Posts tagged monetary policy
By Hunter Lewis
More High Stakes Appointments to the Federal Reserve
It will still be the Obama Fed long after this president has gone.
The Obama administration has repeatedly complained about Republican blocking tactics in the Senate. In this context, it is worth remembering that the Democrats blocked President’s Bush’s last three nominees to the Federal Reserve Board. The Democrats calculated that a member of their party might win the White House in 2008 and why not wait in the hopes that a Democrat could shape the Federal Reserve for a generation to come.
This bet paid off, in that the seven member board is now comprised entirely of Obama appointees. Moreover Fed member terms are for 14 years, so a president’s choices may influence monetary policy long after he has left office.
Does any of this matter? Yes, the Federal Reserve has more power over the economy than the president himself. But isn’t monetary policy a non-partisan affair? Surely Fed members don’t operate with R’s or D’s on their backs.
Actually the idea of appointing non-partisan Fed members is even more of a fairy tale than the similar idea of appointing non-partisan judges. No one doubts anymore that the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice is about politics. The illusion has persisted a little longer that we just need “good people” at the Fed, regardless of political and economic orientation, but illusion it is. As in the rest of politics, the Fed represents a battle between ideas and special interests.
The pretense of non-partisanship lasted longer at the Fed because until recently both Republicans and Democrats largely agreed about what they wanted from it. With the exception of Ronald Reagan, they were Keynesians who wanted more dollars printed and lower interest rates, because that was seen as the route to getting elected or re-elected, and why worry about the long run consequences, since as Keynes pointed out “in the long run we are all dead.”
This is now changing. Republicans succeeded in blocking Obama’s nomination of radical economist Peter Diamond to the Fed in 2011. After Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” of restricting the filibuster, Republicans could no longer repeat this performance. But 28 of them voted against Obama’s nomination of Janet Yellen to be the new Fed chairman. Only 11 of them voted to confirm: Flake (Ariz.); Kirk (Ill.); Corker (Tenn.); Coburn (Okla.); Collins (Maine); Coats (In.); Chambliss (Ga.); Burr (N.C.); Alexander (Tenn.); Ayotte (N.H.); and Murkowski (Alaska).
Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) exemplifies the confused Republican of today. He grasps that current monetary policy favors endless expansion of government control over the economy, with huge pay-offs to Wall Street and other special interests along the way, but falls for the circular argument that Fed members are “well qualified” precisely because they come from Keynesian university economics departments, government, or Wall Street.
In retrospect, there was something notable about George W. Bush’s last three appointees to the Fed board—the ones that were blocked by the Democrats. None of them had advanced degrees in economics. This was a throw-back to the old days when Fed appointees were rarely academic economists, but a sharp departure from current practice, when most are.
Respected financial writer Jim Grant jokes that today’s Fed has replaced the gold standard with the “Phd standard.” The problem, of course, is not Phds, but the economics departments they are coming from, and the lack of common sense in those departments. The Phd standard has given us the likes of the last Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, who bet the future of the US and indeed the world on a completely unproven and untested economic theory while literally smirking at those few unintimidated souls who, like Congressman Ron Paul, dared question him.
President Obama has now given us three more nominees to the Fed and the Senate has had a chance to interview them. The first and most important is Stanley Fischer, aged 70, nominee for vice chairman as well as a regular member.
The most curious thing about Fischer’s resume is that, having been born in Zambia, and naturalized as an American in 1976, he accepted Israeli citizenship in 2005 in order to become head of Israel’s central bank. Today he holds dual citizenship. Prior to living in Israel, he worked as a vice chairman of Citigroup from 2002-5, the years leading to the bank’s bail-out, and prior to that was deputy director of the International Monetary Fund, chief economist of the World Bank, and professor at MIT, where he taught Ben Bernanke among others. Somewhere along the way, he acquired a personal fortune of between $14 and $56mm.
We are thus to understand that President Obama, having searched the entire length and breadth of our land, could find nobody better than a 70 year old with Wall St. and International Monetary Fund baggage who had most recently worked for a foreign government.
The second nominee after Fischer is Lael Brainard, who has recently worked at the Treasury as an undersecretary. Ms. Brainard told senators that the Fed should protect “the savings of retirees.” She did not bother to explain how refusing to allow interest to be paid on savings, or seeking to foster inflation higher than interest would do so.
