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The Fed Passes the Buck: Blame Oil and China – Article by C. Jay Engel

The Fed Passes the Buck: Blame Oil and China – Article by C. Jay Engel

The New Renaissance HatC. Jay Engel

There are a handful of themes out there on recent market action that are either totally wrong or otherwise highly misleading. For instance, regarding the recent calamity in the capital markets, one especially apparent dichotomy has presented itself as offering two choices as to what, exactly, is causing the painful turbulence.

There are some who, in a complete echo of the news headlines, are quick to point the finger at both oil and China. And yet there are others who point the finger at the Fed for “raising rates too early.” Along with the second is the observation that “inflation is totally MIA” and therefore it was ludicrous that the Fed felt the need to “raise interest rates.” Both of these tend to express anguish over the “strong dollar.”

Both of these miss the entire point, and the cause of the current trouble. For one thing, it is ridiculous to blame oil for the falling markets when the falling oil is the very thing that needs to be explained. It is wholly unsatisfactory to explain something by describing it. It works well for headlines, and for shifting the blame away from where it really belongs, but one must learn to look deeper. One cannot expect to impress anyone by explaining that the plane is crashing to the ground because it is no longer flying. What is the cause of oil’s magnificent plummet toward the bottom? That is the true question.

Moreover, the problem with the “China thesis” is that it doesn’t explain anything either. It merely observes a correlation in the markets and therefore makes it highly convenient to put the blame on “the other guys.” Let me not be misunderstood here: the Chinese and US economies are certainly influenced by each other, especially in our age of fluctuating fiat currencies. But ultimately, both China and the US — indeed the entire world — are being dragged down by past actions of their respective central banks and more specifically the illusion of prosperity via monetary and credit expansion.

Which leads to the second theme: putting the blame on the Fed for “raising rates” too early. That is, there are a good many who argue that if the Fed had never announced in December that it was going to seek minuscule increases in the Federal Funds rate, none of the recent market drops would have happened. They will say things like “inflation was never a threat, so the Fed was irresponsible to raise rates.”

Money-Supply Inflation vs. Price “Inflation”
This is confused. First, it must be constantly emphasized that the meaning of inflation, contrary to the mainstream’s application of it, is more appropriately defined an increase in the money supply, not “rising prices.” The reason why the Fed and proponents of central banking prefer the “rising prices” definition is because it obscures the chief source of our present economic condition. It rips the blame away from the Fed and toward all kinds of other “market forces” and therefore encourages the central bank to swoop in to the rescue rather than be the object of severe suspicion. Indeed, as Mises observed (page 420 of Human Action):

What many people today call inflation or deflation is no longer the great increase or decrease in the supply of money, but its inexorable consequences, the general tendency toward a rise or a fall in commodity prices and wage rates. This innovation is by no means harmless. It plays an important role in fomenting the popular tendencies toward inflationism.

First of all there is no longer any term available to signify what inflation used to signify. It is impossible to fight a policy which you cannot name. …

The second mischief is that those engaged in futile and hopeless attempts to fight the inevitable consequences of inflation — the rise in prices — are disguising their endeavors as a fight against inflation. While merely fighting symptoms, they pretend to fight the root causes of the evil. Because they do not comprehend the causal relation between the increase in the quantity of money on the one hand and the rise in prices on the other, they practicalIy make things worse.

Rising prices can be a result of inflation, but it is not itself inflation. So then, inflation was actually very high in the last decade due to the Fed’s QE and other monetary policy schemes. Second, it should never be ignored that “rising prices” can easily be found in the capital markets themselves. It doesn’t take an investment guru to observe the staggering levels to which the various market indexes have reached. Digging only a little bit farther into the surface reveals the absurd prices for the so-called highest valued stock such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and so on.

Where All That Money Went
More importantly, however, is the fact that much of the newly created money has not even come close to creating “widespread [consumer price] inflation” due to the actual structure of the current, post-crises banking regime. In fact, Jeffrey Snider, among others, have argued that it is literally impossible for “price inflation” to take place as a direct result of QE due to the way that money currently enters the system as reserves. “Price inflation” would need to come from the actions of individual banks themselves who are at present cautious about their consumer lending practices. Therefore the Fed is not creating “price inflation,” but something far worse: capital misallocation.

