The BLS Employment Situation Summary for January 2014

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 17th, 2014

Economics 101

The Unemployment Rate is 13.6% when you count all Unemployed Workers

The economy is getting better and better.  There are more new jobs.  And the unemployment rate continues to fall.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  But this is little succor for the 10,948,000 who have lost their job since President Obama began trying to make the economy better.  No matter what the BLS says (see the Employment Situation Summary posted 2/7/2014 on the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 113,000 in January, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 6.6 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.  Employment grew in construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, and mining…

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (6.2 percent), adult women (5.9 percent), teenagers (20.7 percent), whites (5.7 percent), blacks (12.1 percent),and Hispanics (8.4 percent) showed little change in January. The jobless rate for Asians was 4.8 percent (not seasonally adjusted), down by 1.7 percentage points over the year. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.).

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more), at 3.6 million, declined by 232,000 in January. These individuals accounted for 35.8 percent of the unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed has declined by 1.1 million over the year.  (See table A-12.)

Once again there are more new jobs and the unemployment rate fell.  Further proof the Obama administration says that their policies are working.  But the low unemployment rate is misleading.  As there are 91,455,000 people who are no longer in the labor force (see Table A-1. Employment status of the civilian population by sex and age).  An increase of 10,948,000 since President Obama entered office.  The BLS doesn’t count these unemployed people as unemployed in their calculation of the official unemployment rate.  If you did that would raise the unemployment rate to 13.6%.  Which is a lot higher than the official 6.6%.  And better reflects public sentiment on the economy.

Ironically, the people hurt most by the Obama economic policies—teenagers, blacks and Hispanics—are also the biggest supporters of the president.  Which tells us they obviously support him for reasons other than the economy.  And apparently put those reasons above having a job.  At least based their respective unemployment rates.

If we count all Unemployed and Underemployed the Current Economic Recovery would take more than 20 Years

Of the people they actually count as unemployed about a third of them have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more.  So a large percentage of the unemployed are not suffering from frictional unemployment.  That brief period of unemployment between jobs.  No.  These people have lost their jobs.  And can’t find new ones.  While others can find only part-time jobs.

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) fell by 514,000 to 7.3 million in January. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time work. (See table A-8.)

In January, 2.6 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, little changed from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. (See table A-16.)

If you add the people up who want a full-time job but can’t get one that’s 9,900,000 who can’t find a full-time job.  If we only add 113,000 jobs a month it will take over 87 months to get these people the full-time jobs they want.  Or more than 7 years.  If we count the last 5 years of the Obama presidency it will take the economic recovery out to 12 years.  If we add the people who have left the labor force to the underemployed (the part-time workers looking for a full-time job) that would extend the economic recovery to 244 months.  Or more than 20 years.  Which is longer than the length of the economic recovery following the Great Depression.

The Obama administration still blames George W. Bush for causing the Great Recession.  But one thing they do say over and over is that it was the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression.  So they are saying that the Great Depression was worse than the Great Recession.  Yet the current economic recovery is on track to last longer than the economic recovery following the Great Depression.

President Obama’s Economic Recovery is on Course to be the Worst Economic Recovery in U.S. History

The Great Depression and the Great Recession share something in common.  In both the government used Keynesian economics to try and pull the nation out of the economic crisis.  With huge government stimulus spending.  You can see evidence of the FDR spending today.  Such as the Hoover Dam.  But you can see little evidence from President Obama’s stimulus spending.  For there are no Hoover Dams anywhere.  Just a lot of empty buildings that housed failed green energy industries.  With no new jobs to show for it.  Such as those good-paying jobs in the green energy industry that President Obama promised his stimulus spending would produce.  But, alas, it did not.  In fact, that’s just one thing this administration is not good at.  Creating jobs.  Even the jobs they created appear suspect.

Employment in manufacturing increased in January (+21,000). Over the month, job gains occurred in machinery (+7,000), wood products (+5,000), and motor vehicles and parts (+5,000). Manufacturing added an average of 7,000 jobs per month in 2013.

In January, wholesale trade added 14,000 jobs, with most of the increase occurring in nondurable goods (+10,000).

Mining added 7,000 jobs in January, compared with an average monthly gain of 2,000 jobs in 2013…

Employment in other major industries, including transportation and warehousing, information, and financial activities, showed little or no change over the month.

These numbers don’t make sense.  Much like Keynesian economics.  The economy created jobs in manufacturing (machinery, wood products, motor vehicles and parts).  Wholesale trade added jobs.  Mining added jobs.  But this new economic activity required no new financing.  Which is odd.  For it takes money to make money.  Also, there were no new jobs in transportation and warehousing.  Which begs the question.  What did they do with all the stuff they made from all those new manufacturing jobs?  Did it ever leave these factories?  Or is there another explanation?  Did the people who entered the labor force just replace people who left it?  For no net change?  Perhaps.

The manufacturing workweek declined by 0.2 hour to 40.7 hours, and factory overtime edged down by 0.1 hour to 3.4 hours.

Or perhaps this explains how they could add jobs in an industry that required no additional financing, transportation or warehousing.  Hiring new workers while shortening the workweek and cutting back on overtime.  Or a combination of this and people leaving the labor force to net out any economic gain from these new jobs.  Whatever the explanation is one thing is certain.  The economy is not improving.  And President Obama’s economic recovery is on track to be the worst economic recovery in U.S. history.  Despite the glowing jobs reports showing new job creation month after month.  And a continuing falling unemployment.  Things they can only show by not counting the 10 million or so who are no longer employed.

