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He Was a Middle-School Loan Shark – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

He Was a Middle-School Loan Shark – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker

It came out in passing last night, in discussions with a smart 17-year old, that he got in deep trouble in middle school. He was accused of loan sharking, and forced to do detention.

See if you think there is anything wrong with what he did.

The middle-school cafeteria had candy machines. Every candy cost a dollar. My friend carried extra ones with him. He would buy candy, and immediately people would ask if he could loan them money. He did. More and more people asked. He continued to loan people money, and only some would pay him back. His charity was losing him money.

So he had an idea. He would loan anyone a dollar. However, the next day they had to pay him two dollars. This was great because it weeded out people who were not serious about their candy needs, and got rid of those who had no intention of paying him back. His idea helped to ration his scarce resources. It had the additional advantage of making him some money, which incentivized him to make funds available.

Everyone was happy. He made money. They got their candy. Most everyone paid him back. If he began the week with $5, he ended the week with $10. This was nice. No one was hurt.

If a person was late in paying, he added an additional dollar for each day. Otherwise, why would people pay sooner rather than later? So if you borrowed one dollar on Monday, and didn’t pay until Friday, you would owe $5.

Of course he did have to start keeping books on who borrowed from him. He would sometimes have to hunt them down the next day. Sometimes people need gentle reminders, of course. Mostly people paid.

He was also rather merciful. Once a person got behind by three full weeks. She technically owed $15 on a $1 loan. He came to her and said, “let’s settle this debt today. I’ll take $10 and we can call it even.” She was relieved and happily paid.

My friend was making lots of money. And why? Because many students wanted candy and failed to make the proper financial preparations to purchase it. He was there to facilitate an exchange. They would get candy now, which is what they wanted, and he would be rewarded for anticipating their desires.

So far, I see nothing wrong with this at all.

However, you could express this in more severe terms. People often criticized payday loans for charging an annual percentage rate of 100-700%. Scandalous, right?

Well, think about the rate my friend was charging. It turns out to be 26,000%, based on $1 per weekday.

Keep in mind that we are talking about a 13-year old kid here. This is not exactly a member of the Medici banking family here. He was just trying to help people with a two-party win.

But as his financial holdings grew, and his practices became more formalized, his business became ever more lucrative. That’s when news of his empire began to leak to teachers and parents.

Predictably, there was mass outrage. He was hauled in and accused of “loan sharking.” There was a trial. He was declared guilty. He was put on detention and humiliated publicly.

Once he was out of the picture, kids no longer had any means of getting financing for their candy fixes. They just stood in front of the machines staring blankly. It’s hard to see how the overall middle-school economy was improved by this crackdown.

The response of the parents and teachers was a typical example of mob behavior against intelligent capitalist practices. It’s been going on for hundreds of years, particularly hurting people who make money with their minds through financial savvy.

This was the basis of anti-Semitism from the Middles Ages through the Nazi period, since, as Milton Friedman has explained, Jews have traditionally specialized in the enterprise of money-lending.

And it goes on today, with all the frenzy against usury, payday loans, pawn shops, and so on. Even the Occupy movement sampled some of this populist outrage against money-making.

Damnant quod non intellegunt. They condemn what they do not understand.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

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. Read the original article.

Why We Need Deflation and Higher Interest Rates – Article by John P. Cochran

Why We Need Deflation and Higher Interest Rates – Article by John P. Cochran

The New Renaissance Hat
John P. Cochran
April 5, 2015

The Fed is seemingly slightly out of step with other central bankers as it recently hinted at possible future rate hikes in the official announcement following its March 20, 2015 meeting. But as many commentators have recognized, Janet Yellen, a strong proponent of Keynesian more-inflation-as-cure-for-unemployment policy, later downplayed the significance of the announcement. She was careful to indicate that rates would stay low for the near future and when (and if) rate increases begin, they will be measured. The Fed, like central bankers elsewhere, stays committed to a 2 percent inflation target as it continues a policy driven by a fear of deflation, a fear that is not supported by either good economic theory or economic history properly interpreted.