The final nominee, Jerome Powell, would be a reappointment. Although not a Phd economist and nominally a Republican from the George H. W. Bush administration, he fits the Obama mold in other ways, notably by being from Wall Street, and by being willing to keep quiet and go along. His most daring moment came when he called the Fed’s money creation machine under Bernanke and now under Janet Yellen “innovative and unconventional” and added that “likely benefits may be accompanied by costs and risks.” He has been a reliable vote for Bernanke and likely will be for the Yellen/Fischer regime as well.
Senator Corker waxed enthusiastic about this group of three, saying “I’m impressed,” and leading bond manager Mohamed El-Erian describes them as a “dream team” together with Yellen.
This does indeed seem to be a “dream team” for Wall Street, for corporations boosting profits to record levels with the help of government deficits, for other special interests feeding off the stimulus trough, and for government employees. For everyone else, it just promises more and eventually even worse economic misery.
Most recent book by Hunter Lewis:
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About Hunter Lewis
Hunter Lewis is co-founder of AgainstCronyCapitalism.org. He is co-founder and former CEO of global investment firm Cambridge Associates, LLC and author of 8 books on moral philosophy, psychology, and economics, including the widely acclaimed Are the Rich Necessary? (“Highly provocative and highly pleasurable.”—New York Times) He has contributed to the New York Times, the Times of London, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic Monthly, as well as numerous websites such as Breitbart.com, Forbes.com, Fox.com, and RealClearMarkets.com. His most recent books are Crony Capitalism in America: 2008–2012, Free Prices Now! Fixing the Economy by Abolishing the Fed, and Where Keynes Went Wrong: And Why Governments Keep Creating Inflation, Bubbles, and Busts. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen leading not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, and cultural and global development organizations, as well as the World Bank.
By Ron Paul
At the Fed, The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen testified before Congress for the first time since replacing Ben Bernanke at the beginning of the month. Her testimony confirmed what many of us suspected, that interventionist Keynesian policies at the Federal Reserve are well-entrenched and far from over. Mrs. Yellen practically bent over backwards to reassure Wall Street that the Fed would continue its accommodative monetary policy well into any new economic recovery. The same monetary policy that got us into this mess will remain in place until the next crisis hits.
Isn’t it amazing that the same people who failed to see the real estate bubble developing, the same people who were so confident about economic recovery that they were talking about “green shoots” five years ago, the same people who have presided over the continued destruction of the dollar’s purchasing power never suffer any repercussions for the failures they have caused? They treat the people of the United States as though we were pawns in a giant chess game, one in which they always win and we the people always lose. No matter how badly they fail, they always get a blank check to do more of the same.
It is about time that the power brokers in Washington paid attention to what the Austrian economists have been saying for decades. Our economic crises are caused by central bank infusions of easy money into the banking system. This easy money distorts the structure of production and results in malinvested resources, an allocation of resources into economic bubbles and away from sectors that actually serve consumers’ needs. The only true solution to these burst bubbles is to allow the malinvested resources to be liquidated and put to use in other areas. Yet the Federal Reserve’s solution has always been to pump more money and credit into the financial system in order to keep the boom period going, and Mrs. Yellen’s proposals are no exception.
Every time the Fed engages in this loose monetary policy, it just sows the seeds for the next crisis, making the next crash even worse. Look at charts of the federal funds rate to see how the Fed has had to lower interest rates further and longer with each successive crisis. From six percent, to three percent, to one percent, and now the Fed is at zero. Some Keynesian economists have even urged central banks to drop interest rates below zero, which would mean charging people to keep money in bank accounts.
Chairman Yellen understands how ludicrous negative interest rates are, and she said as much in her question and answer period last week. But that zero lower rate means the Fed has had to resort to unusual and extraordinary measures: quantitative easing. As a result, the Fed now sits on a balance sheet equivalent to nearly 25 percent of US GDP, and is committing to continuing to purchase tens of billions more dollars of assets each month.
When will this madness stop? Sound economic growth is based on savings and investment, deferring consumption today in order to consume more in the future. Everything the Fed is doing is exactly the opposite, engaging in short-sighted policies in an attempt to spur consumption today, which will lead to a depletion of capital, a crippling of the economy, and the impoverishment of future generations. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to our children and our grandchildren, to rein in the Federal Reserve and end once and for all its misguided and destructive monetary policy.
Okay Mr. President, you want to talk about “inequality”? Let’s talk about it.
I woke up this morning to Steve Liesman on CNBC explaining the theme of tonight’s State of the Union Address. You see, since 1980 middle class wages have only gone up only 50% in inflation adjusted terms whereas for the top 1% of earners income has gone up by 210%. Something clearly must be done. How can such a disparity be? This is unfair. Can’t the government “solve” this?