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The Unemployment Rate and the Labor Force Participation Rate tell Two Different Stories

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 7th, 2013

Week in Review

The June jobs report is out.  And already they’re putting a positive spin on it.  Because of the new jobs reported in June.  But that’s about as far as anyone wants to dig into the report.  For the rest of it is rather dismal (see Employment Situation Summary posted 7/5/2013 on Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 195,000 in June, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.6 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment rose in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, retail trade, healthcare, and financial activities.

Yeah.  195,000 new jobs.  This was better than expected.  And the markets rallied.  While the Obama administration made the perfunctory statement that their economic policies are working.  Eternal optimists.  Never willing to admit that it is their economic policies that have given us the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  What with things like Obamacare causing a nationwide freeze on new hiring.  And their war on fossil fuels raising energy costs.  Further strangling business growth.  It’s all there in the Employment Situation Summary.  If you read further down the report.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for adult women (6.8 percent) edged up in June, while the rates for adult men (7.0 percent), teenagers (24.0 percent), whites (6.6 percent), blacks (13.7 percent), and Hispanics (9.1 percent) showed little or no change. The jobless rate for Asians was 5.0 percent (not seasonally adjusted), down  from 6.3 percent a year earlier. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

Interestingly, strong supporters of President Obama in the last election (women, teenagers, blacks and Hispanics) either have rising unemployment rates (women) or unchanged unemployment rates that are well above the national average (teenagers, Hispanics and blacks).  The president may talk about being the guy for them.  But his actions sure would suggest otherwise

In June, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks  or more) was essentially unchanged at 4.3 million. These individuals  accounted for 36.7 percent of the unemployed. Over the past 12 months,  the number of long-term unemployed has declined by 1.0 million. (See table A-12.)

The civilian labor force participation rate, at 63.5 percent, and the employment-population ratio, at 58.7 percent, changed little in June. Over the year, the labor force participation rate is down by 0.3 percentage point. (See table A-1.)

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) increased by 322,000 to 8.2 million in June. These individuals were working part time because their  hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job. (See table A-8.)

In June, 2.6 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, essentially unchanged from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. (See table A-16.)

Among the marginally attached, there were 1.0 million discouraged workers in June, an increase of 206,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.6 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in June had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities. (See table A-16.)

So there were 195,000 new jobs in June.  But there is still a net loss of jobs over the year as the labor force participation rate fell by 0.3 percentage points.  Meaning that there were fewer people in the labor force in June than there were in January.  Because the job market is so bad people are discouraged and give up trying to find a full-time job.  Work a couple of part-time jobs instead.  Live on their spouse’s income.  Or on their retirement nest egg.  The Obama administration and their economists and the mainstream media talk about positive signs with every jobs report.  That we’re turning the corner.  That the president’s economic policies are working.  But they’re not.  As you can see if you look at the official (U-3) unemployment rate and the labor force participation rate since he’s been president (the following numbers were pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

U-3 Unemployment Rate and Labor Force participation Rate 2009-2013 R1

The economic numbers show a decline in the official (U-3) unemployment rate starting sometime in 2010.  But it wasn’t because of an improving economy.  It was because people were just disappearing from the labor force.  For the fall in the labor force participation rate is GREATER than the fall in the unemployment rate.  That is, even though the official unemployment rate showed more people were entering the labor force (i.e., fewer people unemployed) the labor force participation rate showed an even greater number of people leaving the labor force.  (Note: If both graphs were plotted on the same vertical axis the graphs would have nearly the same slop.  Perhaps with the unemployment rate falling at a slightly greater rate.  However, because the actual number of people working far exceeds the number of people unemployed each percentage point move in the labor force participation rate represents a far greater number of people than each percentage point move in the unemployment rate.  So the above graph shows the trend in the number of people more accurately than it does in the percentage of the totals of each data set.  That is, there are more people who have lost a full-time job than have found a full-time job.)  Throughout the Obama presidency the economy has been getting worse.  Not better.  So there is nothing to cheer about in this jobs report.  Or in the many to come.

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Economic Indicators

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 20th, 2013

Economics 101

To Better Understand the Economy we should Study the Economic Indicators Investors Study

If you’ve lost your job you have a pretty good idea about the state of the economy.  It’s bad.  An unemployed person is like a soldier in the trench.  He or she doesn’t need to examine any data to understand what’s happening in the economy.  They know firsthand how bad things are.  But generals far behind the lines don’t have that up close and personal economic experience.  So they have to examine data to understand what’s going on.  Just as government officials, investors and economic prognosticators have to examine data.  Giving them an understanding of the state of the economy.  So they can know what the unemployed know.  The economy sucks.

Government officials want positive economic data so they can say their policies are working.  Whether they are or not.  In fact, they will parse the data to serve them politically.  When necessary.  Such as during the run-up to an election.  So their reports on the economy are not always, how should we say, full of truthiness.  For they can take some bad economic data and put a positive spin on it.  Completely changing the meaning of the data.  The unemployed won’t believe the rosy picture they’re painting.  But those in the trenches may.  And those in the rear with the gear.  After all, they have jobs.  So things don’t really seem that bad to them.

No, for a better picture of the economy you should listen to the people with skin in the game.  Those who are making bets on the economy.  Investors.  And business owners.  Who are risking their money.  And if we look at what they look at we can get a better understanding of the economy.  See what bothers them.  What pleases them.  And what excites them.  So what do they look at?  Economic data we call economic indicators.  Because they indicate the health of the economy.  And give an idea of what the future holds.  There are a lot of economic indicators.  The government compiles most of them.  They each give a little piece of the economic puzzle.  And when you put them together you see the bigger picture.