The errors of deflation-phobia can be drawn from Philipp Bagus’s excellent and recently released In Defense of Deflation. Bagus points out

In the economic mainstream, there are basically two main strands in contemporary deflation theories. The first strand can be represented by economists who in some way are inspired by Keynesian theories like Ben Bernanke, Lars E.O. Svensson, Marvin Goodfriend, or Paul Krugman. The first group fears that price deflation might put the economy in a liquidity trap and opposes all price deflation categorically. It represents the deflation phobia in its clearest form.

It is these theorists and their colleagues who currently dominate central bank thinking and make the case (weak and often only asserted as an imperative) for a positive inflation buffer.

Bagus does recognize a second group of mainstream economists with a more balanced view of deflation:

The second strand has representatives like Claudio Borio, Andrew Filardo, Michael Bordo, John L. Lane, and Angela Redish. Inspired by the Chicago School, the second group is more free market oriented. Bordo, for instance, received his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago. This group distinguishes between two types of deflation: good deflation and bad deflation.

Deflation Leads to Increases in Real Interest Rates, Which Brings Recovery

However, the main water carriers against this erroneous overemphasis by economists and the mainstream press on the alleged evils of deflation have been the Austrians. In his essays “A Reformulation of the Austrian Business Cycle Theory” and “An Austrian Taxonomy of Deflation” Joseph Salerno dismantles deflation-phobia and illustrates the benefits of higher interest rates. Moreover, “A Reformulation” is also a strong argument on why current policy retards recovery and why a policy which would allow financial markets to adjust to a new higher natural rate of interest is essential for restoring normalcy and prosperity. Salerno begins with examining why it is so unpleasant when an economy must adjust to fix the malinvestments and overconsumption that appeared in the boom phase:

The ABCT, when correctly formulated, does indeed explain the asymmetry between the boom and bust phases of the business cycle. The malinvestment and overconsumption that occur during the inflationary boom cause a shattering of the production structure that accounts for the pervasive unemployment and impoverishment that is observed during the recession. Before recovery can begin, the production structure must be painstakingly pieced back together again in a new pattern, because the intertemporal preferences of consumers have changed dramatically due to the redistribution and losses of income and wealth incurred during the inflation. This of course takes time.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that central bank-induced inflation has “wreaked havoc” on prices and consequently on economic calculation:

In addition, the recession-adjustment process is further prolonged by the fact that the boom has wreaked havoc with monetary calculation, the very moorings of the market economy. Entrepreneurs have discovered that their spectacular successes during the boom were merely a prelude to a sudden and profound failure of their forecasts and calculations to be realized. Until they have regained confidence in their forecasting abilities and in the reliability of economic calculation they will be understandably averse to initiating risky ventures even if they appear profitable. But if the market is permitted to work, this entrepreneurial malaise cures itself as the restriction of demand for factors of production drives down wages and other costs of production relative to anticipated product prices. The “natural interest rate,” i.e., the rate of return on investment in the structure of production, thus increases to the point where entrepreneurs are enticed to renew their investment activities and initiate the adjustment process. Success feeds on itself, entrepreneurs’ spirits rise, and the recovery gains momentum.

The market can only cure itself, Salerno explains, if prices are allowed to adjust, including decreases in “wages and other costs of production relative to anticipated product prices.” At the same time, it’s the resulting “steep rise” in real interest rates that draws capitalists and entrepreneurs back into the marketplace:

The rise in the natural interest rate that overcomes the pandemic demoralization among capitalists and entrepreneurs and sparks the recovery is reflected in the credit markets. For recovery to begin again, there needs to be a steep rise in the “real,” or inflation-adjusted, interest rate observed in financial markets. High interest rates do not stifle the recovery but are the sure sign that the readjustment of relative prices required to realign the production structure with economic reality is proceeding apace. The mislabeled “secondary deflation,” whether or not it is accompanied by an incidental monetary contraction, is thus an integral part of the adjustment process. It is the prerequisite for the renewal of entrepreneurial boldness and the restoration of confidence in monetary calculation. Decisions by banks and capitalist-entrepreneurs to temporarily hold rather than lend or invest a portion of accumulated savings in employing the factors of production and the corresponding rise of the loan and natural rates above some estimated “true” time preference rate does not impede but speeds up the recovery. This implies, of course, that any political attempt to arrest or reverse the decline in factor and asset prices through monetary manipulations or fiscal stimulus programs will retard or derail the recession-adjustment process.