The new narrative which has likely been crafted by John Podesta super crony capitalist extraordinaire, is that Congress (specifically the Republican controlled House) isn’t letting the president address the issue of income inequality.
“It’s those old guys who don’t care about you who are holding back the manna from heaven aka Washington DC. It’s their fault not mine. I’m not incompetent and way out of my league even after 5 years in the White House. Not my fault. It’s the selfish and rich Republicans. They want you to remain poor.”
Rally the base when times are bad is the old political wisdom, and they are very bad for this president. Shore up the folks who will defend you no matter what and change the conversation from Obamacare. Anything but Obamacare.
Given that the ACA is Obama’s chief “achievement” to date this is a particularly sad state of affairs. The president’s “pivot” (the word is right up there with “optics” in my book) toward income inequality is a cynical political move. The White House is desperate to regain at least some momentum in the face of a 2013 which was one failure after another.
But since Mr. Obama seems keen on bringing it up, let’s talk about inequality.
Despite what the establishment #oldmedia always say, the increased income inequality that we see is not the result of the “rich” taking advantage of unfettered markets and then making a mint at the expense of everyone else. Capitalism, free markets, free thinking, entrepreneurship, innovation, is not the problem. Capitalism is in most respects the cure. No, the problem is that business and government have increasingly partnered with one another to make some very rich and to shut out others. It’s too little capitalism which is the problem.
Let’s take a look at the most obvious example, Wall Street.
Has Wall Street reaped the windfall it has over the past 5 years because of the free market, because of capitalism?
Absolutely not. Had the free market been allowed to work in 2008 Goldman Sachs, AIG, Citi, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley would probably be history. These banks leveraged themselves out too far and got caught exposed. Their greed did them in. Mr Market made a margin call and many “masters of the universe” turned out to have feet of clay after all. The banks should have been allowed to collapse so that better managed banks could fill in the space.
The banks weren’t too big to fail. They could have failed and life would have gone on. ATMs would have kept working. The sun would have still risen in the east. The economy after a period of adjustment would have righted itself and emerged much healthier for having jettisoned the poorly managed firms. Lloyd Blankfein would have been out of a job, but he’d have survived somehow in the Hamptons.
But that isn’t what happened as we know. The managers of these institutions knew how to manipulate the levers of power. They were able to engineer a massive bailout, which started at $700 billion and just grew from there. In the years after the bailout bonuses were paid out at the big banks with abandon. These bonuses were for the most part paid for by the American taxpayer. No wonder people are angry.
But the bailouts weren’t capitalism. The bonuses which were paid to Jamie Dimon and friends weren’t a result of “free markets.” They weren’t the just rewards of building a better mousetrap, or even building a better derivative algorithm. They were the result of crony capitalism, a soft form of fascism, which is of course a form of socialism. The bankers made millions because the state redistributed the income of everyday Americans and gave it to Wall Street.
Or take for example the sell off of the taxpayer’s (forced) position in GM at a loss last year. In addition to losing $10 billion on the deal for the taxpayers, the deal done by Treasury unleashes the executives which so long as money was still owed to the taxpayer couldn’t go nuts with executive compensation. Now, after the $10 billion taxpayer loss they and the GM board are free to do as they wish in the pay department.
Or what about the huge percentage of so called “green” energy initiative grants and loans which went to politically connected people in 2009. Folks made millions, in wind, solar, algae, and who knows what else, all again courtesy of the US tax payer. Almost none of the ventures were economically viable. But lots of people got paid that is for sure.
There are probably thousands of other examples over the last 10 years or so (and many more going back way before the past decade,) ranging from war profiteering of all sorts, to cronyism in the new healthcare law, to draconian copyright laws which are a subsidy to Hollywood, to, well, there are many other examples which we have chronicled at Against Crony Capitalism.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that there is so much income inequality. Business and government in this country have partnered up. Sometimes the government has the upper hand. Sometimes business does. But both parties engage in the crony capitalism waltz to enrich themselves, to the exclusion of a large part of the American population.
And at the heart of it all, is the Federal Reserve.
Nothing creates illegitimate inequality (there is legitimate income inequality which exists in a free price system) like the Federal Reserve.
0% interest rates are for the most part pretty good for rich people. Money which is super cheap can be used to speculate and invest at almost no cost. In theory such low rates are also good for home buyers. Low rates keep monthly payments lower. More people buying homes (with lower payments) spurs the economy and then the economy roars back to life as we all buy Sub Zero freezers and SUVs. This was the logic behind the housing boom in the mid 2000s and it is the same logic the Fed is using now (with less success.)
