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Alan Greenspan Admits Ron Paul Was Right About Gold – Article by Ryan McMaken

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Categories: Economics, History, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Ryan McMaken
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In the next issue of The Austrian, David Gordon reviews Sebatian Mallaby’s new book, The Man Who Knew, about the career of Alan Greenspan. Mallaby points out that prior to his career at the Fed, Greenspan exhibited a keen understanding of the gold standard and how free markets work. In spite of this contradiction, Mallaby takes a rather benign view toward Greenspan.

However, in his review, Gordon asks the obvious question: If Greenspan knew all this so well, isn’t it all the more worthy of condemnation that Greenspan then abandoned these ideas so readily to advance his career?

Perhaps not surprisingly, now that his career at the Fed has ended, Old Greenspan — the one who defends free markets — has now returned.

This reversion to his former self has been going on for several years, and Greenspan reiterates this fact yet again in a recent interview with Gold Investor magazine. Greenspan is now a fount of sound historical information about the historical gold standard:

I view gold as the primary global currency. It is the only currency, along with silver, that does not require a counterparty signature. Gold, however, has always been far more valuable per ounce than silver. No one refuses gold as payment to discharge an obligation. Credit instruments and fiat currency depend on the credit worthiness of a counterparty. Gold, along with silver, is one of the only currencies that has an intrinsic value. It has always been that way. No one questions its value, and it has always been a valuable commodity, first coined in Asia Minor in 600 BC.

The gold standard was operating at its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period of extraordinary global prosperity, characterised by firming productivity growth and very little inflation.

But today, there is a widespread view that the 19th century gold standard didn’t work. I think that’s like wearing the wrong size shoes and saying the shoes are uncomfortable! It wasn’t the gold standard that failed; it was politics. World War I disabled the fixed exchange rate parities and no country wanted to be exposed to the humiliation of having a lesser exchange rate against the US dollar than itenjoyed in 1913.

Britain, for example, chose to return to the gold standard in 1925 at the same exchange rate it had in 1913 relative to the US dollar (US$4.86 per pound sterling). That was a monumental error by Winston Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. It induced a severe deflation for Britain in the late 1920s, and the Bank of England had to default in 1931. It wasn’t the gold standard that wasn’t functioning; it was these pre-war parities that didn’t work. All wanted to return to pre-war exchange rate parities, which, given the different degree of war and economic destruction from country to country, rendered this desire, in general, wholly unrealistic.

Today, going back on to the gold standard would be perceived as an act of desperation. But if the gold standard were in place today we would not have reached the situation in which we now find ourselves.

Greenspan then says nice things about Paul Volcker’s high-interest-rate policy:

Paul Volcker was brought in as chairman of the Federal Reserve, and he raised the Federal Fund rate to 20% to stem the erosion [of the dollar’s value during the inflationary 1970s]. It was a very destabilising period and by far the most effective monetary policy in the history of the Federal Reserve. I hope that we don’t have to repeat that exercise to stabilise the system. But it remains an open question.

Ultimately, though, Greenspan claims that central-bank policy can be employed to largely imitate a gold standard:

When I was Chair of the Federal Reserve I used to testify before US Congressman Ron Paul, who was a very strong advocate of gold. We had some interesting discussions. I told him that US monetary policy tried to follow signals that a gold standard would have created. That is sound monetary policy even with a fiat currency. In that regard, I told him that even if we had gone back to the gold standard, policy would not have changed all that much.

This is a rather strange claim, however. It is impossible to know what signals a gold standard “would have” created in the absence of the current system of fiat currencies. It is, of course, impossible to recreate the global economy under a gold standard in an economy and guess how the system might be imitated in real life. This final explanation appears to be more the sort of thing that Greenspan tells himself so he can reconcile his behavior at the fed with what he knows about gold and markets.

Nor does this really address Ron Paul’s concerns, expressed for years, toward Greenspan and his successors. Even if monetary policymakers were attempting to somehow replicate a gold-standard environment, Paul’s criticism was always that the outcome of the current monetary regime can be shown to be dangerous for a variety of reasons. Among these problems are enormous debt loads and stagnating real incomes due to inflation. Moreover, thanks to Cantillon effects, monetarily-induced inflation has the worst impact on lower-income households.

Even Greenspan admits this is the case with debt: “We would never have reached this position of extreme indebtedness were we on the gold standard, because the gold standard is a way of ensuring that fiscal policy never gets out of line.”

Certainly, debt loads have taken off since Nixon closed the gold window in 1971, breaking the last link with gold:

Ryan W. McMaken is the editor of Mises Daily and The Free Market. He has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre. 

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

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We’re Going Deeper into Debt as Real Incomes Fall – Article by Victor Xing

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Categories: Economics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatVictor Xing

New York Fed President Dudley recently commented that “real consumer spending growth appears to have moderated somewhat from the relatively robust pace of the second half of 2015.” While this may suggest headwinds from cyclical economic conditions, there are emerging signs that ultra-accommodative policy also acts as a constraint on consumer spending via income effects. Instead of inducing savers to spend and borrow, rapid asset price appreciation as a result of monetary easing has outpaced wage growth, and pass-through services inflation subsequently reduced discretionary income and forced already-levered consumers to save instead of spend. This unintended consequence worked against accommodative policy’s desired substitution effects and suggests further easing would likely yield diminishing results if asset price appreciation continues to outpace real income growth.

Asset Price and Services Inflation Outpaced Real Wage Growth
Post-2008 policy accommodation broadly lowered funding costs for consumers and businesses to supported asset price appreciation. However, rising prices have also made assets less affordable, and home buyers “priced out” of their respective housing markets subsequently became involuntary renters. Not only do they not benefit from rising home values, higher education, and medical care inflation also outpaced aggregate real wage growth (Chart 1) to weigh on renters’ discretionary spending.

xing1In response with rising commercial real estate prices (Chart 2), businesses also pass on higher operating costs in the form of services inflation. Year-over-year personal consumption expenditure — services (chain-type price index) has been well-anchored in the 2% range (2.13% in Feb 2016) since 4Q 2011.

xing2Another factor constraining consumer spending is the well-publicized effect of student debt burden. This supports a view that household spending may be at a lower potential than during prior cycles, thus magnifying the costs of higher services inflation as a result of asset price appreciation.