New Defenders of Deflation

Citing work by Claudio Borio, head of the Monetary and Economic department at the BIS, listed above by Bagus, The Telegraph, ran a recent story by Szu Ping Chan, “Low Rates Will Trigger Civil Unrest as Central Banks Lose Control,” also highly critical of fear-of-deflation policy committed to 2 percent (or higher) inflation targets. Ms. Chan highlights work by Borio:

A separate paper co-authored by Mr Borio argued that periods of deflation has less economic costs than sustained falls in property prices. Its analysis of 38 economies over a period of more than 100 years showed economies grew by an average of 3.2pc during deflationary periods, compared with 2.7pc when prices were rising.

It said drawing blind comparisons with the 1930s were misguided. “The historical evidence suggests that the Great Depression was the exception rather than the rule,” said Hyun Shin, head of research at the BIS.

Mr. Bagus, Ms. Chan, and Mr. Borio have highlighted for us yet again why it is essential that institutional changes be made that lead to withering away of fiat money and create the possibility for sound money.

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.

The Importance of Subjectivism in Economics – Article by Sheldon Richman

The Importance of Subjectivism in Economics – Article by Sheldon Richman

The New Renaissance Hat
Sheldon Richman
October 3, 2012

After many years, Frédéric Bastiat remains a hero to libertarians. No mystery there. He made the case for freedom and punctured the arguments for socialism with clarity and imagination. He spoke to lay readers with great effect.

Bastiat loved the market economy, and badly wanted it to blossom in full—in France and everywhere else. When he described the blessings of freedom, his benevolence shined forth. Free markets can raise living standards and enable everyone to have better lives; therefore stifling freedom is unjust and tragic. The reverse of Bastiat’s benevolence is his indignation at the deprivation that results from interference with the market process.

He begins his book Economic Harmonies (available at the FEE store) by pointing out the economic benefits of living in society:

It is impossible not to be struck by the disproportion, truly incommensurable, that exists between the satisfactions [a] man derives from society and the satisfactions that he could provide for himself if he were reduced to his own resources. I make bold to say that in one day he consumes more things than he could produce himself in ten centuries. What makes the phenomenon stranger still is that the same thing holds true for all other men. Every one of the members of society has consumed a million times more than he could have produced; yet no one has robbed anyone else.

The Existence of Privilege

Bastiat was not naïve. He knew he was not in a fully free market. He was well aware of the existence of privilege: “Privilege implies someone to profit from it and someone to pay for it,” he wrote. Those who pay are worse off than they would be in the free market. “I trust that the reader will not conclude from the preceding remarks that we are insensible to the social suffering of our fellow men. Although the suffering is less in the present imperfect state of our society than in the state of isolation, it does not follow that we do not seek wholeheartedly for further progress to make it less and less.”

He wished to emphasize the importance of free exchange for human flourishing. In chapter four he wrote,

Exchange is political economy. It is society itself, for it is impossible to conceive of society without exchange, or exchange without society. …For man, isolation means death….

By means of exchange, men attain the same satisfaction with less effort, because the mutual services they render one another yield them a larger proportion of gratuitous utility.

Therefore, the fewer obstacles an exchange encounters, the less effort it requires, the more readily men exchange.

How does trade deliver its benefits?

Exchange produces two phenomena: the joining of men’s forces and the diversification of their occupations, or the division of labor.