But 0% rates also means that savers are hung out to dry. The prudent middle class is hammered. Those who have a nice nest egg built up over a lifetime of hard work and thrift find that unless they take on significant risk there is no return for their money. $500,000 in a CD not so long ago yielded an yearly payout of $25,000. Now because of the Fed keeping money cheap artificially that same $500,000 might yield $5,000 on an annualized basis if one is lucky.
Over time granny finds that $5000 per year isn’t enough to get by on even though her house is paid off. She finds she must dip into her nest egg a little more each year, which also in turn lowers her already modest yield. Soon the nest egg is gone.
Of course she can always seek increased yield in other places like the stock market, (which though they won’t say it is exactly where the Fed wants granny to put her money) but widows and orphans really have no business there. It’s bad enough for granny to lose her pool of wealth over years. Losing much of it in an afternoon is tougher to take. But that is what our current monetary policy encourages.
Not so long ago granny could keep up. She could beat inflation and pay her living expenses. When she died her wealth was passed on to the next generation.
But now, thanks to the Fed and it’s policies which benefit the hedge fund guys instead of the average saver it is unlikely that much of granny’s wealth will be passed on. Wealth has been pulled from the middle class.
“Inequality” has been exacerbated by a government which is too large. The only way to get the economy on track is to lessen the footprint of government. Free prices. Free markets. Let people create. Make it easier to start businesses
But tonight Obama is unlikely to talk about how after years and years of failure government must now get out of the way. (Boy how great would that be?) Or how government sponsored public/private partnerships steal money from the average American. Or how the government enabled the biggest bonus binge Wall Street has ever seen. Or how granny is getting clobbered because of loose monetary policy.
No, my bet is that he will talk about how the economy has worked for the “rich” while others have fallen behind. But he won’t call for freer markets and an end to price fixing at the Federal Reserve. He will instead insist that government “do something.” What that something is I’m not sure but the term “shovel ready” will likely make an appearance tonight along with its old buddy “infrastructure improvement.”
The president will probably wag his finger at the House GOP a bit and threaten to use executive actions to go around them. He’ll try to look like he means business.
Obama will also talk about the need to raise the minimum wage, which is basically economic suicide but makes for good sound bites. He will give hope to people who are hurting but who unfortunately may not understand that if the minimum wage is raised they may soon be out of a job.
In short Obama will be long on proposals, long on rhetoric, but woefully short on understanding. Pretty much the to story of his presidency.
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About Nick Sorrentino
Nick Sorrentino is the co-founder and editor of AgainstCronyCapitalism.org. A political and communications consultant with clients across the political spectrum, he lives just outside of Washington DC where he can keep an eye on Leviathan.
By Peter Schiff
A Spoonful of Sugar
The press has framed Ben Bernanke’s valedictory press conference last week in heroic terms. It’s as if a veteran quarterback engineered a stunning come-from-behind drive in his final game, and graciously bowed out of the game with the ball sitting on the opponent’s one-yard line. In reality, Bernanke has merely completed a five-yard pass from his own end zone, and has left Janet Yellen to come off the bench down by three touchdowns, with no credible deep threats, and very little time left on the clock.
The praise heaped on Bernanke’s swan song stems from the Fed’s success in initiating the long-anticipated (and highly feared) tapering campaign without sparking widespread anxiety. So deftly did the outgoing chairman thread the needle that the market actually powered to fresh all-time highs on the news.
There can be little doubt that the Fed’s announcement was an achievement in rhetorical audacity. In essence, they told us that they would be tightening monetary policy by loosening monetary policy. Surprisingly, the markets swallowed it. I believe the Fed was forced into this exercise in rabbit-pulling because it understood far better than Wall Street cheerleaders that the economy, despite the soaring gains in stocks and real estate, remains dependent on continued stimulus. In my opinion, the seemingly positive economic signs of the past few months are simply the statistical signature of QE itself. Even Friday’s upward revision to third-quarter GDP resulted largely from gains in consumer spending on gasoline and medical bills. Another major driver was increased business inventories fueled perhaps by expectations that QE supplied cheap credit (and the wealth effect of rising asset prices) will continue to encourage consumer spending.