Consumers Redlining their Engines: Inability To Pay $400 Emergency Expense
Accommodative monetary policy encourages consumers to spend and borrow rather than hoarding cash. However, cash-strapped consumers already facing the pressure of debt burden would likely do neither.

Federal Reserve’s recent Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households highlighted signs that some consumers are already stretching their spending power to meet existing obligations. 47% of respondents reported that a $400 emergency expense would be “more challenging to handle” (unable to use cash or a credit card that they pay off at the end of the mouth). Results from middle-income household with $40,000 to $100,000 annual income were similarly downbeat, where 44% of respondents indicated difficulties (Chart 3).

Chart 3: Percent of respondents who would completely pay an emergency expense that costs $400 using cash or a credit card that they pay off at the end of the month (by race/ethnicity and household income)

xing3Source: Federal Reserve Board of Governors

Chart 4: During the past 12 months, was there a time when you needed any of the following, but didn’t get it because you couldn’t afford it?

xing4Source: Federal Reserve Board of Governors

A survey on health-care expenses was also discouraging. 31% of respondents reported going without some type of medical care in the preceding 12 months due to inability to afford the cost. 45% of those surveyed under a household income of $40,000 reported similar decisions to defer treatment.

In the section “spending relative to income,” Fed researchers reported that one-in-five respondents with spending exceeded their income (leveraged spending). These are signs that consumers were taking advantage of lower rates, but the spending does not appear to be sustainable without corresponding rise in real wage growth.

Rising Renter Cost Burden
Another factor constraining discretionary spending is rising renter cost burden. The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies projected a “fairly bleak picture of severe renter burden across the U.S. for the coming decade.” The report acknowledged falling incomes among renters and the persisting gap between renter income and renter housing costs (Chart 6), as well as severely burdened renter households (housing costs of more than 50% of household income) reaching 11.8 million in 2015 (Chart 7), or about one in four renters.

Assuming the correlation between rental price inflation and asset price inflation holds, further declines in housing affordability as a result of policy easing would exacerbate renter burden — one likely needs rising real wages to offset.

Chart 5: In the past 12 months, would you say that your household’s total spending was more, less, or the same as your income? (by household income)

xing5Source: Federal Reserve Board of Governors

xing6xing7

Impacts of “Long and Variable Lags” Between Asset Price Inflation and Real Wage Growth
Financial market participants play an essential role in the transmission of Federal Reserve’s monetary policy by affecting financial conditions — the following components are part of the GS Financial Conditions Index:

  • Short-term bond yield
  • Long-term corporate credit spread
  • Stock market variable
  • Exchange rate

The Federal Reserve only has effective control of the very front-end of the Treasury curve via conventional monetary policy. Nevertheless, unconventional policies such as QE, as well as forward guidance on SOMA principal reinvestments also allow the central bank to affect longer-term funding costs via the expectations and “recruitment channel.” Under this mechanism, asset prices take little time to react to changing policy stances, while impacts on income growth and economic conditions would often take longer to manifest.

Such lag between asset price appreciation and changing economic conditions carries a hidden cost — if asset price inflation becomes well entrenched ahead of broad-based economic growth, those without assets would be penalized just to maintain their life-style, and the reduction in their discretionary spending would serve as a disinflationary drag to Federal Reserve’s effort to reflate the economy.

Conclusion
Inefficiencies within the monetary policy transmission mechanism have resulted in income effects becoming greater than the substitution effects. Under this scenario, ultra-accommodative policy may induce further saving by asset-less consumers to further weigh on aggregate demand. Additionally, policymakers should exercise caution if increasingly aggressive and unconventional reflationary policies do not yield intended results.

Victor Xing is founder and investment analyst at Kekselias, Inc. He is formerly a fixed-income trading analyst for the Capital Group Companies with 5 years of experience on its interest rates trading desk.

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

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A Conversation with My Neighbor “Sam” – Article by Mark Brandly

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Categories: Economics, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatMark Brandly
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Lately, I’ve wondered how my neighbor, Sam, affords to buy so much stuff. He appears to have an unlimited budget. When I asked him about this, Sam asked, “Do you think I’m spending too much?”

“That depends,” I said, “How much money do you make?”

“I take home $100,000 a year.”

That surprised me. I would guess that he’s spending more than that. But I tried to be encouraging, “That sounds like plenty of income. With a little planning, you should be able to budget your spending and be financially stable.”

“But my finances are a mess,” Sam replied. “I spend more than I take home. Last year I had to borrow $12,000 just to cover my spending.”

“Well maybe things will be better this year,” I said, hoping that Sam’s spending issues was a one year problem.

“No,” Sam replied. “Actually, in the first three months of this year, I’ve already spent $19,000 more than I’ve made. It looks like my budget deficit this year will be much worse than it was last year.”

Now I was starting to worry. “Have you been borrowing money to cover your spending for a long time?”

“Oh yes. I have a lot of debt. Part of the problem is that I owe myself $150,000.”

I wondered if Sam misspoke, “Wait, wait, wait, you owe yourself $150,000? Why do you think that you’re in debt to yourself?”

“Well you see, over the years I promised myself that I was going to use my paychecks to pay for a fund for my children’s education, but instead of spending $150,000 on colleges, I spent the money on other expenses. So I figure that I owe myself this money so that I can pay for my children’s college tuitions.”

Obviously Sam doesn’t understand the definition of the word “debt.”

I tried to be polite in my response: “That doesn’t make any sense. It’s true that you’ve made some horrible decisions regarding your spending, but it’s ridiculous to claim that you owe yourself money. A debt occurs when one person owes another person money. Just because you changed your mind about how to spend your paychecks doesn’t mean that you’ve borrowed money from yourself.

“So the first thing you need to do is to think clearly about the amount of debt you have. You don’t owe yourself any money. Now, forgetting about this ridiculous notion of self-debt, how much do you owe?”

“Alright, I think I see your point. Let’s just talk about the rest of my debt. I owe various banks about $420,000. This debt is more than four times my take-home income.”

Sam often lies about his income and spending issues, but he always understates his budget problem. If he’s lying now, then I can be sure that the problem is even greater than he says. I wanted more information.

“That a pretty high debt to income ratio. But that might be somewhat manageable, although unwise, if you’ve borrowed that money at low interest rates.”

