Power & Market
September marked a decade since the bursting of the housing bubble, which was followed by the stock market meltdown and the government bailout of the big banks and Wall Street. Last week’s frantic stock market sell-off indicates the failure to learn the lesson of 2008 makes another meltdown inevitable.
In 2001-2002 the Federal Reserve responded to the economic downturn caused by the bursting of the technology bubble by pumping money into the economy. This new money ended up in the housing market. This was because the so-called conservative Bush administration, like the “liberal” Clinton administration before it, was using the Community Reinvestment Act and government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make mortgages available to anyone who wanted one — regardless of income or credit history.
Banks and other lenders eagerly embraced this “ownership society”’ agenda with a “lend first, ask questions when foreclosing” policy. The result was the growth of subprime mortgages, the rush to invest in housing, and millions of Americans finding themselves in homes they could not afford.
When the housing bubble burst, the government should have let the downturn run its course in order to correct the malinvestments made during the phony, Fed-created boom. This may have caused some short-term pain, but it would have ensured the recovery would be based on a solid foundation rather than a bubble of fiat currency.
Of course Congress did exactly the opposite, bailing out Wall Street and the big banks. The Federal Reserve cut interest rates to historic lows and embarked on a desperate attempt to inflate the economy via QE 1, 2, and 3.
Low interest rates and quantitative easing have left the Fed with a dilemma. In order to avoid a return to 1970s-era inflation — or worse, it must raise interest rates and draw down its balance sheet. However, raising rates too much risks popping what financial writer Graham Summers calls the “everything bubble.”
Today credit card debt is over a trillion dollars, student loan debt is at 1.5 trillion dollars, there is a bubble in auto loans, and there is even a new housing bubble. But the biggest part of the everything bubble is the government bubble. Federal debt is over 21 trillion dollars and expanding by tens of thousands of dollars per second.
The Fed is unlikely to significantly raise interest rates because doing so would cause large increases in federal government debt interest payments. Instead, the Fed will continue making small Increases while moving slowly to unwind its balance sheet, hoping to gradually return to a “normal” monetary policy without bursting the “everything bubble.”
The Fed will be unsuccessful in keeping the everything bubble from exploding. When the bubble bursts, America will experience an economic crisis much greater than the 2008 meltdown or the Great Depression.
This crisis is rooted in the failure to learn the lessons of 2008 and of every other recession since the Fed’s creation: A secretive central bank should not be allowed to manipulate interest rates and distort economic signals regarding market conditions. Such action leads to malinvestment and an explosion of individual, business, and government debt. This may cause a temporary boom, but the boom soon will be followed by a bust. The only way this cycle can be broken without a major crisis is for Congress both to restore people’s right to use the currency of their choice and to audit and then end the Fed.
Democratic socialists in America are trying to introduce their ideology as something new, when in fact, they are only retreading old-fashioned ideas that history has already disproven. They are ideas that have led to the economic devastation of every country in which they have been implemented.
Having seen the effects of this ideology on our home communities in Venezuela, we feel compelled to warn Americans that if they allow socialism to spread in the United States — as it has done in Venezuela — they will condemn their country to a future of misery.
We know that young people, sometimes, grow enamored with utopian ideals. The movements that cater to them are often labeled as many different movements, whether “social democrats,” “ social Christians ,” or “progressives.” These movements work hard to address their speeches and campaigns to the youth.
There’s nothing new about this. Even Friedrich Hayek admitted he believed once in this system as a young man, noting “Socialism promised to fulfill our hopes for a more rational, more just world… we have been looking for improvement in the wrong direction.”
Now young Americans are hearing and believing in promises similar to what Venezuelans did in the 50’s, and well into the period of Chavismo, that began in 1998 . The promises include “free healthcare,” “free education,” “a right to a job,” “free housing,” “gun control,” and, of course, that old-fashioned socialist motto “a state that works for you” (which really means, “ supports you”)
It is evident that a new generation of politicians want to be elected on this basis, and they have found a way to win by mobilizing people who agree with their ideas. So, they will continue promoting a climate of confrontation and division because they have no interest in convincing others who do not already think like them.