But to many observers, the increasingly optimistic economic headlines we have seen over recent months have not squared with the highly accommodative monetary policy, making the arguments in favor of continued QE untenable. Even taking the taper into account, the Fed is still pursuing a more stimulative policy than it had at the depths of any prior recession. As a result, as far as the headline-grabbing taper decision, the Fed’s hands were essentially tied. But they decided to coat this seemingly bitter pill in an extremely large dollop of honey.
More important than the taper “surprise” was the unusually dovish language that accompanied it. More than it has in any other prior communications, the Fed is now telling the markets that interest rates – its main monetary tool – will remain far more accommodative, for far longer, than anyone previously believed. Abandoning prior commitments to raise rates once unemployment had fallen below 6.5%, the new statement reads that the Fed will keep rates at zero until “well after” the unemployment rate has fallen below that level. No one really knows what the new target unemployment level is, and that is just the way the Fed wants it. On this score, the Fed has not simply moving the goalposts, but has completely dismantled them. With such amorphous language in place, they appear to be hoping that they will never have to face a day of reckoning. This is a similar strategy to that of the legislators on Capitol Hill who want to pretend that America will never have to pay down its debt.
At his press conference Bernanke went beyond the language in the statement by hinting that we should expect consistently paced, similarly sized reductions through much of the year, and that he expects that QE will be fully wound down by the end of 2014. The outgoing Chairman may be writing a check that his successor can’t cash. He also made statements about how monetary policy needs to compensate for “too tight” fiscal policy that is being delivered by the Administration and Capitol Hill. Does the chairman believe that $600 billion annual deficits are simply not enough… even with our supposedly robust recovery? By the time President Obama leaves office, the national debt may well have doubled in size, and he will have added more to the total of all of his predecessors from George Washington through the first five months of George W. Bush’s administration combined! How can Bernanke possibly say that our economic problems result from deficits being too small?
It’s easy to forget in the current euphoria that a majority of market watchers had predicted that the first taper announcement would be made by Janet Yellen in March of 2014. But perhaps with a nod toward his own posterity, Ben Bernanke may have been spurred to do something to restrain his Frankenstein creation before he finally left the lab. But no matter who pulled the trigger first, this initial $10 billion reduction in monthly purchases has convinced many that the QE program will soon become a thing of the past.
But without QE to support the markets, in my opinion, the US economy will likely slow significantly, and the stock and real estate markets will most likely turn sharply downward. [To understand why, pick up a copy of the just-released Collector's Edition of my illustrated intro to economics, How An Economy Grows And Why It Crashes.] If the economic data begins to disappoint, I believe that Janet Yellen, who is much more likely to be concerned with full employment than with price stability, will quickly reverse course and increase the size of the Fed’s monthly purchases. In fact, last week’s Fed statement was careful to avoid any commitments to additional tapering in the future, merely saying that further changes will be data dependent. This means that tapering could stall at $75 billion per month, or it could get smaller, or larger. In other words, Yellen’s hands could not be any freer. If the additional cuts never materialize as expected, look for the Fed to keep the markets convinced that the QE program is in its final chapters. These “Open Mouth Operations” will likely represent the primary tool in the Fed’s arsenal.
Despite the slight decrease in the pace of asset accumulation, I believe that the Fed’s balance sheet will continue to swell alarmingly. As the amount of bonds on their books surpasses the $4 trillion threshold, market watchers need to dispel illusions that the Fed will actually shrink its balance sheet, or even halt its growth. Already fears of such moves have pushed up yields on 10-year Treasuries to multi-year highs. Any actual tightening could push them significantly higher.
We have much higher leverage than what would be expected in a healthy economy, and as a result, the gains in stocks, bonds, and real estate are highly susceptible to rate spikes. If yields move much higher, I feel that the Fed will have to intervene to bring them back down. In other words, the Fed will find it much harder to exit QE than it was to enter.
In the meantime, the Fed’s open-ended commitment to keep rates at zero, despite the apparent recovery, should provide an important clue as to what is really happening. We simply have so much debt that zero is the most we can afford to pay. The problem, of course, is that the longer the Fed waits to raise rates, the more deeply indebted we become. As this mountain of debt grows larger, so too does our need for rates to remain at zero. So if our overly indebted economy cannot afford higher rates now, or in the next year or two, how could we possibly afford them in the future when our total debt-to-GDP may be much larger?
As he left the stage from his final press conference, Ben Bernanke should have left a giant bottle of aspirin on the podium for his successor Janet Yellen. She’s going to need it.
Peter Schiff is the CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, best-selling author and host of syndicated Peter Schiff Show.