The point here is simply that those who want the interest rates to be continually suppressed so that economic activity will be encouraged, don’t even realize that this is literally the cause of bubble creations, not productive economic activity.

It used to be, under the pre-crises fractional-reserve model, that there would be loads of malinvestment as a result of banks creating new loans (new economic activity would take place, and then collapse back down). But now, money is created, not by commercial banks, but mostly by the Fed itself. Which means that, in the phraseology of David Stockman, the new money is simply sloshing around the canyons of Wall Street and pushing up equity and bond prices, rather than reaching the “real economy.”

The Bubble Only Prolongs the Problem
Thus, contrary to those blaming the Fed for causing stocks to fall by “raising rates” (which Joe Salerno reflects on here) we want to stress the fact that, in raising rates, the most that the Fed could do is unravel previously made mistakes. In other words, there is nothing praiseworthy in the first place about artificially propped up stock market levels. We have no interest in lauding the longevity of the bubble, because the bubble is the enemy of the healthy economy. The collapsing equity markets reveal where bubbles were formed and that our alleged prosperity is an illusion. And this is precisely what former Dallas Fed Chairman Richard Fisher stated in a conversation on CNBC last week when he confessed: “We frontloaded a tremendous market rally to create a wealth effect.”

And thus, the money expansion must inevitably cycle back down. Fisher himself admits: “… and an uncomfortable digestive period is likely now.” What was inflated up to the top, must deflate down to the floor. That is the only way for an economy to recover: bad credit needs to be liquidated. Unfortunately, it is painful indeed.

That is the true cause of the recent calamity. The dollar is “strengthening” by virtue of our credit system cracking at the seams. In other words, the so-called “strong dollar,” is merely one side of the pendulum swing of a volatile collapsing banking system. It shouldn’t be assumed that the dollar is becoming more sound; it is not. But if we might ever again have a sound currency, we first have to face the music.

And thus oil too, after years of being elevated up toward the heavens via the Fed’s monetary shenanigans, is experiencing its own inevitable bust. The illusion is being exposed.

Unfortunately, the Fed is a wild card, so we stay tuned to whether it will let the markets recover, or continue the perpetual cycle of money creation. My own advice for the Fed is neither to “raise rates” nor to lower them. But rather, to let go and let the market correct itself. For we have a lot of correction ahead of us.

C. Jay Engel is an investment advisor at The Sullivan Group, an independent, Austrian-School oriented, wealth management firm in northern California. He is especially interested in wealth preservation in lieu of our era of rogue Central Banking. He is an avid reader of the Austro-libertarian literature and a dedicated proponent of private property and sound money. Feel free to email C. Jay, visit his blog, and follow him on Twitter.

This article was published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Is the Auto-Loan Bubble Ready to Pop? – Article by Tommy Behnke

Is the Auto-Loan Bubble Ready to Pop? – Article by Tommy Behnke

The New Renaissance HatTommy Behnke

On Tuesday, it was announced that over seventeen million new vehicles were sold in 2015, the highest it’s ever been in United States history.

While the media claims that this record has been reached because of drastic improvements to the US economy, they are once again failing to account for the central factor: credit expansion.

When interest rates are kept artificially low, individuals are misled into spending more than they otherwise would. In hindsight, they discover that their judgment errors wreaked havoc on their financial well-being.

This is a lesson that the country should have learned from the Subprime Crisis of 2008. Excessive credit creation led too many individuals to buy homes, build homes, and invest in the housing industry. This surge in artificial demand temporarily spiked prices, resulting in over four million foreclosed homes and the killing of over nine million US jobs.

Instead of learning from the mistakes that sent shock waves throughout most of the planet, the Federal Reserve has continued with its expansionist policies. Since 2009, the money supply has increased by four trillion, while the federal funds rate has remained at or near zero percent. Consequently, the housing bubble has been replaced with several other bubbles, including one in the automotive industry.