As with Hugo Chávez in his moment , this new generation of American politicians has the support of almost all mainstream media, some economic elite, and the academic world. They have been invited to appear on many of the most important TV shows, which gives them an excellent platform and increase their media presence, and generally they are treated with a soft and delicate indulgence. While other politicians have to fight for open their own spaces in the media and handle rude and non-friendly interviewers, these socialism-friendly politicians have had everything, as we say in Venezuela “served on a silver platter.” It is a true that second-hand dealers of ideas still do their work, as Hayek stated.
Finally, Americans have to be sure of something. The devastation that comes with a socialist political victory will not occur immediately. In our country, 40 years of progressive eradication of our economic freedom — before the Chavismo — were needed to reverse the great economic success of the “Economic Miracle” we enjoyed from 1950 to 1958. The problem is that the groundwork of this movement in the United States is sowing the seeds of a cultural and educational change — as was done from 1958 to 1998 in Venezuela. It won’t happen immediately, but eventually, the idea of getting something for nothing could come to dominate and in that moment — as is currently in Venezuela — it will be almost impossible to recover the freedom through a democratic system. At that point, it would become necessary replicate the Singapore experience.
Just in time for midterms, Facebook has removed 559 pages and 251 accounts they claim have been spreading misinformation and spam. Several of the pages however - some with millions of followers, were pro-Trump conservatives who had spent years cultivating their followings.
Caitlin Johnstone explains a bit more:
Facebook has purged more dissident political media pages today, this time under the pretense of protecting its users from “inauthentic activity”. In a statement co-authored by Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Nathaniel Gleicher (who also happens to be the former White House National Security Council Director of Cybersecurity Policy), the massive social media platform explained that it has removed “559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
This “inauthentic behavior”, according to Facebook, consists of using “sensational political content — regardless of its political slant — to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites,” which is the same as saying they write about controversial things, and posting those political articles “in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites.”
In other words, the pages were removed for publishing controversial political content and trying to get people to read it. Not for writing “fake news”, but for doing what they could to get legitimate indie media news stories viewed by people who might want to view it. The practice of sharing your material around in Facebook groups is common practice for most independent media content creators; I did it myself a lot in late 2016 and early 2017, and pretty much all my indie media peers at the time did too.
Among the sites banned are government accountability sites, as explained by Radley Balko:
As part of its purge, Facebook has removed the pages of several police accountability/watchdog/critic groups, including Cop Block, the Free Thought Project, and Police the Police. They've also apparently severely restricted activity for the Photography Is Not a Crime page.
The purge has clearly been coordinated between both Facebook and Twitter, which have banned many of the same sites at the same time.
Notable this time, however, many of the sites being banned are left-wing sites devoted to anti-war causes, or in calling the government out on abuses of power. In this purge and in previous purges, however, many of the banned sites, whether right or left have one thing in common: they are anti-establishment.
So, media outlets that call for the mass murder or Yemenis or Syrians or Iranians, or which look the other way as domestic agencies violate the civil rights of Americans, will be perfectly find. But if you draw attention to these abuses of power? Then, it's "propaganda" and must be banned.
It's impossible to predict who the next purge will target, but now is a good time to remind everyone that the best way to ensure you receive mises.org's content every day is to sign up for our daily email. Simply click on the "subscribe" button on the main page.
As we've noted here in the past, the Federal reserve in recent months has begun publishing its " Underlying Inflation Gauge " which takes into account a broader measure of inflation than the more-often used CPI measure.
When we say "inflation" in this context, of course, we mean price inflation, and not money-supply inflation. And it may prove to be a useful measure when comparing if we wish to compare price-inflation growth to wage or income growth.
After all, if incomes and wages aren't keeping up with price growth, then it may be that the cost of living is outpacing incomes — and thus real incomes are going down.
One simple way of looking at this is simply to compare growth rates in price-inflation measures against average hourly earnings.
