well.  Just like Clinton.  So well that few look at the swath of destruction in their wakes.  At least, not on this side of the Atlantic (see The New York Times takes down the Clinton Foundation. This could be devastating for Bill and Hillary by Tim Stanley posted 8/14/2013 on The Telegraph).

Is the New York Times being guest edited by Rush Limbaugh? Today it runs with a fascinating takedown of the Clinton Foundation – that vast vanity project that conservatives are wary of criticising for being seen to attack a body that tries to do good. But the liberal NYT has no such scruples. The killer quote is this:

For all of its successes, the Clinton Foundation had become a sprawling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest. It ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years, despite vast amounts of money flowing in.

A lot of people are scratching their heads as to why the New York Times would run this story.  For it is very out of character for a liberal paper to attack a liberal icon.  Could it be to air out this dirty laundry long before Hillary is a candidate for president?  What, that?!?  That’s old news.  We’ve talked about it already.  Talked it to death.  Nothing to see there.  So let’s focus on what’s important for the American people.

Or could it be that the left has grown tired of the Clintons?  After all, Barack Obama was the first black man elected president.  Something the young people can get excited about.  But will today’s young even know who the Clintons are?  Could be a problem for a party that historically gets the youth vote.  So is this the first sign that Hillary won’t be the anointed one in 2016?  And is this an opening broadside against Hillary?  A harbinger of what is yet to come?  Perhaps.  Or it could mean people are just not falling for the Clinton charm anymore.  Something our friends in the British media have no problem seeing through.

The cynical might infer from the NYT piece that the Clintons are willing to sell themselves, their image, and even their Foundation’s reputation in exchange for money to finance their personal projects. In Bill’s case, saving the world. In Hillary’s case, maybe, running for president.

It’s nothing new to report that there’s an unhealthy relationship in America between money and politics, but it’s there all the same. While the little people are getting hit with Obamacare, high taxes and joblessness, a class of businessmen enjoys ready access to politicians of both Left and Right that poses troubling questions for how the republic can continue to call itself a democracy so long as it functions as an aristocracy of the monied. Part of the reason why America’s elites get away with it is becuase they employ such fantastic salesmen. For too long now, Bill Clinton has pitched himself, almost without question, as a homespun populist: the Boy from Hope. The reality is that this is a man who – in May 1993 – prevented other planes from landing at LAX for 90 minues while he got a haircut from a Beverley Hills hairdresser aboard Air Force One. The Clintons are populists in the same way that Barack Obama is a Nobel prize winner. Oh, wait…

Wish America could see Clinton and Obama as plainly as this.  And not get lost in the gaze of their eyes.

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Post Office, Telegraph, Telephone, Cell Phones, Texting, Technology, Productivity, Savings, Investment, Japan Inc. and Eurozone Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 13th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published August 28th, 2012)

Ben Franklin’s Post Office struggles to Stay Relevant in a World where Technology offers a Better Alternative

Once upon a time people stayed in touch with each other by mailing letters to each other.  Benjamin Franklin helped make this possible when he was America’s first Postmaster General of the United States.  And it’s in large part due to his Post Office that the American Revolutionary War became a united stand against Great Britain.  As news of what happened in Massachusetts spread throughout the colonies via Franklin’s Post Office.

In America Samuel Morse created a faster way to communicate.  (While others created this technology independently elsewhere.)  Through ‘dots’ and ‘dashes’ sent over a telegraph wire.  Speeding up communications from days to seconds.  It was fast.  But you needed people who understood Morse code.  Those dots and dashes that represented letters.  At both ends of that telegraph wire.  So the telegraph was a bit too complicated for the family home.  Who still relied on the Post Office to stay in touch

Then along came a guy by the name of Alexander Graham Bell.  Who gave us a telephone in the house.  Which gave people the speed of the telegraph.  But with the simplicity of having a conversation.  Bringing many a teenage girl into the kitchen in the evenings to talk to her friends.  Until she got her own telephone in her bedroom.  Then came cell phones.  Email.  Smartphones.  And Texting.   Communication had become so instantaneous today that no one writes letters anymore.  And Ben Franklin’s Post Office struggles to stay relevant in a world where technology offers a better alternative.