With a Rise in Housing Starts a Rise in Durable Goods should Follow Creating a lot of New Jobs

As far as economic indicators go retail sales is a big one.  Because consumer spending is the vast majority of economic activity in the new Keynesian economy.  (John Maynard Keynes changed the way governments intervene in the private sector economy in the early 20th century.)  Keynesians believe consumer spending is everything.  Which is why governments everywhere inflate their money supplies.  To keep their interest rates artificially low.  To encourage people to borrow money.  And spend.  When they do retail sales increase.  Signaling a healthy economy.  When they fall it may mean a recession is coming.  Of course, if retail spending rises more than expected investors get nervous.  Because it could mean inflation is coming.  Which the government will try to prevent by raising interest rates.  Thus cooling the economy.  And hopefully sending it into a soft landing.  But more often than not they send it into recession.

Another economic indicator is housing starts.  A lot of economic activity comes from building houses.  Building them generates a lot.  And furnishing them generates even more.  So governments are always trying to do everything within their power to encourage new housing.  They keep interest rates artificially low.  Encouraging people to get mortgages.  And they’ve pressured lenders to lower their lending standards.  To get more people with bad credit (or no credit) into houses.  Which led to subprime lending.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.  So more housing starts can be good.  But too many housing starts can be bad.  Generally, though, if they are increasing it’s a sign of an improving economy.

Before Keynesian economics the prevailing school of economic thought was classical economics.  Which we used to make America the world’s number one economic power.  Unlike Keynesians in the classical school we looked higher in the stages of productions.  Where real economic activity took place.  Raw material extraction.  Industrial processing.  Manufacturing.  And wholesaling.  An enormous amount of activity before you reach the consumer level.  All of these higher order economic activities fed into the making of durable goods.  Those things we bought to fill those new houses.  Which is why we like rising housing starts.  Because a rise in durable goods should follow.  And when we’re producing more durable goods we’re employing more people.  Making the durable goods economic indicator a very useful one.

One should Always be Skeptical when the Government says their Policies are Improving the Economy

The Producer Price Index (PPI) tells us how the prices are moving above the consumer level.  So if the PPI is rising it tells us the costs to produce consumer goods are rising.  And these higher costs will flow down the stages of production to the consumer level.  Causing a rise in consumer prices.  So the PPI forecasts what will happen to the CPI.  The consumer price index.  When it rises it means inflation is entering the picture.  Which the government will try to prevent by raising interest rates.  To cool the economy down.  And lower the prices at both the consumer and producer level.  Again, trying to send the economy into a soft landing.  But usually sending it into recession.  Which is why investors pay close attention to the PPI.  So they can get an idea of what will happen to the CPI.  So they can buy and sell (stocks and/or bonds) accordingly.

The rest of us can get an idea of what these investors think about the economy by following the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA).  Which is the weighted ‘average’ of 30 stocks.  (We calculate it by dividing the sum of the 30 stock prices by a divisor that factors in all stock splits and changes of companies in the Dow 30).  As a company does well in a growing economy its stock price grows.  And if investors like what they see in other economic indicators they bid up the stock price even further.  So a rising DJIA indicates that investors believe the economy is doing well.  And will probably even improve.  But sometimes investors have a little irrational exuberance.  Such as during the dot-com bubble in the Nineties.  Where they poured money into any company that had anything to do with the Internet.  Making a huge bet that they found the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.  Of course, when that blind hope faded and reality set in those inflated stock prices came crashing down to reality.  Causing a long and painful recession in the early 2000s.  So even investors don’t always get it right.

When the dot-com bubble burst it threw a lot of people out of a job.  Increasing the unemployment rate.  Another big economic indicator.  But one that can be massaged by the government.  For they only count people out of a full-time job who are looking for full-time work.  The official unemployment rate (what we call the U-3 rate) doesn’t count people who gave up looking for work.  Or people who took a couple of part-time jobs to make ends meet.  A more accurate unemployment rate is the U-6 rate that counts these people.  For while the official unemployment rate fell below 8% during the run-up to the 2012 election the U-6 rate was showing a much poorer economic picture.  And the labor force participation rate showed an even poorer economic picture.  The labor force participation rate shows the percentage of people who could be working who were actually working.  So the lower this is the worse the economy.  The higher it is the better the economy.  So while the president highlighted the fall of the U-3 rate below 8% as a sign of an improving economy the labor force participation rate showed it was the worst economy since the Seventies.  Something the unemployed could easily understand.  But those who had a job believed the less than honest U-3 economic indicator.  Believed the president was making the economy better.  When, in fact, he had made it worse.  Which is why one should always be skeptical when the government says their policies are improving the economy.  For they are more concerned about winning the next election than the people toiling away in the trenches.

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Labor Force Participation Rate

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 11th, 2013

Economics 101

The Official U-3 Unemployment Rate doesn’t count Everyone who can’t find a Full-Time Job

The unemployment rate fell in February 2012.  Yet more people are out of the workforce than they were in January.  Odd.  For the two seem to contradict each other.  For how can the workforce shrink when the unemployment rate falls.  Easy.  It just depends on who you count.  The federal government has a few ways to count unemployed people.  Specifically, they have six ways.

U-1  Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force.

U-2  Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force.

U-3  Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate).

U-4  Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers.

U-5  Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force.

U-6  Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force.

