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The Part-Time Critics of Central Banks

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07/14/2017Mark Spitznagel

There seems to be no shortage today of investors and pundits criticizing the market interventions of the world’s central banks. Monetary stimulus in the form of artificially low interest rates and bloated central bank balance sheets ($18.5 trillion, to be exact), the argument goes, have created another dangerous financial bubble (evidenced by ubiquitously bubbly stock market valuation ratios) that ultimately threatens the financial system yet again. The author shares wholeheartedly in this criticism.

The ethical problem is, where were these voices when this all started, with Greenspan in the 1990s and, more specifically, with Bernanke in 2008? The central bank critics today who were not critics of — and in most cases were even sympathetic to — the great bailouts and stimulus that started almost a decade ago have reserved their criticisms only for those interventions that appear to hurt their interests, as opposed to those that have helped them. After all, no one would disagree that bailouts and monetary stimulus got us out of the last financial crisis, but they also certainly got us to where we are today, vulnerable to another even bigger one.

We are so concerned about our friend the strung-out junkie, though we paid little mind when they were but a casual user. It is so easy to care when problems become obvious and critical, so hard when they are subtler and nascent. Artificial stimulus in an economy is the same: it is easily ignored as a problem in its infancy, but it always develops into a huge problem. Economies and markets are structurally altered and distorted by such stimulus, such that it cannot be removed without breaking those new structures. It must rather be ever increased, though even this will only delay an inevitable collapse.

It is just too easy in today’s investing environment, and even necessary for most participants, to sympathize with and even exploit central bank interventions. Doing otherwise creates an opportunity cost in one’s career and investments. But doing so puts one in the position of enabler to the economic system’s self-destructive dependence on artificial stimulus. One cannot be a part-time classical liberal, criticizing central planning only when it runs contrary to one’s interests. Indeed, this is the very problem of Socialism: there are winners and losers; the winners are in the here and now — the seen; the losers are in the future — the unseen. The winners don't complain, and the losers can‘t until it is too late.

But as the future becomes the here and now, the unseen becomes the seen, those who now think they are anticipating a problem and its cause, yet supported that same cause when they stood to benefit, must be seen for what they are: fellow travelers in the central planning ideology that grips today’s financial markets. They are too late.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
Author:

Mark Spitznagel

Mark Spitznagel is Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Universa Investments. Spitznagel is also the author of 2021's Safe Haven: Investing for Financial Storms, which applies statistics to help readers understand cost-effective risk mitigation strategies in investing. His earlier 2013 book The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World applies the insights of Austrian economics and Chinese philosophy to explain capital as a temporal process rather than a static asset. In 2016 Mr. Spitznagel was a Senior Economic Advisor to Senator Rand Paul's presidential campaign.

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Federal Reserve
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