As Keynesian Monetary Policy played a Larger Role in Japan Personal Savings Fell

These technological advances happened because people saved money that allowed entrepreneurs, investors and businesses to borrow it.  They borrowed money and invested it into their businesses.  To bring their ideas to the market place.  And the more they invested the more they advanced technology.  Allowing them to create more incredible things.  And to make them more efficiently.  Thus giving us a variety of new things at low prices.  Thanks to innovation.  Risk-taking entrepreneurs.  And people’s savings.  Which give us an advanced economy.  High productivity.  And growing GDP.

Following World War II Japan rebuilt her industry and became an advanced economy.  As the U.S. auto industry faltered during the Seventies they left the door open for Japan.  Who entered.  In a big way.  They built cars so well that one day they would sell more of them than General Motors.  Which is incredible considering the B-29 bomber.  That laid waste to Japanese industry during World War II.  So how did they recover so fast?  A high savings rate.  During the Seventies the Japanese people saved over 15% of their income with it peaking in the mid-Seventies close to 25%.

This high savings rate provided enormous amounts of investment capital.  Which the Japanese used not only to rebuild their industry but to increase their productivity.  Producing one of the world’s greatest export economies.  The ‘Made in Japan’ label became increasingly common in the United States.  And the world.  Their economic clot grew in the Eighties.  They began buying U.S. properties.  Americans feared they would one day become a wholly owned subsidiary of some Japanese corporation.  Then government intervened.  With their Keynesian economics.  This booming economic juggernaut became Japan Inc.  But as Keynesian monetary policy played a larger role personal savings fell.  During the Eighties they fell below 15%.  And they would continue to fall.  As did her economic activity.  When monetary credit replaced personal savings for investment capital it only created large asset bubbles.  Which popped in the Nineties.  Giving the Japanese their Lost Decade.  A painful deflationary decade as asset prices returned to market prices.

Because the Germans have been so Responsible in their Economic Policies only they can Save the Eurozone

As the world reels from the fallout of the Great Recession the US, UK and Japan share a lot in common.  Depressed economies.  Deficit spending.  High debt.  And a low savings rate.  Two countries in the European Union suffer similar economic problems.  With one notable exception.  They have a higher savings rate.  Those two countries are France and Germany.  Two of the strongest countries in the Eurozone.  And the two that are expected to bail out the Eurozone.

Savings Rate

While the French and the Germans are saving their money the Japanese have lost their way when it comes to saving.  Their savings rate plummeted following their Lost Decade.  As Keynesian economics sat in the driver seat.  Replacing personal savings with cheap state credit.  Much like it has in the US and the UK.  Nations with weak economies and low savings rates.  While the French and the Germans are keeping the Euro alive.  Especially the Germans.  Who are much less Keynesian in their economics.  And prefer a more Benjamin Franklin frugality when it comes to cheap state credit.  As well as state spending.  Who are trying to impose some austerity on the spendthrifts in the Eurozone.  Which the spendthrifts resent.  But they need money.  And the most responsible country in the Eurozone has it.  And there is a reason they have it.  Because their economic policies have been proven to be the best policies.

And others agree.  In fact there are some who want the German taxpayer to save the Euro by taking on the debt of the more irresponsible members in the Eurozone.  Because they have been so responsible in their economic policies they’re the only ones who can.  But if the Germans are the strongest economy shouldn’t others adopt their policies?  Instead of Germany enabling further irresponsible government spending by transferring the debt of the spendthrifts to the German taxpayer?  I think the German taxpayer would agree.  As would Benjamin Franklin.  Who said, “Industry, Perseverance, & Frugality, make Fortune yield.”  Which worked in early America.  In Japan before Japan Inc.  And is currently working in Germany.  It’s only when state spending becomes less frugal that states have sovereign debt crises.  Or subprime mortgage crisis.  Or Lost Decades.

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Saving, Investing and the Paradox of Thrift

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2013

Economics 101

(Originally published August 27th, 2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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