Using the BLS's measure of " Average Hourly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Employees " we can compare the year-over-year growth in earnings to the year-over-year growth in the CPI and the UIG:
In this case, we see that earnings in recent months have tended to outpace the CPI, but have not outpaced the UIG measure.
In fact, in the last 24 months, the CPI has outpaced earnings growth in only 5 months out of the 24. Thus, by t his measure, at least, it looks like real wages are growing.
However, if we compare earnings growth to the UIG measure, we find that price inflation as measured by the UIG has outpaced earnings growth in 16 out of the last 24 months.
Indeed, since 2011, the UIG has either been equal to or higher than earnings growth nearly half the time (in 42 out of 89 months).
In this graph, any time the green line is below zero, that's a month in which UIG price inflation was higher than earnings growth:
Using this measure, we could conclude that earnings aren't keeping up with price inflation a significant share of the time. Naturally, if wages aren't keeping up with inflation, this would point to declining real wages.
Most of the time, however, we adjust income and wage data to the CPI only — and in that case, incomes tends to grow faster than price inflation more often.
In the last two years, we've finally begun to see income and wage growth climb above the old 2007-2008 peak levels. But that's using CPI numbers. Wage growth may not stack up nearly as well if other, broader measures of price inflation are used.
According to the Federal Reserve's Underlying Inflation Gauge, the 12-month inflation growth in June (the most recent month reported) was at 3.33 percent. That's the highest rate recorded in 158 months, or more than 13 years. The last time the UIG measure was as high was in April 2005, when it was at 3.36 percent.
The Fed began publicly reporting on new measure in December of last year, and takes into account a broader measure of inflation than the more-often used CPI measure.
Not shockingly, the UIG has shown a higher rate of inflation than the CPI, most of the time in recent years, although this gap has narrowed in recent months.
For both CPI and UIG, the general trend has been upward since 2014. The UIG, however, stands out because it shows a sizable amount of price inflation compared to the recent past. the CPI growth rate, for example, remains below where it was in 2011, while we must go all the way back to 2004 to find a UIG growth rate comparable to what we're seeing now.
Moreover, the UIG holds promise as a better indicator of an approaching recession. For example, we know that the economy was already softening in 2006 and into 2007 before the last financial crisis. And yet the CPI shows continued and sizable growth right up until late 2008 even though the Great Recession had started in late 2007 — at least according to the NBER. The UIG, however, shows weakening prices before both of the two most recent recessions.
The most recent UIG data, however, is fairly old — being June data — so it remains to be seen if there is any sign, by this measure, of a weakening economy in late 2018.
Tom Woods joined Matt Welch of Reason TV for a wide ranging interview with topics including his transformation from a pro-war Republican to a passionately anti-war libertarian, the impact of Ron Paul on the liberty movement, and politics in the age of Donald Trump.
This week the Trump administration announced it will giving a major gift to American corn farmers by expanding the sale of ethanol in the US.
Trump, a vocal supporter of corn ethanol, will order EPA to allow year-round sales of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol content, an increase over the 10 percent blends that are sold at most gas stations around the nation. The sale of the blends, known as "E15," is currently prohibited during the summer months in several states because of Clean Air Act restrictions, and corn growers have long sought to expand sales of the higher concentrations.
"This is a big deal," said Jeff Navin, a Democratic former aide to ex-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and former chief of staff in the Obama administration's Energy Department. "It's not something that makes a front page of East and West Coast newspapers, but it's something that farmers watch closely. I’m sure the political team and elected officials in Iowa told [Trump] he has to do something to staunch bleeding."
The “bleeding” in this case is the hit the farm industry has taken as a result of Trump’s trade policies. While last week’s agreements with Mexico and Canada offered Trump “winning” headlines, the changes to NAFTA will do little to offset the hit farmers have taken as a result of the administration's antagonistic approach to China and other foreign markets. The timing, a month away from mid-terms, is likely not a coincidence as Trump seeks to bolster his standing with one of his key bases of support in 2016.