“I have some good news and some bad news,” Sam said. “Interest rates are low. In fact, in the last fourteen years, my debt has more than quadrupled, but my interest payments have increased less than 50 percent. That’s because interest rates have collapsed during that time. Isn’t that good news?”

“I suppose, but do you know that interest rates are going to increase over the next several years?”

“Yes, that’s the bad news. In the past year, I only paid $7,000 of interest, but within ten years my debt will increase over 50 percent, and possibly much more, and with higher interest rates I expect to be paying at least four to five times that much in interest annually.”

“That’s a huge problem. So to be able to make your loan payments, I assume that you’ve taken out some long-term loans.”

“No, no, no. In order to take advantage of the low interest rates, most of my borrowing is short term. I rollover my loans quickly. In the past year my principal payments on these loans totaled $207,000.”

“Let me get this straight. Your loan payments, including principal and interest, are well over twice your take home pay?”

“Yes, I take home a little over $8,000 per month and my loan payments are over $17,000 per month. But it’s no problem. In the past year I borrowed $223,000 to cover everything.”

Shocked, I said “How can you say borrowing more than twice your income is not a problem?”

“I simply borrow all the money I need to make all of my loan payments. I never pay any of the loans down. I’ve been doing this for years, ever since I started spending more than I make.”

“Okay. Most of your borrowing goes to cover your increasingly large principal and interest payments. And as interest rates rise, interest payments will become a bigger percentage of your spending. When that happens, your total debt will increase faster than your income. What is your plan, say in the next ten years, to correct this situation?”

“Well I don’t have a plan for correcting anything, because I don’t see how I can cut my spending.”

“What if the banks stop loaning you money to make your payments on your loans? What happens then?”

“I guess I’m assuming that won’t happen.”

Sam’s Budget Situation in Real Numbers
If one of our neighbors budgeted in this manner, we would obviously conclude that the guy is crazy. No such plan could work. Eventually lenders would refuse to fund Sam’s spending.

However, Sam’s situation looks a lot like the federal government budget plan. Take a look at some recent federal budget information and some Congressional Budget Office projections:

  • In FY (fiscal year) 2015, the feds had a budget deficit, counting only debt held by the public, of $339 billion, which is about 10 percent of their tax revenues of $3,248 billion. The deficit has been declining the last few years, but that is now changing.
  • In fact, in the first three months of FY 2016, according to the Treasury Department, federal debt held by the public increased $548 billion. Admittedly, some of this debt was due to the fact that the feds were cooking the books in FY 2015 when they hit the debt ceiling limit. Nonetheless, the first quarter 2016 deficit is already 60 percent larger than the overall 2015 deficit.
  • The federal government claims to owe itself over $5 trillion (they call it intragovernmental debt here). This $5 trillion represents tax revenues that were earmarked for specific spending programs, such as Social Security, but were spent on other programs. Since the feds collected taxes to pay for Social Security, but spent the money on something else, they conclude that they owe it to themselves to collect those tax revenues again. That’s the essence of intragovernmental debt. We should not count this as debt. Give the Treasury Department credit for ignoring this type of “debt” in their Daily Treasury Statements and in their end of the year debt reports.
  • As of September 30, 2015, the feds had $13.1 trillion of debt owed to the public. FY 2015 tax revenues totaled $3.248 trillion. So just like Sam the government has a 4-to-1 debt-to-tax-revenue ratio.
  • In the past fourteen years, from September 30, 2001 (the start of George Bush’s first budget) to September 30, 2015 (the end of Barack Obama’s sixth budget), debt owed to the public increased from $3,339.3 billion to $13,123.8 billion. That’s an increase of 293 percent.
  • According to the Daily Treasury Statements, in the past fourteen years, interest on treasury securities increased from $162.5 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $233.1 billion in fiscal year 2015. That’s a 44 percent increase during the same period when federal debt owed to the public almost quadrupled.
  • In FY 2015, again according to the Daily Treasury Statements, the feds borrowed $7,251.4 billion (see the Public Debt Cash Issues for September 30, 2015), an average of almost $20 billion per day. They spent $6,740.3 billion of this borrowing rolling over their debt. So, Federal principal and interest payments are more than double federal tax revenues.
  • According to the Congressional Budget Office’s baseline projections, debt held by the public in 2025 should exceed $21 trillion and during that time interest rates are expected to increase. Interest rates have been kept artificially low for years. If interest rates return to a more normal level, say to the rates they were paying when George Bush took office fifteen years ago, then interest payments in 2025 will exceed $1.2 trillion. That’s over a 400 percent increase compared to the FY 2015 interest payments. I should note here that the baseline budget projections are optimistic. We should expect the debt situation in 2025 to be significantly worse than these projections.

The federal government’s debt has exploded under the Bush and Obama administrations. Low interest payments due to the low interest rates have masked their budget problems. As interest rates and the spending gap on entitlement programs such as Social Security both increase, the budget problem will compound.

The federal government’s plan is to borrow all of the money they need to pay all of their principal and interest payments and to also pay for the budget deficits in their spending programs. The question we should ask is: what’s going to happen when the world’s lenders refuse to bankroll DC’s spending schemes?

Mark Brandly is a professor of economics at Ferris State University and an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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

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Venezuela Is Facing Runaway Financial Catastrophe – Article by Emily Skarbek

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The New Renaissance HatEmily Skarbek
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Debt, capital flight, food shortages, and hyperinflation take hold

Often, economists want to isolate questions of public debt and analyse these issues as if public choice considerations weren’t at play. Perhaps less studied are the ways in which debt practices can systematically exert pressure on formal political institutions.

But if you want to understand what is going on in Venezuela today, you can’t do so without looking at this political-economy nexus.

For regular people living in Venezuela, the situation is bleak. As the Economist reports, food queues start at 3 am, with the real possibility there won’t be anything for those at the end of the line. And the queues are growing longer and violent.

Real wages fell by 35% last year, 76% of Venezuelans are now poor, supplies of medicines have fallen to 1/5 of their normal level.

The government has admitted that in the 12 months to September 2015 the economy contracted by 7.1% and inflation was 141.5%. Even Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s hapless heir and successor, called these numbers “catastrophic”.

The IMF thinks worse is in store: it reckons inflation will surge to 720% this year and that the economy will shrink by 8%, after contracting by 10% in 2015. The Central Bank is printing money to cover much of a fiscal deficit of around 20% of GDP.

