The Counter-Productive Monetary Policy of the Fed

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Sowing Inflation, Reaping Deflation

Courtesy of Antal E Fekete @ New Austrian.org

New Austrian School of Economics

Introduction

Typically, bond speculators carry on interest arbitrage along the entire yield curve. They sell the short maturity and buy the long, hoping to capture the difference between the higher long rate and the lower short rate of interest (borrowing short and lending long). This arbitrage is not risk-free per se as it has the effect of flattening the yield curve. As a result the normal yield curve could get inverted unexpectedly, that is, turned upside down, making the rising curve into a falling one while turning the speculators’ profit into a loss.

However, as a direct result of the policy of open market operations (introduced clandestinely and illegally in 1922 through the conspiracy of the US Treasury and the Fed, long before the practice was legalized ex post facto in 1935) interest arbitrage was made risk-free. Astute bond speculators could thereafter pre-empt Fed action profitably. It never fails. Speculators know that sooner or later the Fed will have go to the bill market to buy in order to boost the money supply. They will buy beforehand. On rare occasions the Fed would be a seller. Then speculators, perhaps acting on inside information, will sell beforehand. This copycat action is an inexhaustible source of risk-free profits. Thanks to the Fed’s open market purchases speculators are assured that they will always be able to dump the bonds at a profit which they have bought pre-emptively. The more aggressively the Fed persists in its effort to increase the monetary base, the greater the bond speculators’ profits will be.

Absolute bad faith Continue reading

Heirs to Rockefeller Oil Fortune Divest from Fossil Fuels over Climate Change

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Courtesy of Suzanne Goldberg @ The Guardian:

The heirs to the fabled Rockefeller oil fortune withdrew their funds from fossil fuel investments on Monday, lending a symbolic boost to a $50bn divestment campaign ahead of a United Nations summit on climate change.

The former vice-president, Al Gore, will present the divestment commitments to world leaders, making the case that investments in oil and coal have an uncertain future.

With Monday’s announcement, more than 800 global investors – including foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers, religious groups, healthcare organisations, cities and universities – have pledged to withdraw a total of $50bn from fossil fuel investments over the next five years.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund controls about $860m in assets, said Beth Dorsey, the chief executive of the Wallace Global Fund and the Divest-Invest movement, which has led the divestment campaign. About 7% are invested in fossil fuels.

But the Rockefellers’ decision to cut their ties with oil lends the divestment campaign huge symbolic importance because of their family history. The divestment move also helps bring a campaign launched by scrappy activists on college campuses into the financial mainstream.

But for oil, there may not have been a Rockefeller fortune. John and William Rockefeller were the co-founders of the Standard Oil Company, which at the time operated the world’s biggest refineries, and overtime spawned Exxon, Amoco and Chevron.

Now, after a year of deliberations, the descendants of those original Rockefellers had decided the time had come to move away from oil. Continue reading

Economic Aspects of the Pension Problem – Part 2

Appears Sixty Years Later

Part Two: Productivity Theory of Interest Revisited

Antal E. Fekete

In Part One I discussed the clear and present danger to pension rights: deflation as manifested by the interest rates structure that has been falling for thirty years, while most observers think that the real danger is inflation. In this second part I carry out a deeper analysis of the pension problem, looking at the marginal productivity of labor and capital and its relevance to the theory of interest.

Courtesy of Professor Fekete @ Professor Fekete.com:

Higher marginal productivity: boon or bane?

There is a lot of loose talk about productivity. Paul Krugman is expecting miracles to start happening after an increase in a mythical productivity, provided that government spending is increased to the level matching or exceeding that during World War II.

However, as Mises pointed out, productivity is a vacuous concept unless its meaning is fixed, such as that of marginal productivity of labor. Then, and only then, can one state the pension problem. According to Mises, the only means to increase permanently the wages and benefits payable to workers is to increase the per capita quota of capital invested in the methods of production, thereby raising the marginal productivity of labor. (See References, Planning for Freedom, p 6.) This is certainly true so far as it goes. It is also true that, if we project this observation to the world at large, then we can conclude that in order to have a progressive world economy and receding poverty, global capital accumulation must accelerate relative to increase in population. The greater the quantity and the better the quality of tools, the greater will be the output of the marginal worker, that is, the greater will be the marginal productivity of labor.