Though the legality of the EPA’s waiver is likely to be challenged by Big Oil, this move is a major victory for ethanol special interest groups. As Emily Skor, the CEO of a prominent ethanol trade association, boasted after the announcement:
We’re very excited to hear the president’s upcoming announcement. He knows farmers are hurting and they want action on E15 in time for the next summer driving season. Year-round sales of E15 nationwide could deliver demand for two billion bushels of American corn and help restore growth in rural communities.
Unfortunately this win for farmers is another example of how the public are the ones that inevitably pay the cost for Trump’s trade battles.
First of all, ethanol never made much sense as a form of fuel. It’s “success” was a direct result of political subsidies – in no small part aided by Iowa’s coveted position as the first presidential contest every four years. For years the industry was reliant upon tax credits that made the price of ethanol profitable. Even though those tax credits were finally allowed to expire in 2012, ethanol has continued to be propped up due to the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standards. As the name suggests, the Bush-era policy is a mandate that fuel sold in the United States much contain a certain percentage of “renewable fuel.” In the words of Aaron Smith of AEI, “Removing the tax credit but keeping the RFS is like scraping a little frosting from the ethanol-boondoggle cake.”
The result has been government-driven demand for corn-based ethanol. The consequences of this policy include rising food prices, as it not only directly drives up the price of corn but also incentivizes farmers to grow corn at the expense of other crops.
As Randy Holcombe tried to calculate the costs for tax payers in a 2015 Mises Wire article:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says in 2011 the total value of the corn crop was $63.9 billion, and that there were 400,000 corn farms in the United States. Because the price of corn has doubled due to the mandate, half of that revenue, or $31.95 billion, is a transfer from consumers to corn farmers in the form of higher prices.
Dividing that $31.95 billion cost among 319 million Americans, the cost to each American from the ethanol mandate is just about $100 a year. That includes not only the price of ethanol, but the higher price of corn in all its other uses.
That $31.95 billion is shared among the 400,000 corn farmers, so the average benefit to each farmer is $79,875.
Of course, there is another downside to government ethanol mandates – it’s not particularly good for automobiles.
The reason the ethanol content of mainstream “gas” has so far been limited to 10 percent is because higher ethanol content will damage engines (and fuel storage/delivery systems) not specifically designed to handle it. The stuff accelerates rusting of gas tanks and fuel lines and can damage rubber seals and gaskets not designed to withstand it – the latter potentially leading to fuel leaks and fires....
Very few cars of any vintage – including most new/recent-model cars – are designed to handle “gas” that is more than 10 percent ethanol. Owners of these vehicles are specifically warned not to use “gas” with more than 10 percent ethanol unless specifically told it’s okay. Advised that using more than E10 if not specifically okay’d will void the warranty and leave them holding the bag for any damage done to the engine and related components, such as the fuel tank, fuel pump and fuel lines.
So here we have a great illustration of the heavy hand of government at work:
- Government hurts farmers by increasing the cost of doing business overseas.
- Government creates a new government policy to help farmers.
- Costs of the policy are passed on to consumers, with the added collateral damage of hurting our cars.
“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Last week the United States, Mexico, and Canada agreed to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with a new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Sadly, instead of replacing NAFTA’s managed trade with true free trade, the new USMCA expands government’s control over trade.
For example, under the USMCA’s “rules of origin,” at least 75 percent of a car’s parts must be from the US, Canada, or Mexico in order to avoid tariffs. This is protectionism designed to raise prices of cars using materials from outside North America.
The USMCA also requires that 40 to 45 percent of an automobile’s content be made by workers earning at least 16 dollars per hour. Like all government-set wages, this requirement will increase prices and decrease employment.
The USMCA also requires Mexico to pass legislation recognizing the “right of collective bargaining.” In other words, this so-called free trade agreement forces Mexico to import US-style compulsory unionism. If the Mexican legislature does not comply, the US and Canada will impose tariffs on Mexican goods.
The USMCA also requires the three countries to abide by the International Labour Organization (ILO) standards for worker rights. So, if, for example, the bureaucrats at the ILO declared that Right to Work laws violate “international labor standards”’ because they weaken collective bargaining and give Right to Work states an unfair advantage over compulsory unionism states and countries, the federal government may have to nullify all state Right to Work laws.