In a case study of Venezuela from 1984 to 2013, Reinhart and Santos examine the relationship among domestic debt, financial repression, and external vulnerability. The paper begins with a narrative of the evolution of domestic and external debt in Venezuela over the period.

Despite soaring oil prices from 2006 to 2013, net consolidated external debt of Venezuela rose from US $26.9 to US $104.3 billion. The central government, however, only accounted for roughly a fifth of that increment.

The difference, US $60.9 billion (78%), owed to standard practices of the Bolivarian revolution, and was issued by state owned enterprises and the relatively new Fondo Comun China-Venezuela (FCCV). The FCCV is a special-purpose vehicle that allows Venezuela to withdraw from a rolling line of credit at the Chinese Development Bank in exchange for future shipments of oil.

Domestic debt in local currency also climbed, rising from 36.298 million bolivares (VEF) in 2006 to 420.502 million in 2013. The nominal increase of 1,060% (an average annual rate of 42%) was partially offset by an accumulated price increase of 528% (or an average annual rate of 30%), reducing the cumulative increase in real domestic debt to about 85% (or 9% per annum).

During much of this period, the combination of exchange controls and interest ceilings created a captive domestic audience for domestic government debt despite markedly negative real ex post interest rates. The significant losses imposed on domestic bondholders escalated over time, owing to accelerating inflation.

Unlike foreign currency-denominated debt, debt in domestic currency may be reduced through financial repression (i.e., taxes on bondholders and savers producing negative real interest rates). Reinhart and Santos find the financial repression “tax rate” is significantly higher in years of exchange controls and legislated interest rate ceilings. In Venezuela, the “haircut” on depositors and bondholders via negative ex post real interest has exceeded 30% per annum on several occasions.

Confiscating the wealth of those responsible for capital savings can partially ameliorate the existing stock of domestic debt in the short run, but at the expense of encouraging capital flight and undermining any semblance of trust in crucial economic institutions.

The paper documents that capital flight has been a chronic feature in the Venezuelan economy, “representing on average of 4.7% of GDP at the official exchange rate and 7.1% of GDP at the parallel market exchange rate, while siphoning away 17.2% of total exports.”

By all measures, exchange controls proved ineffective at reducing capital flight. In fact, “when measured as percent of GDP at the average parallel market, rate capital flight turned out to be significantly higher in years of controls (8.0% vs 5.2%).

Hayek would not be surprised. Over his professional career he argued disastrous monetary policy commits the state to taking measures that weaken the proper functioning of the market. In order to combat inflation, states will attempt to impose further controls that “would not only make the price mechanism wholly ineffective, but also make inevitable an ever-increasing central direction of all economic activity.”

In Venezuela, Chávez turned the would-be checks and balances of the state — the Supreme Court and the electoral authority — into extensions of executive power. He packed the court and they then threw out those legislators necessary for the opposition to get the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution.

President Nicolás Maduro seems prepared to continue the repression and price controls, calling the owner of Venezuela’s largest privately-held company a thief and publicly blaming him for the country’s dire economic condition.

It is perhaps fitting that it was at a Mont Pèlerin Conference in Caracas where Hayek famously quipped:

We now have a tiger by the tail: how long can this inflation continue? If the tiger (of inflation) is freed he will eat us up; yet if he runs faster and faster while we desperately hold on, we are still finished!

I’m glad I won’t be here to see the final outcome…

Emily Skarbek is Lecturer in Political Economy at King’s College London and guest blogs on EconLog. Her website is EmilySkarbek.com. Follow her on Twitter @EmilySkarbek.​

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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Congress Fiddles While the Economy Burns – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance HatRon Paul
September 14, 2015
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Reports that the official unemployment rate has fallen to 5.1 percent may appear to vindicate the policies of easy money, corporate bailouts, and increased federal spending. However, even the mainstream media has acknowledged that the official numbers understate the true unemployment rate. This is because the federal government’s unemployment figures do not include the 94 million Americans who have given up looking for work or who have settled for part-time employment. John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics estimates the real unemployment rate is between 23 and 24 percent.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, few in Washington, DC acknowledge that America’s economic future is endangered by excessive spending, borrowing, taxing, and inflating. Instead, Congress continues to waste taxpayer money on futile attempts to run the economy, run our lives, and run the world.

For example, Congress spent the majority of last week trying to void the Iranian nuclear agreement. This effort was spearheaded by those who think the US should waste trillions of dollars on another no-win Middle East war. Congressional war hawks ignore how America’s hyper-interventionist foreign policy feeds the growing rebellion against the dollar’s world reserve currency status. Of course, the main reason many are seeking an alternative to the dollar is their concern that, unless Congress stops creating — and the Federal Reserve stops monetizing — massive deficits, the US will experience a Greek-like economic crisis.

Despite the clear need to reduce federal spending, many Republicans are trying to cut a deal with the Democrats to increase spending. These alleged conservatives are willing to lift the “sequestration” limits on welfare spending if President Obama and congressional democrats support lifting the “sequestration” limits on warfare spending. Even sequestration’s minuscule, and largely phony, cuts are unbearable for the military-industrial complex and the rest of the special interests that control our federal government.

The only positive step toward addressing our economic crisis that the Senate may take this year is finally holding a roll call vote on the Audit the Fed legislation. Even if the audit legislation lacks sufficient support to overcome an expected presidential veto, just having a Senate vote will be a major step forward.

Passage of the Audit the Fed bill would finally allow the American people to know the full truth about the Fed’s operations, including its deals with foreign central banks and Wall Street firms. Revealing the full truth about the Fed will likely increase the number of Americans demanding that Congress end the Fed’s monetary monopoly. This suspicion is confirmed by the hysterical attacks on and outright lies about the audit legislation spread by the Fed and its apologists.

Every day, the American people see evidence that, despite the phony statistics and propaganda emanating from Washington, high unemployment and rising inflation plague the economy. Economic anxiety has led many Americans to support an avowed socialist’s presidential campaign. Perhaps more disturbingly, many other Americans are supporting the campaign of an authoritarian crony capitalist. If there is a major economic collapse, many more Americans — perhaps even a majority — will embrace authoritarianism. An economic crisis could also lead to mob violence and widespread civil unrest, which will be used to justify new police state measures and crackdowns on civil liberties.