In reading Mises one may get the impression that an increase in marginal productivity is always beneficial to society ― as indeed it would have been under the conditions he envisaged. However, in the case of a monetary system that admits both large swings and prolonged slides in interest rates, this is no longer true. If the matter were simply increasing marginal productivity, monetary policy would be a valid means of “turning the stone into bread”. All it would take is central bank action to keep raising the rate of interest indefinitely. This would force the marginal producer whose capital produces at the marginal rate of productivity to fold tent. His marginal equipment and plants would be idled. His workers producing, as they are, at the marginal rate of productivity of labor would be laid off. Marginal productivity would increase. Indeed, the marginal productivity of both capital and labor automatically rises as a consequence of a rise in the rate of interest. However, in this case the rise in productivity, far from being a boon, is a bane to society, as it makes output and employment shrink. The trick is precisely to make marginal productivity rise along with rising output and employment.

Gold standard: a safeguard against deflation

Continue reading

Economic Aspects of the Pension Problem – Part 1

As It Appears Sixty Years Later

Part One: Euthanasia of the Pension Funds

Antal E. Fekete

Sixty years ago. in 1950, Ludwig von Mises published an article with the above title. He pointed to inflation as the greatest threat to pension rights. Today an additional threat is looming large on the horizon: the threat of deflation, and a new examination of the pension problem is timely.

Courtesy of Antal E. Fekete @ ProfessorFekete.com:

Deliberate Dollar Debasement

In 1950 Mises looked at the pension problem from the point of view of the shrinking purchasing power of the dollar, a consequence of what he called the deliberate policy of currency debasement by the U.S. government. In 1950 a pension of $100 per month was a substantial allowance, he noted. Shelter could be rented for a month for less than $30 in most parts of the country. (In 2010, $100 hardly buys one night’s stay at a decent hotel.) In 1950 the Welfare Commissioner of the City of New York reported that 52 cents would buy all the food a person needed to meet his daily caloric and protein requirements. (In 2010, $100 barely buys a cup of coffee and a muffin for every day of the month.)

Of course, currency debasement does far more damage than simply eroding the purchasing power of pensions. As Mises observed, it also leads to the insufficiency of capital accumulation. Companies report phantom profits that mask losses, since depreciation quotas understate the wear and tear of productive equipment. Savings are hardly adequate to pay for capital maintenance, let alone new capital or technological improvements in production — the only source from which pensions to an increasing labor force can be paid. When young workers who now join the labor force are ready to retire, the necessary funds to pay their pensions will simply not be available.

Capital destruction due to declining interest rates

I have written extensively about the proposition, one that mainstream economists doggedly refuse to discuss, that a falling interest-rate structure has a deleterious effect on accumulated capital. Capital is destroyed across the board simultaneously and stealthily. By the time the damage is discovered, it is too late to do anything about it and firms go bankrupt in droves. The falling trend of interest rates is the unrecognized cause of the depression that is presently devastating the world economy — just as it also was 80 years ago. Nowhere is the erosion of capital caused by falling interest rates is more obvious than in the case of the capital of the pension funds. They must earn adequate return on their investments, but a falling rate of interest frustrates this effort. At the lower rate the original schedule of capital accumulation cannot be met. Continue reading

Debt, Propaganda And Now Deflation

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Dorothea Lange Negro woman who has never been out of Mississippi July 1936

Courtesy of Raul Ilargi Meijer @ The Automatic Earth blog:

Looks I have to return to the deflation topic. I’m a bit hesitant about it, because the discussion always gets distorted by varying definitions and a whole bunch of semi-religious issues. The Automatic Earth has for many years said that an immense bout of deflation is inevitable because of global debt levels, and it’s all only gotten a lot worse since we first said that. Our governments and central banks have ‘fought’ deflation with more debt, and that was always the stupidest idea in human history. Or at least, most of us were stupid for believing it would work, or was even intended to.

Just so we don’t get into yet more confusion, i probably need to explain that the debt deflation we’re talking about here is not some subdivision like consumer inflation or price inflation or cookie inflation, those are just hollow and meaningless terms. Debt deflation is deflation caused by too much debt, and the deleveraging it must and will lead to. Deflation does not equal falling prices, those are merely an effect of it.

The reason this matters is that when you equate inflation and deflation with rising or falling prices, you’re not going to be able to know when you actually have deflation. Because prices can rise for all sorts of reasons. Inflation/deflation is the money/credit supply in an economy multiplied by the speed at which money is spent in that economy, the velocity of money.