As you can see they count more people at each of the six levels.  And the official U-3 unemployment rate doesn’t count a lot of people.  By the time you add in discouraged workers, the marginally attached and those working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job the unemployment rate increases.  With the U-6 number giving a truer picture of the employment picture.  Which currently stands at 14.3%.  And is a long way from the official 7.7%.  So even though the news reports are celebrating that the economy is improving because the unemployment rate fell from 7.9% to 7.7%, the U-6 unemployment rate stands at 14.3%.  Down from 14.4% in January 2012.  Which is pretty bad.  And little to celebrate about.

The U-6 Unemployment Rate counts all of the People who can’t find a Full-Time Job

To better understand these numbers we need to understand exactly who the people are that they are counting.  Who are the people that could be working.  Who are the people working.  And who are the people not working.  Which is all defined at Civilian Noninstitutional Population and Associated Rate and Ratio Measures for Model-Based Areas.  And summarized here:

The civilian noninstitutional population consists of persons 16 years of age and older residing in the 50 States and the District of Columbia who are not inmates of institutions (for example, penal and mental facilities and homes for the aged) and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.

Employment consists of all persons who, during the reference week (the calendar week including the twelfth day of the month), (a) did any work at all (at least 1 hour) as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of the family, or (b) were not working but had jobs or businesses from which they were temporarily absent because of vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management dispute, job training, or other family or personal reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs.

Unemployment consists of all persons who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment some time during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.

The civilian labor force consists of all persons classified as employed or unemployed as described above.

The labor force participation rate represents the proportion of the civilian noninstitutional population that is in the labor force.

The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed as a percent of the civilian labor force.

The civilian labor force, then, equals the total of employed and unemployed people.  But note who they count as unemployed.  Only people who were looking for work during a 4-week period.  And those on a layoff subject to recall.  (Who didn’t have to look for work during that 4-week period.)  Which excludes everyone who gave up looking for work not subject to recall who can’t find a job.  People who are living on their savings, their credit cards, their spouse’s income, their retirement nest egg or even moving back in with their parents.  Or are working a part-time job or two because they can’t find a full-time job.  The U-6 rate counts all of these people.  Which is why it’s almost twice the official unemployment rate.  And why it’s a much better indicator of the employment picture.

The most Accurate Read of the Employment Picture is the Labor Force Participation Rate

So you now can see how the official unemployment rate can fall even though fewer people are working.  They calculate the unemployment rate by dividing unemployment by the civilian labor force.  And the smaller unemployment is the smaller the unemployment rate is.  Which it is when you don’t count all of the people who can’t find a job.  Which brings us to the labor force participation rate.  Which they calculate by dividing the civilian labor force (the employed plus the unemployed) by the civilian noninstitutional population (the total of the civilian population that could be working).  Which, like the U-6 unemployment rate, provides a truer picture of the employment picture.

The U-3 and U-6 unemployment rates improved in February.  Showing an improving employment picture.  While the labor force participation rate fell from 63.6% to 63.5%.  Which means those not in the labor force increased.  Going from 89,008,000 to 89,304,000.  An increase of 296,000 people who disappeared from the labor force.  Which is greater than the 227,000 new jobs created.  So even though the unemployment rate fell there was a net loss in jobs.  Which means the economy got worse.  Not better.

Mark Twain said facts don’t lie but liars figure.  And this is what he meant.  The employment picture is not improving.  But the government reports the 227,000 new jobs and the falling unemployment rate as signs of an improving economy.  But the most accurate read of the employment picture, the labor force participation rate, shows the economy is getting worse.  As everyone who is struggling in the private sector already knows.  So someone is lying.  And it isn’t the facts.  It is those who want to hide the damage the government’s policies are doing to the economy.  So they can keep trying the same failed policies of the past.  Keynesian economic policies.  Favoring more government intervention into the private economy.  While dragging out the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression.  Another period of failed Keynesian economic policies.  For Keynesian policies are anti-business policies.  But pro-government growth policies.  Which is why liars figure.  And the labor force participation rate falls.

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Keynesian Policies are giving us Great Depression Unemployment with no Hope of Economic Recovery

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 4th, 2011

Real Unemployment is Greater than the Unemployment Rate for about half of the Great Depression 

The unemployment numbers are bad.  But few realize just how bad they are.  The real unemployment numbers.  Not the official unemployment rate released by the government (U-3).  Because that number doesn’t count a lot of people who can’t find a full time job (see Unemployed face tough competition: underemployed by Paul Wiseman and Christopher Leonard posted 9/4/2011 on the Associated Press).

America’s 14 million unemployed aren’t competing just with each other. They must also contend with 8.8 million other people not counted as unemployed – part-timers who want full-time work…

And the unemployed will face another source of competition once the economy improves: Roughly 2.6 million people who aren’t counted as unemployed because they’ve stopped looking for work. Once they start looking again, they’ll be classified as unemployed. And the unemployment rate could rise.

Combined, the 14 million officially unemployed; the “underemployed” part-timers who want full-time work; and “discouraged” people who have stopped looking make up 16.2 percent of working-age Americans…

If you look at the unemployment rate during the Great Depression (1929 to 1941), this more real rate (16.2%) is greater than the unemployment rate for about half of those years.  From 1932 until 1936, the rate was 23.53%, 24.75%, 21.60%, 19.97% and 16.80%.  After dropping down to 14.18% in 1937, it went back up to 18.91% in 1938.  It fell to 17.05% in 1939.  It was below 16.2% for only 6 years of the 13 years of the Great Depression.  So this 16.2% is bad.  Very, very bad.  And very, very real.