Automotive companies have taken advantage of the cheap borrowing costs, increasing vehicle production by over 100 percent since 2009:

Behnke 1_0Source: OICA

In order to generate more vehicle purchases, these companies have incentivized consumers with hot, hard-to-resist offers, similar to the infamous “liar loans” and “no-money down” loans of the 2008 recession. Dealerships have increased spending on sales incentives by 14 percent since last year alone, and the banners in their shops now proudly proclaim their acceptance of any and all loan applications — “No Credit. Bad Credit. All Credit. 100 Percent Approval.” As a result, auto loans have increased by nearly $80 billion since 2009, many of which have been given to individuals with far-from-stellar credit scores. Today, almost 20 percent of all auto loans are given to individuals with credit scores below 620:

Behnke 2.pngSource: New York Fed

Not only are more auto loans being originated, but they are also increasing in duration. The average loan term is now sixty-seven months (that’s 5.58 years) for new cars and sixty-two (that’s 5.16 years) months for used cars. Both are record numbers.

Average transaction prices for new and used cars are also at their record highs. Used car prices have increased by nearly 25 percent since 2009, while new car prices have increased by over 15 percent. Part of this has to do with the increasing demand for cars generated by the upsurge in auto loans. The main reason, however, is that consumers — taking advantage of the accessibility of cheap credit — are purchasing more expensive body styles. This follows the housing bubble trend, when the median size of a newly built single-family home rose to 2,272 square feet at the start of 2007.

We all know the end result of the Great Recession — prices soared, millions of houses were foreclosed, and unemployment surged. Demand for homes then plummeted, and home prices ultimately dropped by 20 percent each month.

The auto bubble has yet to burst, but its negative effects are already starting to gradually appear. For one, delinquencies on car loans have increased by nearly 120 percent, from just over 1 percent in 2010 to 2.62 percent in 2014. Since cars rapidly depreciate in value, this number is projected to spike. By the time these six, seven, and eight year no-money down loans are due to be paid in full, many of these vehicles won’t be worth paying off anymore — maintenance and loan costs will start exceeding the value of the cars.

According to the Center for Responsible Lending, one in every six title-loan borrowers is already facing repossession fees. If defaults sharply increase in the coming years as projected, the market will become flooded with used cars, and their prices will, with near certainty, fall to a significant degree.

At a time when labor force participation is at its lowest level since 1977 — at a time when real wages are rising less than they have since at least the 1980s — it is imperative that the Federal Reserve stop misleading individuals into making irrational investments. The economy is simply too frail to continue weathering these endless business cycles. Economists, politicians, and the general populace need to start learning from their economic history so they can begin recognizing that favoring debt over thrift isn’t beneficial to the country’s financial well-being. Failure to do so will simply lead to more bubbles, more malinvestment, and more economic headaches in the years to come.

Tommy Behnke is an economics major and Mises University alumnus.

This article was published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Why Capitalists Are Repeatedly “Fooled” By Business Cycles – Article by Frank Shostak

Why Capitalists Are Repeatedly “Fooled” By Business Cycles – Article by Frank Shostak

The New Renaissance Hat
Frank Shostak

According to the Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT) the artificial lowering of interest rates by the central bank leads to a misallocation of resources because businesses undertake various capital projects that — prior to the lowering of interest rates —weren’t considered as viable. This misallocation of resources is commonly described as an economic boom.

As a rule, businessmen discover their error once the central bank — which was instrumental in the artificial lowering of interest rates — reverses its stance, which in turn brings to a halt capital expansion and an ensuing economic bust.

From the ABCT one can infer that the artificial lowering of interest rates sets a trap for businessmen by luring them into unsustainable business activities that are only exposed once the central bank tightens its interest-rate stance.

Critics of the ABCT maintain that there is no reason why businessmen should fall prey again and again to an artificial lowering of interest rates.

Businessmen are likely to learn from experience, the critics argue, and not fall into the trap produced by an artificial lowering of interest rates.

Correct expectations will undo or neutralize the whole process of the boom-bust cycle that is set in motion by the artificial lowering of interest rates.

Hence, it is held, the ABCT is not a serious contender in the explanation of modern business cycle phenomena. According to a prominent critic of the ABCT, Gordon Tullock,

One would think that business people might be misled in the first couple of runs of the Rothbard cycle and not anticipate that the low interest rate will later be raised. That they would continue to be unable to figure this out, however, seems unlikely. Normally, Rothbard and other Austrians argue that entrepreneurs are well informed and make correct judgments. At the very least, one would assume that a well-informed businessperson interested in important matters concerned with the business would read Mises and Rothbard and, hence, anticipate the government action.