The USMCA also obligates the three countries to work together to improve air quality. This sounds harmless but could be used as a backdoor way to impose costly new regulations and taxes, such as a cap-and-trade scheme, on America.
This agreement also forbids the use of currency devaluation as a means of attempting to gain a competitive advantage in international trade. Enforcement of this provision will be difficult if not impossible, as no central bank will ever admit it is devaluing currency to obtain a competitive advantage in international trade. Of course, given that the very act of creating money lowers its value, the only way to stop central banks from devaluing currency is to put them out of business. Sadly, I don’t think the drafters of the USMCA seek to restore free-market money.
The currency provision will likely be used to justify coordination of monetary policy between the Federal Reserve and the Mexican and Canadian central banks. This will lead to region-wide inflation and a global currency war as the US pressures Mexico and Canada to help the Fed counter other countries’ alleged currency manipulation and challenges to the dollar’s reserve currency status.
A true free trade deal would simply reduce or eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers. It would not dictate wages and labor standards, or require inter-governmental cooperation on environmental standards and monetary policy. A true free trade deal also would not, as the USMCA does, list acceptable names for types of cheeses.
Those of us who support real free trade must not let supporters of the USMCA get away with claiming the USMCA has anything to do with free trade. We must also fight the forces of protectionism that are threatening to start a destructive trade war. Also, we must work to stop the government from trying to control our economic activities through regulations, taxes, and (most importantly) control of the currency through central banking and legal tender laws.
“In the long run we are all dead.”
This famous retort of the most influential economist of the twentieth century, John Maynard Keynes, was meant as a rebuttal to the views of the classical or free market economists. The entire quote reads:
But the long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again. [A Tract on Monetary Reform, p. 80]
Unfortunately, most rejoinders to this quote from Keynes have focused on the value of long-term thinking in economic analysis, when in fact; the issue is just as surely the nature of the analogy itself. And since most casual readers of Keynes’s quote will be taken with the clever and telling point regarding the thought of economists, it has persuasive power.
But if we are to stop would-be Keynesian propagandists from scoring points with the phrase we must reveal the sleight of hand concealed therein. The nature of this sleight of hand is to take an event occurring in nature, a storm, and treating a depression as if it, too, were an equally and randomly occurring event of nature.
So, while a storm may be a natural occurrence, this is not the case with an economic depression. A depression is caused by intervention into the economy in the form of monetary expansion — hence the boom preceding the bust. With this kept closely in mind we can rephrase Keynes’ quote using an act of human shortsightedness that will render Keynes’ cleverness the thinking of fools:
Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in the case of an extensive drinking binge they can only tell us that once the alcohol’s effect is long past the drinker will feel better again.
It becomes very evident why Keynes chose his particular example for ridiculing long-run thinking economists. By rendering the depression as analogous to a storm at sea, Keynes has taken all focus off the act — artificially increasing the money supply and thus lowering interest rates so that malinvestments accumulate — leading up to the consequences of that act, and thus is relieved of any analysis of the activity which would result in an economic depression.
The Royal Academy made a clear political statement with this year's Nobel Prize in economics. Coming a day after the United Nations panel on climate change issued its dire warning on climate change, this award attempts to emphasize the long term impact of climate change on the economy and economic growth. In Mr. Nordhaus case, he emphasizes how climate change has a significant economic cost. In Mr. Romer's case, he emphasizes how government-stimulated research and technology can be used to address issues such as climate change while enhancing economic growth. They both believe government policy is the key.
The problem here is what we know and what we do not know. What we know is that the climate has always been changing billions of years before humans ever showed up. We know that the climate is changing and that it will continue to change. What we don't know much about is what causes the various changes, what the direction of change is, and whether that change will be good or bad for humans and the economy. We certainly do not know how to control the climate and some our futile efforts, such as electric cars and carbon taxes, have little conceivable impact on climate change and are costly. With President Trump relaxing environmental regulations and pulling out of the Paris Accord on Climate Change, this year's award should be viewed as anti-Trump statement by the Academy.