Unless the people demand an end to the warfare state, the welfare state, and fiat money, our economy will continue to deteriorate until we are faced with a major crisis. This crisis can only be avoided by rejecting the warfare state, the welfare state, and fiat money. Those of us who know the truth must redouble our efforts to spread the ideas of liberty.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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How Student Loans Create Demand for Useless Degrees – Article by Josh Grossman

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Categories: Economics, Education, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Josh Grossman
July 19, 2015
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Last week, former Secretary of Education and US Senator Lamar Alexander wrote in the Wall Street Journal that a college degree is both affordable and an excellent investment. He repeated the usual talking point about how a college degree increases lifetime earnings by a million dollars, “on average.” That part about averages is perhaps the most important part, since all college degrees are certainly not created equal. In fact, once we start to look at the details, we find that a degree may not be the great deal many higher-education boosters seem to think it is.

In my home state of Minnesota, for example, the cost of obtaining a four-year degree at the University of Minnesota for a resident of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Manitoba, or Wisconsin is $100,720 (including room and board and miscellaneous fees). For private schools in Minnesota such as St. Olaf, however, the situation is even worse. A four-year degree at this institution will cost $210,920.

This cost compares to an average starting salary for 2014 college graduates of $48,707. However, like GDP numbers this number is misleading because it is an average of all individuals who obtained a four-year degree in any academic field. Regarding the average student loan debt of an individual who graduated in 2013, about 70 percent of these graduates left college with an average student loan debt of $28,400. This entails the average student starting to pay back these loans six months after graduation or upon leaving school without a degree. The reality of this situation is that assuming a student loan interest rate of 6.8 percent and a ten-year repayment period, the average student will be paying $326.83 every month for 120 months or a cumulative total re-payment of $39,219.28. Depending upon a student’s job, this amount can be a substantial monthly financial burden for the average graduate.

All Degrees Are Not of Equal Value

Unfortunately, there is no price incentive for students to choose degrees that are most likely to enable them to pay back loans quickly or easily. In other words, these federal student loans are subsidizing a lack of discrimination in students’ major choice. A person majoring in communications can access the same loans as a student majoring in engineering. Both of these students would also pay the same interest rate, which would not occur in a free market.

In an unhampered market, majors that have a higher probability of default should be required to pay a higher interest rate on money borrowed than majors with a lower probability of default. In summary, it is not just the federal government’s subsidization of student loans that is increasing the cost of college, but the fact that demand for low-paying and high-default majors is increasing, because loans for these majors are supplied at the same price as a major providing high salaries to its possessor with a low probability of default.

And which programs are the most likely to pay off for the student? The top five highest paying bachelor’s degrees include: petroleum engineering, actuarial mathematics, nuclear engineering, chemical engineering and electronics and communications engineering, while the top five lowest paying bachelor’s degrees are: animal science, social work, child development and psychology, theological and ministerial studies, and human development, family studies, and related services. Petroleum engineering has an average starting salary of $93,500 while animal science has an average starting salary of $32,700. This breaks down for a monthly salary for the petroleum engineer of $7,761.67 versus a person working in animal science with a monthly salary of $2,725. Based on the average monthly payment mentioned above, this would equate to a burden of 4.2 percent of monthly income (petroleum engineer) versus a burden of 12 percent of monthly income (animal science). This debt burden is exacerbated by the fact that it is now nearly impossible to have student loan debts wiped away even if one declares bankruptcy.

Ignoring Careers That Don’t Require a Degree

Meanwhile, there are few government loan programs geared toward funding an education in the trades. And yet, for many prospective college students, the trades might be a much more lucrative option. Using the example of plumbing, the average plumber earns $53,820 per year with the employer paying the apprentice a wage and training.

Acknowledging the fact that this average salary is for master plumbers, it still equates to a $20,000 salary difference between it and someone with a four-year degree in animal science while having no student loans as a bonus. Outside of earning a four-year degree in science, technology, engineering, math or, accounting with an average starting salary of $53,300, nursing with an average starting salary of $53,624, or as a family practice doctor on the lower end of physician pay of $161,000, society might be better served if parents and educators would stop using the canard that a four-year degree is always worth the cost outside of a few majors mentioned above. Encouraging students to consider the trades and parents to give their children the money they would spend on a four-year college degree to put a down payment on a house might be a better use of finite economic resources. The alternative of forcing the proverbial square peg into a round hole will condemn another generation to student debt slavery forcing them to put off buying a home or getting married.

Loans Drive Overall Demand

The root of the problem is intervention by the federal government in providing student loans. Since 1965 when President Johnson signed the Higher Education Act tuition, room, and board has increased from $1,105 per year to $18,943 in 2014–2015. This is an increase of 1,714 percent in 50 years. In addition, the Higher Education Act of 1965 created loans which are made by private institutions yet guaranteed by the federal government and capped at 6.8 percent. In case of default on the loans, the federal government — that is, the taxpayers — pick up the tab in order for these lenders to recover 95 cents on every dollar lent. Loaning these funds at below market interest rates and with the federal government backing up these risky loans has led to massive malinvestment as the percentage of high-school graduates enrolled in some form of higher education has increased from 10 percent before World War II to 70 percent by the 1990s. Getting a four-year degree in nearly any academic field seemed to be the way in which to enter or remain in the middle class.

But just as with the housing bubble, keeping interest below market levels while increasing the money supply in terms of loans — while having the taxpayer on the hook for a majority of these same loans — leads to an avalanche of defaults and is a recipe for disaster.

Josh Grossman is a social studies teacher in southeastern Minnesota. He enjoys reading anything he can about Austrian Economics or historical revisionism from the perspective of the Austrian School.

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Europe and Deflation Paranoia – Article by Frank Hollenbeck

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The New Renaissance Hat
Frank Hollenbeck
April 30, 2014
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There is a current incessant flow of articles warning us of the certain economic calamity if deflation is allowed to show its nose for even the briefest period of time. This ogre of deflation, we are told, must be defeated with the printing presses at all costs. Of course, the real objective of this fear mongering is to enable continued national-government theft through debasement. Every dollar printed is a government tax on cash balances.

There are two main sources of deflation. The first comes from a general increase in the amount of goods and services available. In this type of deflation, a reduction in costs, in a competitive environment, leads to lower prices. The high technology sector has thrived in this type of deflation for decades as technical progress (e.g., the effect of Moore’s Law) has powered innovations and computing power at ever-decreasing costs. The same was true for most industries during much of the nineteenth century, as the living standard increased considerably. Every man benefited from the increase in real wages resulting from lower prices.