After the Taper: The Fed’s Non-Plan Is Unchanged
As an economist, it is getting more difficult to understand the logic underlying current monetary policy in the U.S. There are two main channels by which economists think monetary policy can influence growth and employment. The first is to lower interest rates to spur investment and consumption spending. The second is to induce inflation so real wages drop, spurring output and employment.
Since 2008, the central bank has reduced interest rates to almost zero with little to show for it. You can bring a horse to water in a trough, pond, or lake, but you cannot make him drink. Most of the added liquidity has found its way into excess reserves. Banks are not lending because they have few creditworthy customers who want to borrow. The household sector is still deleveraging and has less appetite for more debt, and the business sector is careful about making future investments in a financial and economic environment on unstable footing. Businesses are keenly aware of the malinvestments never cleaned up after the last bubble and of the price distortions of current monetary policy. Why would businesses stick their necks out if they suspect a painful adjustment is around the corner?
Since the first channel has failed, only the second channel remains. Economists are generally in agreement, however, that there is no long-run trade-off between inflation and unemployment. The Keynesians and monetarists believe that there may be a short-run trade-off. If people have adaptive expectations, (based on the recent past) then monetary policy that creates inflation will reduce unemployment by lowering a worker’s real wages. Of course, once a worker realizes he has been fooled, he will demand an increase in nominal wages to bring his real wages back up to previous levels. The gain in employment is only temporary. If, instead, people base their expectations rationally and are not fooled, the neo-classical position, there is no short- or long-run trade-offs between inflation and unemployment.
In a capitalist economy, relative prices play a crucial role in sending information to producers about what society wants. When one price goes up and another goes down, these are signals that tell producers to make more of the first good and less of the second. It is a complex system of signals with price changes reflecting the urgency of the needs within the reality of the law of scarcity. The most important aspect of a price system is the information it conveys to guide production.
Inflation causes an “information extraction” problem. When all prices are going up by different degrees, it is very difficult for an entrepreneur to distinguish between a relative and an absolute price change. Is a rising price a reflection of greater demand or inflationary pressure? That is, does it reflect a society’s changing needs or simply reflects a changed measuring stick (i.e., the value of money)? The same information extraction problem holds true with the prices of resources and labor. We have different labor markets with a wage gradient established along the production process. The printing of money interferes with this wage gradient and the information it conveys about the right proportion of capital and consumption goods to produce. Overall employment may initially improve but the gain is not worth the cost from the adjustment that must occur once the printing stops.
Looking at historical evidence, inflation leads to higher, not lower, unemployment. This should not be surprising. Inflation is like a wrench thrown into the workings of a capitalist system.
If economists agree that there is no long-term trade-off between inflation and unemployment, and the current Fed strategy to lower interest rates has failed miserably to boost growth, then we must ask, why is the Fed, even after this week’s taper, in effect printing $75 billion a month? It’s likely the goal is to induce inflation for a short-term gain in employment. Things are no better if the Fed’s strategy is to raise asset prices to induce an imaginary wealth effect. Yet multiple bubbles may pop before any wealth effect takes place. The Fed should not be playing the economy as a stake in a poker game.
Through multiple bubbles, Alan Greenspan’s monetary policy was responsible for massive human suffering worldwide. Yet Greenspan is living high on the hog with a comfy government pension, spending his spare time penning op-ed articles and dispensing his expert advice on the lecture circuit. He informs us that he was only human and that no one saw the bubble coming. This is less than ingenuous. If you play with fire, and you burn down the forest, it is criminal to say “I did not realize that playing with matches was dangerous.” The sad situation is that we recently replaced him with even bigger arsonists!
One can be certain that interest rates will shoot up once inflation picks up. Since most of the U.S. debt is short term, it is going to be very difficult to inflate prices to reduce the real value of the debt. How will the U.S. government react if it has to refinance at interest rates of 12 percent or more, like in 1981? Yellen is no Volker; will she be able to tame the inflation beast as Volcker did? The independent German central bank was powerless to stop the German government from using the printing presses during 1921-23.
Napoleon and Hitler, both responsible for millions of deaths, rode to power on a wave of discontent that followed periods of excessive monetary printing. Why are we taking such risks?
About the Author
Frank Hollenbeck teaches finance and economics at the International University of Geneva. He has previously held positions as a Senior Economist at the State Department, Chief Economist at Caterpillar Overseas, and as an Associate Director of a Swiss private bank.
Image credit: https://mises.org
By Ron Paul
After 100 Years Of Failure, It’s Time To End The Fed!