Even Mises himself had conceded that it is possible that some time in the future businessmen will stop responding to loose monetary policy thereby preventing the setting in motion of the boom-bust cycle. In his reply to Lachmann (Economica, August 1943) Mises wrote,

It may be that businessmen will in the future react to credit expansion in another manner than they did in the past. It may be that they will avoid using for an expansion of their operations the easy money available, because they will keep in mind the inevitable end of the boom. Some signs forebode such a change. But it is too early to make a positive statement.

Do Expectations Matter?
According to the critics then, if businessmen were to anticipate that the artificial lowering of interest rates is likely to be followed some time in the future by a tighter interest-rate stance, their conduct in response to this anticipation will neutralize the occurrence of the boom-bust cycle phenomenon. But is it true that businessmen are likely to act on correct expectations as critics are suggesting?

Furthermore, the key to business cycles is not just businessmen’s conduct but also the conduct of consumers in response to the artificial lowering of interest rates — after all, businessmen adjust their activities in accordance with expected consumer demand. So on this ground one could generalize and suggest that correct expectations by people in an economy should prevent the boom-bust cycle phenomenon. But would it?

For instance, if an individual John, as a result of a loose central bank stance, could lower his interest rate payment on his mortgage why would he refuse to do that even if he knows that a lower interest rate leads to boom-bust cycles?

As an individual the only concern John has is his own well-being. By paying less interest on his existent debt John’s means have now expanded. He can now afford various ends that previously he couldn’t undertake.

As a result of the central bank’s easy stance the demand for John’s goods and services and other mortgage holders has risen. (Again it must be realized that all this couldn’t have taken place without the support from the central bank, which accommodates the lower interest-rate stance.)

Now, the job of a businessman is to cater to consumers’ future requirements. So whenever he observes a lowering in interest rates he knows that this most likely will provide a boost to the demand for various goods and services in the months ahead.

Hence if he wants to make a profit he would have to make the necessary arrangements to meet the future demand.

For instance, if a builder refuses to act on the likely increase in the demand for houses because he believes that this is on account of the loose monetary policy of the central bank and cannot be sustainable, then he will be out of business very quickly.

To be in the building business means that he must be in tune with the demand for housing. Likewise any other businessman in a given field will have to respond to the likely changes in demand in the area of his involvement if he wants to stay in business.

A businessman has only two options — either to be in a particular business or not to be there at all. Once he has decided to be in a given business this means that the businessman is likely to cater for changes in the demand for goods and services in this particular business irrespective of the underlying causes behind changes in demand.

Failing to do so will put him out of business very quickly. Now, regardless of expectations once the central bank tightens its stance most businessmen will “get caught.” A tighter stance will undermine demand for goods and services and this will put pressure on various business activities that sprang up while the interest-rate stance was loose. An economic bust emerges.

We can conclude that correct expectations cannot prevent boom-bust cycles once the central bank has eased its interest-rate stance. The only way to stop the menace of boom-bust cycles is for the central bank to stop the tampering with financial markets. As a rule however, central banks respond to the bust by again loosening their stance and thereby starting the new boom-bust cycle phase.

Frank Shostak is an Associated Scholar of the Mises Institute. His consulting firm, Applied Austrian School Economics, provides in-depth assessments and reports of financial markets and global economies. He received his bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University, master’s degree from Witwatersrand University and PhD from Rands Afrikaanse University, and has taught at the University of Pretoria and the Graduate Business School at Witwatersrand University.

This article was originally published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided full credit is given.

The End of Quantitative Easing Is Not the End of Bad Policy – Article by John P. Cochran

The End of Quantitative Easing Is Not the End of Bad Policy – Article by John P. Cochran

The New Renaissance Hat
John P. Cochran
November 7, 2014

Recently the financial press and media has been abuzz as the Federal Reserve moved closer to the anticipated end to its massive bond and mortgage backed securities purchases known as quantitative easing. James Bullard, President of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, stirred controversy last week when he suggested the Fed should consider continuing the bond buying program after October. But at the October 29th meeting, the policy makers did as anticipated and “agreed to end its asset purchase program.” However one voting member agreed with Mr. Bullard. Per the official press release, “Voting against the action was Narayana Kocherlakota, who believed that, in light of continued sluggishness in the inflation outlook and the recent slide in market-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations, the Committee should commit to keeping the current target range for the federal funds rate at least until the one-to-two-year ahead inflation outlook has returned to 2 percent and should continue the asset purchase program at its current level” (emphasis added).