It is very clear that in many cases the combined force of several men is superior to the sum of their individual separate forces.…

Now, the joining of men’s forces implies exchange. To gain their co-operation, they must have good reason to anticipate sharing in the satisfaction to be obtained. Each one by his efforts benefits the others and in turn benefits by their efforts according to the terms of the bargain, which is exchange.

But isn’t something missing from this account?

Austrian Insight

Indeed, there is: the subjectivist Austrian insight that individuals gain from trade per se. For an exchange to take place, the two parties must assess the items traded differently, with each party preferring what he is to receive to what he is to give up. If that condition did not hold, no exchange would occur. There must be what Murray Rothbard called a double inequality of value. It’s in the logic of human action–which Ludwig von Mises christened praxeology. Bastiat, like his classical forebears Smith and Ricardo, erroneously believed (at least explicitly) that people trade equal values and that something is wrong when unequal values are exchanged.

Perhaps I am too hard on Bastiat. After all, he was writing before 1850. Carl Menger did not publish Principles of Economics until 1871. Yet the Austrians were not the first to look at exchange strictly through subjectivist spectacles, that is, from the economic actors points of view. The French philosopher Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715-1780) did so a hundred years before Bastiat wrote:

The very fact that an exchange takes place is proof that there must necessarily be profit in it for both the contracting parties; otherwise it would not be made. Hence, every exchange represents two gains for humanity.

Bastiat Unaware?

Well, perhaps Bastiat was unaware of Condillac’s argument. That is not the case. He reprints the quote above in his book and responds:

The explanation we owe to Condillac seems to me entirely insufficient and empirical, or rather it fails to explain anything at all. . . .

The exchange represents two gains, you say. The question is: Why and how? It results from the very fact that it takes place. But why does it take place? What motives have induced the two men to make it take place? Does the exchange have in it a mysterious virtue, inherently beneficial and incapable of explanation?

We see how exchange . . . adds to our satisfactions. . . . [T]here is no trace of . . . the double and empirical profit alleged by Condillac.

This is perplexing. Clearly, the necessary double inequality of value is not empirical or contingent. Contra Bastiat, the double inequality explains quite a lot, and his questions all have easy answers.

Yet more perplexing still is Bastiat’s statement in the same chapter: “The profit of the one is the profit of the other.” This seems to imply what he just denied.

Consequential Failure

Bastiat’s failure to grasp this point had consequences for his debates with other economists. For example, he and his fellow “left-free-market” advocate Pierre-Joseph Proudhon engaged in a lengthy debate over whether interest on loans would exist in the free market or whether it was a privilege bestowed when government suppresses competition. Unfortunately, the debate suffers because neither Bastiat nor Proudhon fully and explicitly grasped the Condillac/Austrian point about the double inequality of value. As Roderick Long explains in his priceless commentary on the exchange,

[E]ach one trips up his defense of his own position through an inconsistent grasp of the Austrian principle of the “double inequality of value”; Proudhon embraces it, but fails to apply it consistently, while Bastiat implicitly relies on it, but explicitly rejects it. . . .

Proudhon’s case against interest seems to depend crucially on his claim that all exchange must be of equivalent values; so pointing out the incoherence of this notion would be a telling reply. But Bastiat cannot officially give this reply (though he comes tantalisingly close over and over throughout the debate) because elsewhere–in his Economic Harmonies–Bastiat explicitly rejects the doctrine of double inequality of value.

How frustrating! Bastiat has so much to teach. But here is one blind spot that kept him from being even better.

Sheldon Richman is the editor of The Freeman and, and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America’s Families.

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

Eliminating Most Foreclosures: An Innovative and Just Approach to Mortgage Delinquencies

Eliminating Most Foreclosures: An Innovative and Just Approach to Mortgage Delinquencies

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 25, 2012

The economic and personal consequences of foreclosure are devastating. Foreclosures leave behind not only blighted neighborhoods, but ruined lives. Furthermore, during the past three years, immense abuses of the foreclosure process have come to light – with numerous banks being found to have improperly foreclosed on thousands of homeowners. The banks have either been unable to produce documentation that demonstrated their right to foreclose – or, worse, have foreclosed on individuals who were never even delinquent or did not have mortgages in the first place (see, for instance, here, here, and here). The violations of due process, private-property rights, and the rule of law have been astounding.