It should be obvious that prices for some items can still rise, certainly initially, when deflation sets in. Producers that see less sales can try to raise prices for their remaining buyers. Basic necessities will always be needed. Governments can raise taxes. Rising/falling prices tell us only part of the story, and with a considerable time delay.

Ergo: rising/falling prices are a lagging factor, and if you look at them only, you will have missed the point where deflation has set in. What follows, obviously, is that you can’t measure deflation by looking at consumer prices (CPI) or production prices (PPI) numbers. You’d be way behind the curve. CPI and PPI tell you something, but they don’t tell what causes falling or rising prices. And that is a valuable thing to know. Continue reading

ECB launches bold measures including negative interest rate to boost eurozone

We are entering what is commonly termed the ‘batshit insane’ phase in European monetary policy, negative interest rates, though there is plenty more to come. This means that the bank charges you to hold cash held on deposit, encouraging you to spend instead of saving, keeping the Ponzi schemes going and to fight off deflation. If this is the case, it’s the perfect reason to buy gold and silver.

Looking at bond rates within ECB countries over the past 200 years or so, we are cruising through batshitinsaneville but no one really cares or understands, expect puppies and balloons when this all comes to fruition.

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Courtesy of The Guardian:

The European Central Bank unveiled an unprecedented package of measures on Thursday in a dramatic attempt to inject life into the eurozone’s flagging economy and ward off a damaging deflationary spiral.

In a historic first for the troubled region, the ECB boss, Mario Draghi, and his colleagues on the governing council cut the deposit rate for the region’s commercial banks to -0.1% from zero. Continue reading

The Deflation Nobody Understands

Courtesy of Peter van Coppenolle @ NASOE:

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(But they will experience it first hand)

Professor Fekete has been studying and teaching the gold standard for over 40 years now. Unlike most ‘pundits’ Fekete has held a seat at the Winnipeg Commodities Exchange in order to study the gold market from every angle possible. And studying he has done so relentlessly since immigrating to Canada in 1957. He has used all his powers to educate people about gold. Part of that effort was to groom a ‘hard core’ which now, 2013, constitutes the faculty at the New Austrian School of Economics. Over the years we at the faculty have experienced the rewards that only educators can testify to: the joy when other people finally see some light. And sometimes we encounter detractors too. They are an amusing lot, put there for our entertainment, no doubt.

Professor Fekete, dissatisfied with the body of knowledge on economics, has been a writer and above all a supreme philosopher of economics. Ever since 1957, he has amassed so much old and new knowledge, that we at the faculty of NASoE have quipped that ‘if you want to understand nothing at all about the gold standard, you will have to read B. Goldwater.’ We know that is one offensive statement. But we also stand by our own insights, research and above all methodology, which is a Mengerian disequilibrium approach. Using a good compass does make a difference. The world collectively knows that traditional ‘economics science’ is (expletive) dismal, which is stronger than just ‘dismal’. It has reached the stage were this economic discipline’s own academics are mudslinging each other or hubristically refer to themselves as invincible. (E.g. Krugtron the Invincible, a neoplasm born from a bad ’80 movie.) Or in the Austrian camp, the same old boom and bust line is repeated, yet zero research has taken place, until now, either to correct for some untenable assumptions in the Austrian Business Cycle or to advance knowledge on some other aspect of credit collapse. Nor do they bother to dismiss the Quantity Theory of Money, according to which the more money is brought into circulation, the higher prices will go. “More money chasing fewer goods”, etc..

The question described in the title is the one people least understand. Perhaps I am too harsh. People who never attended or never listened to standard economics, have no problems assimilating my message. It becomes harder to grasp for those afflicted with the idea that inflation and deflation are mutually exclusive. They are not, puzzled looks and hurled insults notwithstanding. The term “hyper-deflation” was never coined nor did such a state ever occur in history and it full scope is unknown as yet. But using Mengerian disequilibrium and Aristotelian logic, I can paint the general idea.

Professor Fekete never subscribed to what he called the Quantity Theory of Money. It suffices to point to the very fact that it is possible to have a shortage of money simultaneously with the overworking of the printing presses. The reason why the QTM fails is that money is not one-dimensional. It is in fact two-dimensional. Quantity is one, and the velocity of circulation is the other dimension. Central banks control the quantity of production and the market firmly controls the circulation speed. Continue reading