In a healthy economy, this broader measure of unemployment stays below 10 percent. Since the Great Recession officially ended more than two years ago, the rate has been 15 percent or more.

Even if you don’t use Great Depression standards this 16.2% is still very, very bad.

Eventually, lots of Americans…will start looking for jobs again. If those work-force dropouts had been counted as unemployed, August’s unemployment rate would have been 10.6 percent instead of 9.1 percent.

If it wasn’t for a counting gimmick to exclude long-term unemployed who gave up looking for work, the official unemployment rate would count all the unemployed.  And it would be 10.6%.  Not the ‘official’ 9.1% reported.  Of course, throw in the underemployed and it’s back up to 16.2%.

If Taxes and Regulations were Good for the Economy, we wouldn’t have Real Unemployment of 16.2%

No doubt the employment picture is far worse than the media has reported.  And that Recovery Summer was purely political propaganda.  To put a positive spin on some really wasteful ‘stimulus’ spending.  Spending that was more pork and earmarks than stimulative.  And President Obama is going to address a joint-session of Congress to tell us how he’s going to fix the economy.  No doubt urging more of the same that hasn’t worked thus far (see Cheney dismisses Obama’s jobs speech: ‘Don’t think it will get the job done’ by Vicki Needham posted 9/4/2011 on The Hill).

Former Vice President Dick Cheney suggested Sunday that the White House should adopt Reagan-era tax and regulatory policy to spur economic growth…

“The Obama administration is doing exactly the opposite, they’re loading on more regulation on the private sector in respect to how the economy functions,” he said.

They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But if it is broke then we should probably fix it.  And based on the real unemployment numbers, the Obama policies are broke.  And need to be fixed.  And a good place to start would be to back off on all of their regulations.  And stop with the new taxes.  We know they’re bad for the economy.  For if they were good for it, we wouldn’t have a real unemployment rate of 16.2%.

President Obama will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday to outline a jobs plan likely to include a call for more infrastructure spending along with an extension of the payroll tax cuts, unemployment benefits and tax incentives for business to pick up hiring…

The president used his weekly address to push passage of an extension of the surface transportation bill to spur highway construction, bridge repair and the improvement of mass transit systems.

Haven’t we heard this message before?  Infrastructure spending?  As in ‘shovel-ready jobs’?  That was the whole point of the stimulus bill.  And being that we’re still talking about ‘infrastructure spending’, apparently it didn’t work.  So why return to a failed policy?

Infrastructure Stimulus Projects are like a Pill that Cures the Common Cold…in only 3 Weeks

Even Obama conceded there was no such thing as a ‘shovel-ready’ job.  Not with the regulatory red tape you have to go through before breaking ground.  Which costs millions of dollars.  So it’s not likely anyone spent millions of dollars over the years just in anticipation of a stimulus program.  Something unknown then that would pay for a project started without adequate funding.  Yeah, like that would ever happen.

But infrastructure work isn’t your everyday make-work kind of employment.  It takes skill.  And experience.  It’s not picking up trash along the side of the road that any unemployed person can do without extensive training (see Did the Stimulus Create Jobs? Not Always for the Unemployed by Megan McArdle posted 91/2011 on The Atlantic).

In the construction industry, there’s another wrinkle; many of the specialties in heavy construction are, at least as I understand it, not overfull with qualified applicants; finding young people who have the math skills and other academic talents necessary to be a modern skilled construction worker, and also want to skip college and apprentice with an outfit like the operating engineers, is something that a lot of the skilled trades worry about. 

I think a lot of people assumed that doing infrastructure construction projects would be a great way to soak up excess labor from the homebuilding industry, but there’s not actually that much overlap; knowing how to install drywall or do framing work does not qualify you for a job that requires sandhogs and specialty welders.  And it can take a long time to make journeyman in many of these professions.  This is also true of certain kinds of civil engineers and so forth. 

Cleary infrastructure projects are not the panacea the Obama administration thinks they are.  They are not ‘shovel-ready’ for the unemployed.  After years of regulatory compliance expenditures, highly skilled and highly specialized workers will break ground.  Which won’t employ a single person outside these specialties.  At least, not without years of training.  And working as an apprentice.  Which will be years down the road.  Which won’t stimulate anything in the here and now. 

This is like a pill that cures the common cold.  In only 3 weeks.  They have no effect.  And their ‘cure’ is purely illusionary.

The Era of Keynesian Big Government came to an End in 1980…for Awhile 

So we know what doesn’t work.  We know what policies are wrong.  Almost 3 years of Obama policies have told us that.  But it’s easy to point to failure.  To identify problems.  It’s a little more difficult to fix problems.  But the amazing thing is we don’t have to fix them.  We just have to stop causing them (see Free The Market by Peter Boettke posted 9/2/2011 on The European).

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design”, F.A. Hayk once wrote. We would we well-served to heed his call and reinvigorate the ideology of the free market.

There are a few schools of economics.  There’s the Keynesian school.  The majority of mainstream economists adhere to this.  As well as the Obama administration.  And then there is the Austrian school.  Which is more in keeping with economists like F.A. Hayek and Adam Smith

The Keynesians want hands-on government control and spending.  The Austrian school doesn’t.  Because they don’t think they are better and smarter than the average consumer.

The past thirty years proved the validity of Adam Smith’s assertion, “The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition…is so powerful, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often encumbers its operations.”