A week from now, the Federal Reserve System will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding. Resulting from secret negotiations between bankers and politicians at Jekyll Island, the Fed’s creation established a banking cartel and a board of government overseers that has grown ever stronger through the years. One would think this anniversary would elicit some sort of public recognition of the Fed’s growth from a quasi-agent of the Treasury Department intended to provide an elastic currency, to a de facto independent institution that has taken complete control of the economy through its central monetary planning. But just like the Fed’s creation, its 100th anniversary may come and go with only a few passing mentions.
Like many other horrible and unconstitutional pieces of legislation, the bill which created the Fed, the Federal Reserve Act, was passed under great pressure on December 23, 1913, in the waning moments before Congress recessed for Christmas with many Members already absent from those final votes. This underhanded method of pressuring Congress with such a deadline to pass the Federal Reserve Act would provide a foreshadowing of the Fed’s insidious effects on the US economy—with actions performed without transparency.
Ostensibly formed with the goal of preventing financial crises such as the Panic of 1907, the Fed has become increasingly powerful over the years. Rather than preventing financial crises, however, the Fed has constantly caused new ones. Barely a few years after its inception, the Fed’s inflationary monetary policy to help fund World War I led to the Depression of 1920. After the economy bounced back from that episode, a further injection of easy money and credit by the Fed led to the Roaring Twenties and to the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in American history.
But even though the Fed continued to make the same mistakes over and over again, no one in Washington ever questioned the wisdom of having a central bank. Instead, after each episode the Fed was given more and more power over the economy. Even though the Fed had brought about the stagflation of the 1970s, Congress decided to formally task the Federal Reserve in 1978 with maintaining full employment and stable prices, combined with constantly adding horrendously harmful regulations. Talk about putting the inmates in charge of the asylum!
Now we are reaping the noxious effects of a century of loose monetary policy, as our economy remains mired in mediocrity and utterly dependent on a stream of easy money from the central bank. A century ago, politicians failed to understand that the financial panics of the 19th century were caused by collusion between government and the banking sector. The government’s growing monopoly on money creation, high barriers to entry into banking to protect politically favored incumbents, and favored treatment for government debt combined to create a rickety, panic-prone banking system. Had legislators known then what we know now, we could hope that they never would have established the Federal Reserve System.
Today, however, we do know better. We know that the Federal Reserve continues to strengthen the collusion between banks and politicians. We know that the Fed’s inflationary monetary policy continues to reap profits for Wall Street while impoverishing Main Street. And we know that the current monetary regime is teetering on a precipice. One hundred years is long enough. End the Fed.
By Ron Paul
Federal Reserve Steals From the Poor and Gives to the Rich
Last Thursday the Senate Banking Committee held hearings on Janet Yellen’s nomination as Federal Reserve Board Chairman. As expected, Ms. Yellen indicated that she would continue the Fed’s “quantitative easing” (QE) polices, despite QE’s failure to improve the economy. Coincidentally, two days before the Yellen hearings, Andrew Huszar, an ex-Fed official, publicly apologized to the American people for his role in QE. Mr. Huszar called QE “the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time.”
As recently as five years ago, it would have been unheard of for a Wall Street insider and former Fed official to speak so bluntly about how the Fed acts as a reverse Robin Hood. But a quick glance at the latest unemployment numbers shows that QE is not benefiting the average American. It is increasingly obvious that the Fed’s post-2008 policies of bailouts, money printing, and bond buying benefited the big banks and the politically-connected investment firms. QE is such a blatant example of crony capitalism that it makes Solyndra look like a shining example of a pure free market!
It would be a mistake to think that QE is the first time the Fed’s policies have benefited the well-to-do at the expense of the average American. The Fed’s polices have always benefited crony capitalists and big spending politicians at the expense of the average American.
By manipulating the money supply and the interest rate, Federal Reserve polices create inflation and thereby erode the value of the currency. Since the Federal Reserve opened its doors one hundred years ago, the dollar has lost over 95 percent of its purchasing power —that’s right, today you need $23.70 to buy what one dollar bought in 1913!
As pointed out by the economists of the Austrian School, the creation of new money does not impact everyone equally. The well-connected benefit from inflation, as they receive the newly-created money first, before general price increases have spread through the economy. It is obvious, then, that middle- and working-class Americans are hardest hit by the rising level of prices.