At this point, any solution that can reduce the number of foreclosures will be a welcome benefit to individual liberty, the US economy, and millions of Americans. Indeed, the concept of foreclosure – the expropriation of one’s home – resulting from a few late payments has always struck me as draconian. It disregards one fundamental fact: the homeowner has equity in his or home, even if he or she fails to make a few scheduled payments. So, suppose that a homeowner has a $150,000 outstanding mortgage loan on a home whose market value is $200,000. This means that the homeowner’s equity in the home is $50,000 – or one quarter of the home’s value. If the homeowner fails to make a $1000 hypothetical monthly payment on time, why is the bank entitled to appropriate the entire home and thereby deprive the homeowner of the entire $50,000 in equity? Suppose, as is often the case these days, that the foreclosure proceedings drag on for a year. A 5000% annual rate of interest for that one delinquent payment is quite steep indeed!

While delinquencies ought to be penalized, wholesale expropriation of a home is an unnecessary and disproportionate response in most cases. It would not have been possible on a truly free market, where roughly equal negotiating power would exist between lenders and borrowers. In today’s politicized financial environment, however, the large banks receive all of the privileges: bailouts, loan guarantees, access to “free money” from the Federal Reserve, barriers to entry for smaller competitors, the ability to “securitize” personal loans through means of dubious accountability, the ability to flout laws such as those pertaining to mortgage modifications, and a swiftly operating “revolving door” between bankers and politicians. Thus, homeowners are often left to acquiesce to terms that are far harsher than what they could have gotten for themselves in a truly free market.

A more equitable solution, that recognizes that the real value of the homeowner’s equity, is not to foreclose, but rather to reduce the homeowner’s equity for each delinquent payment. If the homeowner fails to make a scheduled payment, then the bank should be able to recoup its resulting losses – by seizing the portion of the homeowner’s equity corresponding to the amount of the delinquency, perhaps also incorporating an interest charge at the prevailing market rate. Only when all of the homeowner’s equity has been exhausted in this way should the bank have the right to foreclose. In today’s housing market, where many homes are “underwater” (i.e., the mortgage balance exceeds the market price, which has declined precipitously since the days of the housing bubble), this solution would still mean that some foreclosures would occur. But the number of foreclosures would be greatly reduced, and the majority of currently planned foreclosures would never occur. Furthermore, the “underwater” homeowners could still be helped by downward principal modifications that recognize the illusory and unsustainable nature of the inflated market prices that existed during the housing bubble and that were fueled by the expansionary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve. Homeowners should not be made to suffer for the Federal Reserve’s blunders.

Under my proposed approach, the mere involuntary loss of one’s job, or a catastrophic illness, would not put one’s place of shelter in immediate jeopardy. Rather, in the time that it takes for the homeowner’s equity to be exhausted, the homeowner would have the opportunity to attempt to regain his or her employment or health. Furthermore, with fewer foreclosures, the unsightly, wasteful, and dangerous effects of neighborhood blight would be greatly scaled back. A homeowner will still largely maintain his or her residence, even if he or she cannot make a regular mortgage payment. But once a home enters foreclosure, it suffers from deterioration and decrepitude at best – and outright vandalism and destruction at worst.

In rolling back the political privileges of the large banks, it is essential to compensate ordinary, law-abiding, innocent homeowners for the damage that these special privileges have wrought. The benefits of years of hard work and consistent mortgage payments should not be nullified overnight by a single delinquency. Over a year ago, in “Wrongful Foreclosures and the Free Market”, I advocated breaking up the bailed-out banks and declaring a temporary moratorium on foreclosures. Rewriting foreclosure law to require the exhaustion of the homeowner’s equity before a foreclosure can be initiated can be another step to wipe out most foreclosures at the stroke of a pen – while restoring an outcome more compatible with individual liberty, true market freedom, and natural justice.