The second source of deflation is from a reduction in the money supply that comes from an increase in the desire of the public or banking sectors to hold cash (i.e., hoarding).[1] An uncomplicated example will make this point clearer. Suppose we have 10 pencils and $10. Only at an equilibrium price of $1 will there be no excess output or excess money.

Suppose the production cost of a pencil is 80 cents. The rate of return is 25 percent. Now suppose people hoard $5 and stuff money in their mattress instead of saving it. The price of a pencil will be cut in half, falling from $1 to 50 cents, since we now have a money supply of $5 chasing 10 pencils. If input prices also fall to 40 cents per pencil then there is no problem since the rate of return is still 25 percent. In this example, a drop in output prices forced an adjustment in input prices.

The Keynesian fear is that input prices will not adjust fast enough to a drop in output prices so that the economy will fall into a deflation-depression spiral. The Keynesian-monetarist solution is to have the government print $5 to avoid this deflation.

Yet, this money creation is distortive and will cause a misallocation of resources since the new money will not be spent in the same areas or proportions as the money that is now being “hoarded” (as defined by Keynesians). Furthermore, even if the government could find the right areas or proportions, it would still lead to misallocations, since the hoarding reflects a desire to realign relative prices closer to what society really wants to be produced. The printing of money may actually increase the desire to hold cash, as we see today. Holding cash may be the preferred choice over consumption or investment (savings) when relative and absolute prices have been distorted by the printing press.

Of course, no one is really asking the critical questions. Why does holding more cash change the money supply, and why did the public and banks decide to increase their cash holdings in the first place?[2] Without fractional reserve banking, neither the public nor the banks could significantly change the money supply by holding more cash, nor could banks extend credit faster than slow-moving savings. The boom and ensuing malinvestments would be a thing of the past and, thus, so would the desire to hold more cash during the bust phase of the business cycle. If central banks are really concerned about this type of deflation, they should be addressing the cause — fractional reserve banking — and not the result. Telling a drunk that he can avoid the hangover by drinking even more whiskey is simply making the situation worse.[3] The real solution is to have him stop drinking.

According to the European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi,

The second drawback of low inflation … is that it makes the adjustment of imbalances much more difficult. It is one thing to have to adjust relative prices with an inflation rate which is around 2%, another thing is to adjust relative prices with an inflation rate which is around 0.5%. That means that the change in certain prices, in order to readjust, will have to become negative. And you know that prices and wages have a certain nominal rigidity which makes these adjustments more complex.

Draghi is confusing the first source of deflation with the second. The recent low inflation in the Euro zone can be attributed primarily to a strengthening of the Euro, and a drop in food and energy prices.

Economists at the Bundesbank must be quietly seething. They are obviously not blind to the ECB’s excuses to indirectly monetize the southern bloc’s debt. Draghi’s “whatever it takes” comment gave southern bloc countries extra time. Yet, little has been done to reign in the size of bloated public sectors. Debt-to-GDP ratios continue to rise and higher taxes in southern bloc countries have caused an even greater contraction of the private sector. Many banks in southern Europe are technically bankrupt. Non-performing loans in Italy have gone from about 5.8 percent in 2007 to over 15 percent today. And, the situation is getting worse.

Greece recently placed a five-year bond at under 5 percent which was eight times oversubscribed. This highlights the degree to which the financial sector in Europe is now dependent on the “Draghi put.” As elsewhere in the world, interest rates in Europe are totally distorted and no longer serve the critical function of allocating resources according to society’s time preference of consumption, or even reflect any real risk of default.

The ECB will likely impose negative rates shortly but will discover, as the Fed and others did before it, that you can bring a horse to water but cannot make him drink. QE will then be on the table, but unlike the Fed, the ECB is limited in the choice of assets it can purchase since direct purchase of Euro government bonds violates the German constitution. One day, Germany and the southern bloc countries, including France, will clash on what is the appropriate role of monetary policy.

Germany would be wise to plan, today, for a possible Euro exit.

Notes

[1] Keynesians view holding cash, and even holding savings in banks as “hoarding,” but properly understood, only the equivalent of stuffing money in a mattress is hoarding.

[2] Fractional-reserve lending is inflationary, thus contributing to inflationary booms. In turn, banks hold more cash when they fear a confidence crisis, which is also a result of the boom.

[3] Since inflationary fractional-reserve lending is a source of the problem, additional lending of the same sort is not the solution.

Frank Hollenbeck teaches finance and economics at the International University of Geneva. He has previously held positions as a Senior Economist at the State Department, Chief Economist at Caterpillar Overseas, and as an Associate Director of a Swiss private bank. See Frank Hollenbeck’s article archives.

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

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Pursuing the Outcomes of a Free Market – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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What hope is there to actually achieve the ideals of liberty in our lifetimes? There is a promising approach, encapsulated in the following method. Ask yourself: What results would a fully free market, functioning in accordance with the principles of liberty and individual rights, bring about? Now go pursue those results directly, through your individual actions, without waiting for the system to change.

References:
The Musical Compositions of G. Stolyarov II
– “Occupy Wall Street activists buy $15m of Americans’ personal debt” – Adam Gabbatt – The Guardian – November 12, 2013

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Pursuing the Outcomes of a Free Market – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
November 13, 2013
Recommend this page.
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            Those of us who love liberty wish to see a free-market society in our lifetimes. But, as a near-term prospect, a society even approximating a thorough respect of individual rights and free exchange is not on the horizon. The best liberty-oriented activism, culminating in the passionate, motivated support for Ron Paul during his 2012 Presidential campaign, has only gained the ideas of liberty the sympathy of perhaps 15% of the United States population, with the ability to attract perhaps a few more percentage points in tactical alliances on specific issues. This is not enough to catalyze system-wide change and turn around the steadily deteriorating political situation. Probably the best near-term hope for the system is some semblance of the 1990s – a glorious time for liberty by comparison to today! This could be achieved if enough people are galvanized to oppose and overturn NSA surveillance, meaningless foreign wars, and the never-ending domestic “wars” on drugs and terror, which have always ultimately turned into wars on innocent, law-abiding Americans. Such an outcome would produce a sigh of relief from the liberty-minded, but it still would not be close to a free market; it would just be somewhat sane and non-totalitarian.