The action yesterday completes the phase out, which began in January 2014, of the controversial QE3 under the leadership of Ben Bernanke and continued unabated under Janet Yellen.

“Not the End of Monetary Easing”

While the headline in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the action as closing a “chapter on easy money,” a closer look illustrates this is perhaps not the case. The Journal, on the editorial page the same day offers a better perspective, supported by data and the rhetoric in the press release. Much to the determent of future economic prosperity, “The end of Fed bond buying is not the end of monetary easing.”

While quantitative easing has contributed to the massive expansion of the Fed balance sheet — now nearly $4.5 trillion in assets — it is not the whole story. Even as the Fed ends new buying of favored assets, the Fed balance sheet will not shrink. As pointed out by the Wall Street Journal, “QE is not over, and the Fed will still reinvest the principal payments from its maturing securities.” Even more relevant, during the phase out there was a continuing expansion of three broad measures of Fed activity; St. Louis Fed adjusted reserves (Figure 1), the monetary base (Figure 2), and Federal Reserve Banks — Total Assets, Eliminations from Consolidation program (Figure 3). (All data from FRED economic data series St. Louis Federal Reserve. Calculations are mine.)

Figure 1: St. Louis Fed Adjusted Reserves

Figure 2: The Monetary Base

Figure 3: Federal Reserve Banks — Total Assets, Eliminations from Consolidation

The Fed’s Balance Sheet Continues to Expand

Despite some ups and downs, adjusted reserves increased 15.8 percent from January 2014 through September 2014, the monetary base by 8.6 percent, and consolidated assets by 10.7 percent. Given QE purchases were $85 billion per month at their peak, this continuing expansion of the Fed balance sheet and the other relevant monetary aggregates, the phase out and end of quantitative easing represents not a change in policy stance, but only a shift in tools. Monetary distortion has continued unabated. The only plus in the change is that more traditional tools of monetary manipulation create only the traditional market distortions; Cantillon effects, false relative prices, particularly interest rates, and the associated misdirection of production and malinvestments. Temporarily gone is the more dangerous Mondustrial Policy where the central bankers further distort credit allocation by picking winners and losers.

As illustrated by the Fed speak in the press release, post QE3-forward policy will, despite John Taylor’s optimism that this would not be the case, continued to be biased against a return to a more balanced, less potentially self-defeating rules-based policy. Instead driven by the Fed’s unwise dual mandate and the strong belief by Fed leadership in Tobin Keynesianism, policy will continue to “foster maximum employment.” This despite strong theoretical arguments (Austrian business cycle theory and the more mainstream natural unemployment rate hypothesis)[1] and good empirical evidence that any short-run positive impact monetary policy may have on employment and production is temporary and in the long run, per Hayek, cause greater instability and potentially even higher unemployment.

The Lasting Legacy of QE

As pointed out by David Howden in “QE’s Seeds Are Already Sown,” and as emphasized by Hayek (in Unemployment and Monetary Policy: Government as Generator of the “Business Cycle”), and recently formalized by Ravier (in “Rethinking Capital-Based Macroeconomics”), the seeds of easy money and credit creation, even when sown during times with unused capacity, bring forth the weeds of instability, malinvestment, bust, and economic displacement. They do not bring the promised return to prosperity, sustainable growth, and high employment.

Since the phase-out is only apparent, and not a real change in policy direction, Joe Salerno’s warning (“A Reformulation of Austrian Business Cycle Theory in Light of the Financial Crisis,” p. 41) remains relevant:

(G)iven the unprecedented monetary interventions by the Fed and the enormous deficits run by the Obama admin­istration, ABCT also explains the precarious nature of the current recovery and the growing probability that the U.S economy is headed for a 1970s-style stagflation.

While highly unlikely there is still time to do the right thing, follow the policy advice of Rothbard and the Austrians, as argued earlier in more detail here and here. Despite some short run costs which are likely small compared to the cost of a decade of stagnation, such a policy is the only reliable route to return the economy to sustainable prosperity.