During “the age of Milton Friedman”, as Andrei Shleifer dubed it, key developments in economic freedom—deregulation in the US and UK, the collapse of communism in East and Central Europe, and the opening up of the economies of China and India—allowed individuals to surmount government meddling in the economy. From 1980 to 2005, there were marked, world-wide improvements in life expectancy, education, democracy, and living standards as integration into a world economy delivered billions of individuals from poverty, ignorance and squalor.

From 1980?  You know what happened at that time?  The era of Keynesian Big Government came to an end.  For awhile.  With the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the UK.  And the rise of Ronald Reagan in the USA.  Both were adherents to the Austrian school.  And because of that their nations exploded with prosperity.  Thanks to tax cuts.  And deregulation. 

Unfortunately, this began to reverse course around 2005.  Big Government began to return.  And it’s becoming bigger than it ever was.  We see this in declining Western economies.  And financial crises in these same Western economies (in Europe and the United States).  As they are imploding under excessive government spending.  And debt.

A setting of private property rights, free pricing, and accurate profit and loss accounting aligns incentives and communicates information so that individuals realize the mutual gains from trade with one another. Efficient markets are an outcome of a process of discovery, learning, and adjustment, not an assumption going into the analysis. That process, however, operates within political, legal, and social institutions. Those institutions can promulgate policies that block discovery, inhibit learning, and prevent adjustment, causing the market to operate poorly.

So rather than free market ideology being obsolete, what is needed is a reinvigorated ideological vision of the free market economy: a society of free and responsible individuals who have the opportunity to prosper in a market economy based on profit and loss and to live in caring communities. Yes, caring communities. The Adam Smith that wrote The Wealth of Nations also wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and the F. A. Hayek that wrote Individualism and Economic Order also wrote about the corruption of morals in The Fatal Conceit. Our challenge today is to embrace the full scope of free market ideology so as to understand the preconditions under which we can live better together in a world of peace, prosperity, and progress.

Get government out of the private sector.  Let the private sector respond freely to market forces.  Be responsible.  And be kind to others.  Like they told us in kindergarten.

Keynesians don’t like the Masses, they just want to Rule over Them

Anyone looking objectively at the economy can see where the problem lies.  With government.  Their policies didn’t work in the Seventies.  And they’re not working now.  So why are they returning to failed policies of the past?  Because Keynesian policies grow government.  And those in government want to grow government.  For the money and the power.  And to stroke their egos. 

Keynesians are academics.  They have little real-life experience.  They didn’t run businesses.  Make payrolls.  They didn’t sell.  Or live on the other side of regulatory compliance.  Why?  Because they aren’t entrepreneurs.  They don’t have the ability to be creative.  So they elevate themselves above those who are.  To compensate for their inadequacies. 

They prefer privilege.  Entitlement.  Like the aristocracy in the Old World.  Where a good last name was all you needed for wealth and power. 

Just listen to them talk.  Their very words drip with condescension.  They don’t like the masses.  They don’t live with them.  They don’t vacation with them.  They don’t want to have anything to do with them.  Except to rule over them.  The way it should be.  In their world of privilege.

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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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LESSONS LEARNED #3 “Inflation is just another name for irresponsible government.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2010

PEOPLE LIKE TO hate banks.  And bankers.  Because they get rich with other people’s money.  And they don’t do anything.  People give them money.  They then loan it and charge interest.  What a scam.

Banking is a little more complex than that.  And it’s not a scam.  Countries without good banking systems are often impoverished, Third World nations.  If you have a brilliant entrepreneurial idea, a lot of good that will do if you can’t get any money to bring it to market.  That’s what banks do.  They collect small deposits from a lot of depositors and make big loans to people like brilliant entrepreneurs.

Fractional reserve banking multiplies this lending ability.  Because only a fraction of a bank’s total depositors will ask for their deposits back at any one time, only a fraction of all deposits are kept at the bank.  Banks loan the rest.  Money comes in.  They keep a running total of how much you deposited.  They then loan out your money and charge interest to the borrower.  And pay you interest on what they borrowed from you so they could make those loans to others.  Banks, then, can loan out more money than they actually have in their vaults.  This ‘creates’ money.  The more they lend the more money they create.  This increases the money supply.  The less they lend the less money they create.  If they don’t lend any money they don’t add to the money supply.  When banks fail they contract the money supply.

Bankers are capital middlemen.  They funnel money from those who have it to those who need it.  And they do it efficiently.  We take car loans and mortgages for granted.  For we have such confidence in our banking system.  But banking is a delicate job.  The economy depends on it.  If they don’t lend enough money, businesses and entrepreneurs may not be able to borrow money when they need it.  If they lend too much, they may not be able to meet the demands of their depositors.  And if they do something wrong or act in any way that makes their depositors nervous, the depositors may run to the bank and withdraw their money.  We call this a ‘run on the bank’ when it happens.  It’s not pretty.  It’s usually associated with panic.  And when depositors withdraw more money than is in the bank, the bank fails.

DURING GOOD ECONOMIC times, businesses expand.  Often they have to borrow money to pay for the costs of meeting growing demand.  They borrow and expand.  They hire more people.  People make more money.  They deposit some of this additional money in the bank.  This creates more money to lend.  Businesses borrow more.  And so it goes.  This saving and lending increases the money supply.  We call it inflation.  A little inflation is good.  It means the economy is growing.  When it grows too fast and creates too much money, though, prices go up. 