            But if persuasion has not succeeded in convincing even a plurality of the population (at least for now) and if political change in the near term would mostly consist of reversing the most blatant, egregious travesties of justice, then what hope is there to actually achieve the ideals of liberty in our lifetimes? There is a promising approach, encapsulated in the following method. Ask yourself: What results would a fully free market, functioning in accordance with the principles of liberty and individual rights, bring about? Now go pursue those results directly, through your individual actions, without waiting for the system to change.

            Yes, there are limits to this approach. One limit is the law, whose prohibitions and mandates today will certainly constrain certain beneficial courses of action that would have been possible on the free market, while requiring people to spend their time on other courses of action that the free market would have rendered unnecessary. Yet the approach I propose can still do considerable good within the bounds of current laws in any political system less oppressive than that of Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984. Another limit is that the outcomes of a fully free market are not entirely foreseeable. Future discoveries and innovations by free individuals are the currently unseen benefits of voluntary action and exchange, and we cannot always anticipate them in advance. Even with this recognition, though, it is possible to reasonably anticipate that a free market would uplift human beings materially, intellectually, morally, and culturally. People in a free society would be more prosperous, more knowledgeable (and better able to distinguish good ideas from bad), less inclined to aggression against their fellow men, and more inclined to refined tastes (as a result of increased prosperity, leisure time, and sense that life is generally good).

            Direct, peaceful, lawful action by individuals today can bring about many of the results of a free market even without a free market being legally in place or supported by the majority of people. Furthermore, such results can be brought about by actions that are themselves fully consistent with free-market principles, since they would be entirely voluntary and respectful of the rights of others. There is one catch: the activities that would be profitable on a free market would not necessarily be so today. Their cost would need to be absorbed using one’s own resources, and one would need to consider the outcome not a loss, or even a sub-optimal profit, but rather a moral profit that outweighs the material cost, including the opportunity cost, in time and money.

            To give an example, I compose classically inspired music and give recordings away for free online using a Creative Commons license. In a free market, which over time would uplift the tastes of the general public, the production of high music (which would be simultaneously sophisticated and appealing to the human ear) would be much more remunerative than it is today, and the likes of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus would be relegated to the ever-thinning ranks of the dregs of society. This hypothesis is supported by history: in prior, far less prosperous but economically freer eras, composers of high music were often seen as celebrities, with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn, Giuseppe Verdi, and Johann Strauss II being just a few examples. Today, creators of good music have to content themselves with far less remuneration than the dubious pop idols, manufactured by politically connected and protected record labels. However, no one inhibits the freedom to compose, and the available tools for doing so are more impressive than ever before. Voluntary private action can increase the abundance of newly produced high culture in music, art, and literature. Similarly, voluntary private research initiatives, ranging from the humanities to mathematics to DIY biology, can hasten the rate of meaningful discoveries in order to more closely approximate the pace of intellectual and technological progress that would occur in a free market. With the hyper-empowerment made  possible through recent electronic technologies, the opportunities for any individual to make a difference in a field today exceed those available to large laboratories, academic departments, workshops, and orchestras in the mid-20th century. Thus, one person with free-market sympathies, acting on his own time with his own resources, can often achieve more than teams of people working through established institutions using old patterns of production, whose obsolescence is becoming glaringly obvious to anyone who pays attention.

            As an added bonus, creating free-market outcomes in accordance with free-market principles will, in any system, highlight the benefits and possibilities of voluntary, private action to those who might otherwise be unconvinced. It appears to me, from observation and experience, that theoretical and abstract arguments for the benefits of liberty are not sufficient to persuade anyone who is not already extremely theoretically inclined – a tiny minority of the human population. For everyone else, practical demonstrations of how freedom would work are far more powerful than the most finely honed theory of liberty. Probably, the majority of people would only come to support free markets once liberty-minded people have, de facto, built an entire free market around them by informally approximating its outcomes and workings. At that time, achieving a formal free market would just be a matter of “flipping the switch” on the entire system and amending the laws (with popular consent) to recognize the kind of societal order that would have already formed in practice.

            Interestingly enough, Rolling Jubilee, a more recent initiative by the Occupy movement, has valuable lessons to teach free-market advocates regarding the approach of pursuing desired outcomes directly. No, I am not referring to physical occupations of public places, but rather the efforts to purchase consumer debt on the secondary market (at deep discounts) and subsequently to abolish such debt, freeing consumers of its burden.  While the economic ideas of members of the Occupy movement often differ from free-market views, this initiative has achieved an objective that free-market advocates should find salutary: the reduction of the total outstanding amount of consumer debt, much of which was the result of a credit bubble fueled by the reckless inflationary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve. Furthermore, much today’s outstanding consumer debt is an outcome of cultural malaise brought about by generations of unfreedom, as a result of which a condition of financial dependency has come to predominate instead of self-reliance and the robustness to contingencies that can only come about due to a buffer of present owned resources. Freer-market cultures tend to be more contemptuous of reliance on personal debt, and it is thus reasonable to expect the total amount of debt on a free market to be less than exists today. The Occupy movement did not wait for authoritative permission, or for majority agreement, or for system-wide change. Rather, members pooled their resources and, by paying $400,000, managed to annul $14 million of consumer debt. It is a drop in the bucket of the entire problem, to be sure, but it is also an invaluable proof of concept for the project of massive societal transformation through voluntary, private action.

            Direct, peaceful, law-abiding action to bring about the outcomes of a free market would also help in another crucial respect by rehabilitating the image of free markets in the eyes of skeptics. The outcome of the course of action I propose would not be profit maximization in the present day; indeed, it would often require working for free on one’s own time and engaging in acts that would be considered charitable or philanthropic by professed opponents of the market. Even businesses that espouse free-market ideas could join in on this project and pursue practices that, while they may not capture every morsel of profit out there for the taking, are more in accord with how a free market would behave. Such businesses could, for instance, voluntarily renounce lobbying for special privileges and barriers to entry that would keep competitors out of the market.  They could also spend resources to improve workplace conditions and surrounding neighborhoods in order to better approximate how workplaces and neighborhoods would look under a prosperous free market. Furthermore, internal salary schedules in such businesses could be based on an approximation of meritocracy as it would emerge on a free market, which would often mean higher compensation for innovative and talented employees (irrespective of age, origin, past socioeconomic circumstances, or connections), resulting in greater retention, improved morale, better products, and long-term competitive advantages for the business that undertakes such a step. To certain onlookers, these behaviors might seem consistent with what is today called “corporate social responsibility” – and perhaps they would be. But by engaging in these practices in the name of striving toward a free-market ideal, liberty-minded businessmen could perhaps for the first time break through to capture the hearts and minds of many present-day detractors.

