Posts Tagged ‘Great Depression’

Globalization: Spreading the Wealth (of Mistakes)

Monday, November 10th, 2008

What would the U.S. be doing now if the rest of the world wasn’t infected by our credit collapse?

Probably a good imitation of an old fashioned emerging market collapse, which is a good imitation of a fire in an over-crowded roller skating arena, just after the concession has spilled a vat of popcorn machine butter in front of the only unblocked exit.

Right now the U.S. economy is getting an odd, two pronged support from the export of the credit crisis– demand for dollars from foreigners struggling to support and pay down dollar denominated debt, plus foreign central banks throwing up their hands and cutting interest rates, narrowing the differential with U.S. rates.  (I recently saw business analysts debate whether the Bank of England would cut a half point or three-quarters of a point– they cut one and a half points.)

If not for the remnants of the dollar’s reserve currency status, the credit collapse in the U.S. would have much more of that emerging market bubble flavor (possibly without the imitation butter)– among the primary features, a crashing currency and soaring interest rates.

The circulation of the credit collapse has to seem pretty sickening overseas, but the apparent high dollar, low interest boon for the U.S. is in fact a slow motion tragedy.  Our leaders are grabbing the wrong signals with desperate enthusiasm, trying to recover the past and oblivious to the future.

As bailout and stimulus trial balloons expand absurdly, but with little or no reaction yet from the U.S. dollar and interest rates, a new level of hubris sets in.  Astoundingly (or perhaps typically, it’s hard to choose), most politicians and market players are again getting trapped by a perception of limitless American government power.

Charts of the U.S. monetary base at this point basically show a line going straight up– disinflationary head winds better not let up for a second, or we’ll need Zimbabwean advisors at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

On the subject of U.S. interest rates, Michael Pento from Delta Global Advisors says, “One of the major ramifications of having our national debt move above the $10 trillion mark is that the sustainability of the government, consumer spending and the economy rests on the continuation of artificially low interest rates. In fact, low rates that are the result of money printing have become our addiction… it is only because interest rates are at record lows that the debt service is still manageable.”  Pento doesn’t believe this can last.

The temporary artificial strength from U.S. dollars and bonds means that these key yardsticks are being misread by our leaders.  There should be huge storms smashing these markets every time there’s a prominent discussion of another hundred billion of stimulus or bailout– dramatic signals that even politicians and Wall Street bankers could understand. Instead, by the standards of the times, these markets remain placid.

If American politicians were giving any consideration to what could happen if foreigners turn away from the U.S. dollar, they couldn’t possibly contemplate any more “stimulus” or bailout packages.  The mind set of American leaders is that of complacently snooty parents; the U.S. dollar their sheltered spoiled brat who’s about to launch into real world competition brimful of bratty misplaced confidence.

Sometime soon there won’t be enough economic actors able to suspend disbelief at the mismatch between the fatuous talk of ever expanding bailouts and stimulus plans, and the reality of destroyed real capital and already unmanageable (to say the least) debt.  We’re looking at another pop, and as scary as a stock market collapse or even a credit collapse can be, a currency collapse can be worse.

Politicians have been saying that “of course” the current economic crisis is not analogous to America’s Great Depression.  I think that secretly most now believe that this crisis is like the Great Depression, but they’re actually taking a kind of comfort from it– to many of them, the New Deal is familiar ground.

Certainly if we’re talking about its expansionary credit causes, this crisis is indeed analogous to the Great Depression.

While there are some ways in which this situation is better thus far than the Great Depression (not exactly a point of pride), there’s at least one potentially scary difference.  The New Deal programs that didn’t work the first time when government was smaller, “only” causing an unprecedented “double dip”, will not work when tried the second time, but with our enormous indebted government, will gift us a black box launcher of waves of venomous black swans (a weapon that the Pentagon may have actually been working on, but it looks like other Feds are working overtime with the mixed economy to beat them to it).

If a black box launcher of waves of venomous black swans sounds worse than a double dip, it may well be (depending on the venom of the swans).  A possible next salvo is a crack in the dollar or a spike in interest rates.  Only the box and the swans know for sure.

By Les Lafave

Banking Reform – themaestrosrep.org

The Federal Reserve’s Mistake(s)

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Recently there was a segment on CNBC Squawk Box with Peter Schiff (Euro-Pacific Capital) and Brian Wesbury (First Trust Advisors).

It was set up as a debate, though the two agreed on much about the causes of the U.S. economy’s problems. But while Wesbury says that the Federal Reserve “made a mistake” six years ago with interest rates that were too low, Schiff says that we’ve had Fed problems pretty much forever.

The Fed “made a mistake”. Wesbury’s phrase is the one I’m afraid to hear– the phrase that tends to pop up like a scared meerkat when there’s even a precursur thought for a question that could tap on central banking’s fortress:

“Hello? What if…”

“They made a mistake, o.k.? Anyone can make a mistake. Or rather, only Ben Bernanke can make a mistake, but now neither he nor anyone else can make one again, because we’ve learned so many lessons– millions of lessons in fact, since each of us has our own version of the lesson we’ve learned and the mistake we’ll never make again.”

“Hello?… Loose tight loose tight loose loose?”

“Shut up! It was a mistake!!”

The good news is, if we made that one mistake, all we have to do is not make it again. The bad news is that believing the good news is exactly why we may never plunge a wooden stake through this delusion. The Fed is an archetype for our desire to believe we can manipulate the world to have it all, skipping right past any helpless feelings or tough choices to tomorrow’s best sounding best case scenario.

With budget deficits including Social Security and Medicare running at four trillion dollars annually while political debate is about how much more to add to government obligations (should it be only a lot, or really, really a lot?), how likely is it that any central banker could ride a horse grown that big and not “make a mistake”?

In the unlikely event that some sunny day politicians can resist stretching the central piggy bank until “mistakes” are inevitably made, it would be an astonishing accomplishment that wouldn’t matter, because Austrian Business Cycle Theory malinvestment is waiting in the wings anyway. It seems more likely that ABCT is correct, rather than the assumed but never quite explained Fed Mistake Cycle Theory, where every time something blows up it actually would have been perfect if it wasn’t for another darn mistake showing up just when we didn’t need it the most.

Chairman Bernanke himself talked about “the mistake” that the Fed made to set off the Great Depression, a mistake he said we’d learned from and would never repeat. Now Bernanke’s becoming Mr. Made-A-Mistake in the eyes of many. That irony in itself seems like an indicator that in this system the mistakes are built in, and if a mistake has your name on it, don’t bother to run, it’ll find you.

By Les Lafave

Abolish The Federal Reserve – themaestrosrep.org