John P. Cochran is emeritus dean of the Business School and emeritus professor of economics at Metropolitan State University of Denver and coauthor with Fred R. Glahe of The Hayek-Keynes Debate: Lessons for Current Business Cycle Research. He is also a senior scholar for the Mises Institute and serves on the editorial board of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. Send him mail. See John P. Cochran’s article archives.

This article was published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Where Is the Inflation? – Article by Mark Thornton

Where Is the Inflation? – Article by Mark Thornton

The New Renaissance Hat
Mark Thornton
January 30, 2013

Critics of the Austrian School of economics have been throwing barbs at Austrians like Robert Murphy because there is very little inflation in the economy. Of course, these critics are speaking about the mainstream concept of the price level as measured by the Consumer Price Index (i.e., CPI).

Let us ignore the problems with the concept of the price level and all the technical problems with CPI. Let us further ignore the fact that this has little to do with the Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT), as the critics would like to suggest. The basic notion that more money, i.e., inflation, causes higher prices, i.e., price inflation, is not a uniquely Austrian view. It is a very old and commonly held view by professional economists and is presented in nearly every textbook that I have examined.

This common view is often labeled the quantity theory of money. Only economists with a Mercantilist or Keynesian ideology even challenge this view. However, only Austrians can explain the current dilemma: why hasn’t the massive money printing by the central banks of the world resulted in higher prices.

Austrian economists like Ludwig von Mises, Benjamin Anderson, and F.A. Hayek saw that commodity prices were stable in the 1920s, but that other prices in the structure of production indicated problems related to the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve. Mises, in particular, warned that Fisher’s “stable dollar” policy, employed at the Fed, was going to result in severe ramifications. Absent the Fed’s easy money policies of the Roaring Twenties, prices would have fallen throughout that decade.

So let’s look at the prices that most economists ignore and see what we find. There are some obvious prices to look at like oil. Mainstream economists really do not like looking at oil prices, they want them taken out of CPI along with food prices, Ben Bernanke says that oil prices have nothing to do with monetary policy and that oil prices are governed by other factors.

As an Austrian economist, I would speculate that in a free market economy, with no central bank, that the price of oil would be stable. I would further speculate, that in the actual economy with a central bank, that the price of oil would be unstable, and that oil prices would reflect monetary policy in a manner informed by ABCT.

That is, artificially low interest rates generated by the Fed would encourage entrepreneurs to start new investment projects. This in turn would stimulate the demand for oil (where supply is relatively inelastic) leading to higher oil prices. As these entrepreneurs would have to pay higher prices for oil, gasoline, and energy (and many other inputs) and as their customers cut back on demand for the entrepreneurs’ goods (in order to pay higher gasoline prices), some of their new investment projects turn from profitable to unprofitable. Therefore, you should see oil prices rise in a boom and fall during the bust. That is pretty much how things work as shown below.

As you can see, the price of oil was very stable when we were on the pseudo Gold Standard. The data also shows dramatic instability during the fiat paper dollar standard (post-1971). Furthermore, in general, the price of oil moves roughly as Austrians would suggest, although monetary policy is not the sole determinant of oil prices, and obviously there is no stable numerical relationship between the two variables.

Another commodity that is noteworthy for its high price is gold. The price of gold also rises in the boom, and falls during the bust. However, since the last recession officially ended in 2009, the price of gold has actually doubled. The Fed’s zero interest rate policy has made the opportunity cost of gold extraordinarily low. The Fed’s massive monetary pumping has created an enormous upside in the price of gold. No surprise here.

Actually, commodity prices increased across the board. The Producer Price Index for commodities shows a similar pattern to oil and gold. The PPI-Commodities was more stable during the pseudo Gold Standard with more volatility during the post-1971 fiat paper standard. The index tends to spike before a recession and then recede during and after the recession. However, the PPI-Commodity Index has returned to all-time record levels.

High prices seem to be the norm. The US stock and bond markets are at, or near, all-time highs. Agricultural land in the US is at all time highs. The Contemporary Art market in New York is booming with record sales and high prices. The real estate markets in Manhattan and Washington, DC, are both at all-time highs as the Austrians would predict. That is, after all, where the money is being created, and the place where much of it is injected into the economy.

This doesn’t even consider what prices would be like if the Fed and world central banks had not acted as they did. Housing prices would be lower, commodity prices would be lower, CPI and PPI would be running negative. Low-income families would have seen a surge in their standard of living. Savers would get a decent return on their savings.