Sustained inflation can also create a ‘bubble’ in the economy.  This is due to higher profits than normal because of artificially high prices due to inflation.  Higher selling prices are not the result of the normal laws of supply and demand.  Inflation increases prices.  Higher prices increase a company’s profit.  They grow.  Add more jobs.  Hire more people.  Who make more money.  Who buy more stuff and save more money.  Banks loan more, further increasing the money supply.  Everyone is making more money and buying more stuff.  They are ‘bidding up’ the prices (house prices or dot-com stock prices, for example) with an inflated currency.  This can lead to overvalued markets (i.e., a bubble).  Alan Greenspan called it ‘irrational exuberance’ when testifying to Congress in the 1990s.  Now, a bubble can be pretty, but it takes very little to pop and destroy it.

Hyperinflation is inflation at its worse.  Bankers don’t create it by lending too much.  People don’t create it by bidding up prices.  Governments create it by printing money.  Literally.  Sometimes following a devastating, catastrophic event like war (like Weimar Germany after World War II).  But sometimes it doesn’t need a devastating, catastrophic event.  Just unrestrained government spending.  Like in Argentina throughout much of the 20th century.

During bad economic times, businesses often have more goods and services than people are purchasing.  Their sales will fall.  They may cut their prices to try and boost their sales.  They’ll stop expanding.  Because they don’t need as much supply for the current demand, they will cut back on their output.  Lay people off.  Some may have financial problems.  Their current revenue may not cover their costs.  Some may default on their loans.  This makes bankers nervous.  They become more hesitant in lending money.  A business in trouble, then, may find they cannot borrow money.  This may force some into bankruptcy.  They may default on more loans.  As these defaults add up, it threatens a bank’s ability to repay their depositors.  They further reduce their lending.  And so it goes.  These loan defaults and lack of lending decreases the money supply.  We call it deflation.  We call deflationary periods recessions.  It means the economy isn’t growing.  The money supply decreases.  Prices go down.

We call this the business cycle.  People like the inflation part.  They have jobs.  They’re not too keen on the deflation part.  Many don’t have jobs.  But too much inflation is not good.  Prices go up making everything more expensive.  We then lose purchasing power.  So a recession can be a good thing.  It stops high inflation.  It corrects it.  That’s why we often call a small recession a correction.  Inflation and deflation are normal parts of the business cycle.  But some thought they could fix the business cycle.  Get rid of the deflation part.  So they created the Federal Reserve System (the Fed) in 1913.

The Fed is a central bank.  It loans money to Federal Reserve regional banks who in turn lend it to banks you and I go to.  They control the money supply.  They raise and lower the rate they charge banks to borrow from them.  During inflationary times, they raise their rate to decrease lending which decreases the money supply.  This is to keep good inflation from becoming bad inflation.  During deflationary times, they lower their rate to increase lending which increases the money supply.  This keeps a correction from turning into a recession.  Or so goes the theory.

The first big test of the Fed came during the 1920s.  And it failed. 

THE TWO WORLD wars were good for the American economy.  With Europe consumed by war, their agricultural and industrial output decline.  But they still needed stuff.  And with the wars fought overseas, we fulfilled that need.  For our workers and farmers weren’t in uniform. 

The Industrial Revolution mechanized the farm.  Our farmers grew more than they ever did before.  They did well.  After the war, though, the Europeans returned to the farm.  The American farmer was still growing more than ever (due to the mechanization of the farm).  There were just a whole lot less people to sell their crops to.  Crop prices fell. 

The 1920s was a time America changed.  The Wilson administration had raised taxes due to the ‘demands of war’.  This resulted in a recession following the war.  The Harding administration cut taxes based on the recommendation of Andrew Mellon, his Secretary of the Treasury.  The economy recovered.  There was a housing boom.  Electric utilities were bringing electrical power to these houses.  Which had electrical appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, irons, toasters, etc.) and the new radio.  People began talking on the new telephone.  Millions were driving the new automobile.  People were traveling in the new airplane.  Hollywood launched the motion picture industry and Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse.  The economy had some of the most solid growth it had ever had.  People had good jobs and were buying things.  There was ‘good’ inflation. 

This ‘good’ inflation increased prices everywhere.  Including in agriculture.  The farmers’ costs went up, then, as their incomes fell.  This stressed the farming regions.  Farmers struggled.  Some failed.  Some banks failed with them.  The money supply in these areas decreased.

Near the end of the 1920s, business tried to expand to meet rising demand.  They had trouble borrowing money, though.  The economy was booming but the money supply wasn’t growing with it.  This is where the Fed failed.  They were supposed to expand the money supply to keep pace with economic growth.  But they didn’t.  In fact, the Fed contracted the money supply during this period.  They thought investors were borrowing money to invest in the stock market.  (They were wrong).  So they raised the cost of borrowing money.  To ‘stop’ the speculators.  So the Fed took the nation from a period of ‘good’ inflation into recession.  Then came the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.

Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in 1930.  But they were discussing it in committee in 1929.  Businesses knew about it in 1929.  And like any good business, they were looking at how it would impact them.  The bill took high tariffs higher.  That meant expensive imported things would become more expensive.  The idea is to protect your domestic industry by raising the prices of less expensive imports.  Normally, business likes surgical tariffs that raise the cost of their competitor’s imports.  But this was more of an across the board price increase that would raise the cost of every import, which was certain to increase the cost of doing business.  This made business nervous.  Add uncertainty to a tight credit market and business no doubt forecasted higher costs and lower revenues (i.e., a recession).  And to weather a recession, you need a lot of cash on hand to help pay the bills until the economy recovered.  So these businesses increased their liquidity.  They cut costs, laid off people and sold their investments (i.e., stocks) to build a huge cash cushion to weather these bad times to come.  This may have been a significant factor in the selloff in October of 1929 resulting in the stock market crash. 