            What outcomes do you think would be achieved by a free market but are deficient today? Now go work to make them happen.

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Why Do Banks Keep Going Bankrupt? – Article by Kirby R. Cundiff

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The New Renaissance Hat
Kirby R. Cundiff
November 4, 2013
Recommend this page.
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The banking industry is unstable. Banks are regularly going bankrupt. Crises in the banking industry have occurred in three distinct time periods during the twentieth century—during the Great Depression of the 1930s, during the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and during the Great Recession from 2007 to present.

Why the banking industry is so vulnerable to bankruptcies and what can be done to correct this problem?

Debt to assets, or leverage, ratios vary significantly from industry to industry. They are typically under ten percent in most high tech industries and go up to forty percent for public utilities. Average debt ratios in the banking and financial services industry are in the fifty to seventy percent range, however, and many banks have much higher leverage ratios.

Firms attempt to minimize their total financing costs or Working Average Cost of Capital (WACC). The component costs of capital (cost of debt and cost of equity) are determined by investors’ perceptions of the risk and return possibilities associated with buying debt or equity in a given company or individual.

A credit card loan has a higher interest rate than a home loan because the credit card loan is riskier—i.e. there are no assets to seize if the money is not paid back. Similarly, a high-risk company normally pays a higher interest rate on its debt than a lower-risk company and increasing leverage is normally associated with increasing risk. Due to deposit insurance, however, this isn’t the case with banks.

Moral Hazard

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures deposits up to $250,000 in the United States. Most of the European countries (including Cyprus) have similar organizations that insure deposits up to 100,000 EUR. (See Deposit Insurance.)

Since depositors believe that their bank accounts are insured by governments, they do not generally know or care how much risk banks incur when they invest their depositors’ money. This creates a moral hazard problem with very little oversight by depositors of a bank’s management of their assets. Bank managers can take a lot of risk and, if they make profits, they keep the money. If they lose money, the taxpayers pay for the losses. In theory, this moral hazard problem is mitigated by subordinated debt, investors with deposits over the deposit insurance limit, and banking regulations. But these approaches are clearly not working.

In a series of agreements called the Basel Accords, the Basel Committee on Bank Supervision (BCBS) provides certain recommendations on banking regulations in regards to capital risk, market risk and operational risk. The purpose of these accords is to ensure financial institutions have enough capital to meet their obligations. The Tier I and Tier II capital controls of the Basel Agreements are supposed to prevent banks from taking too much risk with depositors’ assets. Tier 1 capital consists largely of shareholders’ equity. Tier 2 capital comprises undisclosed reserves, revaluation reserves, general provisions, hybrid instruments and subordinated debt.

The capital ratios are:

  •   Tier 1 capital ratio = Tier 1 capital / Risk-adjusted assets
  •   Total capital (Tier 1 and Tier 2) ratio = Total capital (Tier 1 + Tier 2) / Risk-adjusted assets
  •   Leverage ratio = Tier 1 capital / Average total consolidated assets

To be well-capitalized under federal bank regulatory definitions, a bank holding company must have a Tier 1 capital ratio of at least six percent, a total capital ratio of at least ten percent, and a leverage ratio of at least five percent (Capital).

The leverage ratios allowed under the Basel agreements are far higher than the typical leverag ratios in most industries and are far higher than would exist in a free-market financial system. Under a free-market system, depositors would not put their money in overly-leveraged banks and banks would be forced to decrease their leverage ratios and behave more like mutual or money market funds. Banks would be less likely to use short-term liabilities (deposits) to fund long-term assets (loans).

The S&L Crisis

Massive bank leverage would not create as much instability if the money supply was stable as in the 1800s under the gold standard. Under the current debt-is-money system, inflation and interest rates can vary wildly from year to year. The Savings and Loan Associations (S&Ls) made many low interest 30-year fixed rate home loans when inflation was low in the 1960s—five percent interest rate loans were typical. As inflation increased, the S&Ls still had these long-term home loans on their books, but the market now demanded higher interest rates on deposits (eighteen percent at times). The interest rates that many savings and loans were receiving on their assets (30-year fixed rate loans) were much lower than the interest rates the same S&Ls were paying on their liabilities (deposits). This duration mismatch resulted in the mass insolvency of the Savings and Loan Industry and a bailout of the S&Ls by the American tax payers exceeding $100 billion.

The Great Recession

The banking defaults of the Great Recession (2007 to present) were also caused by unstable interest rates combined with high leverage. The Federal Reserve lowered rates in the early 2000s to stimulate the economy after the bursting of the dot.com bubble. This resulted in many people borrowing money at very low interest rates to buy homes. Then the Federal Reserve raised interest rates and many people were no longer able to make their home payments. Again the result was massive bank insolvency and a substantial decrease in home values. Another huge taxpayer -funded bailout of the banking system followed, and the Federal Reserve has been printing money ever since, trying to stimulate the economy in the wake of yet another bubble it created.  The disbursements associated with placing into conservatorship government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by the U.S. Treasury, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and the Federal Reserve’s Maiden Lane Transactions are probably around $400 billion. How much of these disbursements will be paid back is currently unclear.

During the recent crises in Cyprus, proposals were seriously considered to ignore the 100,000 EUR deposit insurance and seize a fraction of even small depositors’ money. Most depositors lost access to their accounts for over a week and large depositors are still likely to lose a large fraction of their assets. This crisis has made some depositors more likely to pay attention to the solvency of their banks, but most depositors still believe that deposit insurance will cover any possible losses. If banks are to become more stable, the amount of equity relative to debt in the banking system must be drastically increased to something resembling what it would be without government deposit insurance, central bank subsidies, and treasury bailouts. Given the lobbying power of bankers in Washington, DC and around the word, such is unlikely to occur. The boom-bust cycle of banking bubbles followed by banking crises will most surely continue.

For further reading on this topic see this from The Freeman.

Kirby R. Cundiff, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Finance at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst and a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM Professional. 

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.

 

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