Congress also benefits from the devaluation of the currency, as it allows them to increase welfare- and warfare-spending without directly taxing the people. Instead, the increase is only felt via the hidden “inflation tax.” I have often said that the inflation tax is one of the worst taxes because it is hidden and because it is regressive. Of course, there is a limit to how long the Fed can facilitate big government spending without causing an economic crisis.
Far from promoting a sound economy for all, the Federal Reserve is the main cause of the boom-and-bust economy, as well as the leading facilitator of big government and crony capitalism. Fortunately, in recent years more Americans have become aware of how the Fed is impacting their lives. These Americans have joined efforts to educate their fellow citizens on the dangers of the Federal Reserve and have joined efforts to bring transparency to the Federal Reserve by passing the Audit the Fed bill.
Auditing the Fed is an excellent first step toward restoring a monetary policy that works for the benefit of the American people, not the special interests. Another important step is to repeal legal tender laws that restrict the ability of the people to use the currency of their choice. This would allow Americans to protect themselves from the effects of the Fed’s polices. Auditing and ending the Fed, and allowing Americans to use the currency of their choice, must be a priority for anyone serious about restoring peace, prosperity, and liberty.
A simplified explanation of the US monetary system
A good review and explanation of the monetary system, by way of video, that should be easy to understand and be shared. I first saw this posted by Nick on againstcronycapitalism.org and finally had a chance to watch the video. Why all the “End the Fed” rallies?, this may explain. The video below was published by whygoldandsilver.
The best, simplest, explanation of the US monetary system (debt, currency, money, taxes, what’s really going on) that I’ve ever seen. An important video.
Many people are mystified by the kids at the Ron Paul rallies screaming “End the Fed!”
They ask themselves, “Why should we end the Federal Reserve? The Fed helps maintain economic stability right? Every country has to have a central bank. These “End the Fed” kids are nothing but “Paulbots.” The people on CNBC and Bloomberg tell me that the Fed acts in my best interest. I think the people on Bloomberg and CNBC ought to know what’s right for me and my money. Harry Reid is right. Those hard money people and kids at the Ron Paul speeches are nothing but a bunch of anarchists!”
But the main reason many people feel this way is because they fundamentally don’t understand what the “End the Fed” people are really saying and why they are saying it.
Monetary policy, QE, bond buying, bond issuance, taxes, the Treasury, fractional reserve banking, interest rates, the money supply, all seem maddeningly opaque. Most people just give up. If they try to understand what’s going on at all. And this is understandable. Monetary policy is a challenging subject. But it is not cosmological physics.
If only someone were to explain things in an understandable, straightforward way.
Well you’re in luck.
The below video does an excellent job of explaining the bulk of American monetary policy in simple terms. The graphics and language used are clear and easily understood. Jargon is kept to a minimum.
Invest 1/2 hour in the video. You will see how and why the Federal Reserve is at the very heart of our current crony capitalist economy. It will be well worth your time.
Peter Schiff Exposes Media Lies About Janet Yellen
This is a must-see video. Watch through the last 10 minutes where Schiff shows clips from 2006 where he was ridiculed for being 100% correct.
Published by Peter Schiff
The Schiff Report (10/18/2013)
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By Tyler Durden
A Warning About The Dangers Of Central Planning And Moral Hazard By… Ben Bernanke
… Well, not today’s Ben Bernanke of course – a far more honest version of the current Fed Chairman, one speaking before the New York Chapter of the National Association for Business Economics, on October 15, 2002.
I worry about the effects on the long-run stability and efficiency of our financial system if the Fed attempts to substitute its judgments for those of the market.
So do we Ben.
But wait, there’s more – here is the Chairman warning about not only moral hazard but also real estate bubbles:
[A] possible indicator of bubbles cited by some authors is the rapid growth of credit, particularly bank credit. Some of the observed correlation may reflect simply the tendency of both credit and asset prices to rise during economic booms. However, to the extent that credit expansion is indicative of bubbles, I think that empirical linkage points to a better policy approach than attempts at bubble-popping by the central bank. During recent decades, unsustainable increases in asset prices have been associated on a number of occasions with botched financial liberalization, in both emerging-market and industrialized countries. The typical pattern is that lending institutions are given substantially expanded powers that are not matched by a commensurate increase in regulatory supervision (think of the savings and loans in the United States in the 1980s). A situation develops in which institutions can directly or indirectly take speculative positions using funds protected by the deposit insurance safety net–the classic “heads I win, tails you lose” situation. When this moral hazard is present, credit flows rapidly into inelastically supplied assets, such as real estate.
Image credit: http://www.zerohedge.com