Of course, the stock market and the bond market would also see significantly lower prices. Bank stocks would collapse and the bad banks would close. Finance, hedge funds, and investment banks would have collapsed. Manhattan real estate would be in the tank. The market for fund managers, hedge fund operators, and bankers would evaporate.

In other words, what the Fed chose to do ended up making the rich, richer and the poor, poorer. If they had not embarked on the most extreme and unorthodox monetary policy in memory, the poor would have experienced a relative rise in their standard of living and the rich would have experienced a collective decrease in their standard of living.

There are other major reasons why consumer prices have not risen in tandem with the money supply in the dramatic fashion of oil, gold, stocks and bonds. It would seem that the inflationary and Keynesian policies followed by the US, Europe, China, and Japan have resulted in an economic and financial environment where bankers are afraid to lend, entrepreneurs are afraid to invest, and where everyone is afraid of the currencies with which they are forced to endure.

In other words, the reason why price inflation predictions failed to materialize is that Keynesian policy prescriptions like bailouts, stimulus packages, and massive monetary inflation have failed to work and have indeed helped wreck the economy.

Mark Thornton is a senior resident fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and is the book-review editor for the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. He is the author of The Economics of Prohibition, coauthor of Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War, and the editor of The Quotable Mises, The Bastiat Collection, and An Essay on Economic Theory. Send him mail. See Mark Thornton’s article archives.

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Copyright © 2013 by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided full credit is given.

Interest Rates Are Prices – Article by Ron Paul

Interest Rates Are Prices – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
September 28, 2012

One of the most enduring myths in the United States is that this country has a free market, when in reality, the market is merely the structural shell of formerly free institutions.  The federal government pulls the strings behind the scenes.  No better illustration of this can be found than in the Federal Reserve’s manipulation of interest rates.

The Fed has interfered with the proper function of interest rates for decades, but perhaps never as boldly as it has in the past few years through its policies of quantitative easing.  In Chairman Bernanke’s most recent press conference he stated that the Fed wishes not only to drive down rates on Treasury debt, but also rates on mortgages, corporate bonds, and other important interest rates.  Markets greeted this statement enthusiastically, as this means trillions more newly-created dollars flowing directly to Wall Street.

Because the interest rate is the price of money, manipulation of interest rates has the same effect in the market for loanable funds as price controls have in markets for goods and services. Since demand for funds has increased, but the supply is not being increased, the only way to match the shortfall is to continue to create new credit. But this process cannot continue indefinitely. At some point the capital projects funded by the new credit are completed. Houses must be sold, mines must begin to produce ore, factories must begin to operate and produce consumer goods.

But because consumption patterns have either remained unchanged or have become more present-oriented, by the time these new capital projects are finished and begin to produce, the producers find no market for their goods. Because the coordination between savings and consumption was severed through the artificial lowering of the interest rate, both savers and borrowers have been signaled into unsustainable patterns of economic activity. Resources that would have been used in productive endeavors under a regime of market-determined interest rates are instead shuttled into endeavors that only after the fact are determined to be unprofitable.  In order to return to a functioning economy, those resources which have been malinvested need to be liquidated and shifted into sectors in which they can be put to productive use.

Another effect of the injections of credit into the system is that prices rise.  More money chasing the same amount of goods results in a rise in prices.  Wall Street and the banking system gain the use of the new credit before prices rise.  Main Street, however, sees the prices rise before they are able to take advantage of the newly-created credit. The purchasing power of the dollar is eroded and the standard of living of the American people drops.

We live today not in a free market economic system but in a “mixed economy”, marked by an uneasy mixture of corporatism; vestiges of free-market capitalism; and outright central planning in some sectors.  Each infusion of credit by the Fed distorts the structure of the economy, damages the important role that interest rates play in the market, and erodes the purchasing power of the dollar.  Fed policymakers view themselves as wise gurus managing the economy, yet every action they take results in economic distortion and devastation.

Unless Congress gets serious about reining in the Federal Reserve and putting an end to its manipulation, the economic distortions the Fed has caused will not be liquidated; they will become more entrenched, keeping true economic recovery out of our grasp and sowing the seeds for future crisis.

Representative Ron Paul (R – TX), MD, was a three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President. See his Congressional webpage and his official campaign website

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