HERBERT HOOVER WANTED to help the farmers.  By raising crop prices (which only made food more expensive for the unemployed).  But the Smoot-Hawley Tariff met retaliatory tariffs overseas.  Overseas agricultural and industrial markets started to close.  Sales fell.  The recession had come.  Business cut back.  Unemployment soared.  Farmers couldn’t sell their bumper crops at a profit and defaulted on their loans.  When some non-farming banks failed, panic ensued.  People rushed to get their money out of the banks before their bank, too, failed.  This caused a run on the banks.  They started to fail.  This further contracted the money supply.  Recession turned into the Great Depression. 

The Fed started the recession by not meeting its core expectation.  Maintain the money supply to meet the needs of the economy.  Then a whole series of bad government action (initiated by the Hoover administration and continued by the Roosevelt administration) drove business into the ground.  The ONLY lesson they learned from this whole period is ‘inflation good, deflation bad’.  Which was the wrong lesson to learn. 

The proper lesson to learn was that when people interfere with market forces or try to replace the market decision-making mechanisms, they often decide wrong.  It was wrong for the Fed to contract the money supply (to stop speculators that weren’t there) when there was good economic growth.  And it was wrong to increase the cost of doing business (raising interest rates, increasing regulations, raising taxes, raising tariffs, restricting imports, etc.) during a recession.  The natural market forces wouldn’t have made those wrong decisions.  The government created the recession.  Then, when they tried to ‘fix’ the recession they created, they created the Great Depression.

World War I created an economic boom that we couldn’t sustain long after the war.  The farmers because their mechanization just grew too much stuff.  Our industrial sector because of bad government policy.  World War II fixed our broken economy.  We threw away most of that bad government policy and business roared to meet the demands of war-torn Europe.  But, once again, we could not sustain our post-war economy because of bad government policy.

THE ECONOMY ROARED in the 1950s.  World War II devastated the world’s economies.  We stood all but alone to fill the void.  This changed in the 1960s.  Unions became more powerful, demanding more of the pie.  This increased the cost of doing business.  This corresponded with the reemergence of those once war-torn economies.  Export markets not only shrunk, but domestic markets had new competition.  Government spending exploded.  Kennedy poured money into NASA to beat the Soviets to the moon.  The costs of the nuclear arms race grew.  Vietnam became more and more costly with no end in sight.  And LBJ created the biggest government entitlement programs since FDR created Social Security.  The size of government swelled, adding more workers to the government payroll.  They raised taxes.  But even high taxes could not prevent huge deficits.

JFK cut taxes and the economy grew.  It was able to sustain his spending.  LBJ increased taxes and the economy contracted.  There wasn’t a chance in hell the economy would support his spending.  Unwilling to cut spending and with taxes already high, the government started to print more money to pay its bills.  Much like Weimar Germany did in the 1920s (which ultimately resulted in hyperinflation).  Inflation heated up. 

Nixon would continue the process saying “we are all Keynesians now.”  Keynesian economics believed in Big Government managing the business cycle.  It puts all faith on the demand side of the equation.  Do everything to increase the disposable money people have so they can buy stuff, thus stimulating the economy.  But most of those things (wage and price controls, government subsidies, tariffs, import restrictions, regulation, etc.) typically had the opposite effect on the supply side of the equation.  The job producing side.  Those policies increased the cost of doing business.  So businesses didn’t grow.  Higher costs and lower sales pushed them into recession.  This increased unemployment.  Which, of course, reduces tax receipts.  Falling ever shorter from meeting its costs via taxes, it printed more money.  This further stoked the fires of inflation.

When Nixon took office, the dollar was the world’s reserve currency and convertible into gold.  But our monetary policy was making the dollar weak.  As they depreciated the dollar, the cost of gold in dollars soared.  Nations were buying ‘cheap’ dollars and converting them into gold at much higher market exchange rate.  Gold was flying out of the country.  To stop the gold flight, Nixon suspended the convertibility of the dollar. 

Inflation soared.  As did interest rates.  Ford did nothing to address the core problem.  During the next presidential campaign, Carter asked the nation if they were better off than they were 4 years ago.  They weren’t.  Carter won.  By that time we had double digit inflation and interest rates.  The Carter presidency was identified by malaise and stagflation (inflation AND recession at the same time).  We measured our economic woes by the misery index (the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate).  Big Government spending was smothering the nation.  And Jimmy Carter did not address that problem.  He, too, was a Keynesian. 

During the 1980 presidential election, Reagan asked the American people if they were better off now than they were 4 years ago.  The answer was, again, ‘no’.  Reagan won the election.  He was not a Keynesian.  He cut taxes like Harding and JFK did.  He learned the proper lesson from the Great Depression.  And he didn’t repeat any of their (Hoover and FDR) mistakes.  The recession did not turn into depression.  The economy recovered.  And soared once again.

MONETARY POLICY IS crucial to a healthy and growing economy.  Businesses need to borrow to grow and create jobs.  However, monetary policy is not the be-all and end-all of economic growth.  Anti-business government policies will NOT make a business expand and add jobs no matter how cheap money is to borrow.  Three bursts of economic activity in the 20th century followed tax-cuts/deregulation (the Harding, JFK and Reagan administrations).  Tax increases/new regulation killed economic growth (the Hoover/FDR and LBJ/Nixon/Ford/Carter administrations).  Good monetary policies complimented the former.  Some of the worst monetary policies accompanied the latter.  This is historical record.  Some would do well to learn it.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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