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Janet Yellen’s Christmas Gift to Wall Street – Article by Ron Paul

Janet Yellen’s Christmas Gift to Wall Street – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
December 21, 2014
Last week we learned that the key to a strong economy is not increased production, lower unemployment, or a sound monetary unit. Rather, economic prosperity depends on the type of language used by the central bank in its monetary policy statements. All it took was one word in the Federal Reserve Bank’s press release — that the Fed would be “patient” in raising interest rates to normal levels — and stock markets went wild. The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average had their best gains in years, with the Dow gaining nearly 800 points from Wednesday to Friday and the S&P gaining almost 100 points to close within a few points of its all-time high.

Just think of how many trillions of dollars of financial activity that occurred solely because of that one new phrase in the Fed’s statement. That so much in our economy hangs on one word uttered by one institution demonstrates not only that far too much power is given to the Federal Reserve, but also how unbalanced the American economy really is.

While the real economy continues to sputter, financial markets reach record highs, thanks in no small part to the Fed’s easy money policies. After six years of zero interest rates, Wall Street has become addicted to easy money. Even the slightest mention of tightening monetary policy, and Wall Street reacts like a heroin addict forced to sober up cold turkey.

While much of the media paid attention to how long interest rates would remain at zero, what they largely ignored is that the Fed is, “maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities.” Look at the Fed’s balance sheet and you’ll see that it has purchased $25 billion in mortgage-backed securities since the end of QE3. Annualized, that is $200 billion a year. That may not be as large as QE2 or QE3, but quantitative easing, or as the Fed likes to say “accommodative monetary policy” is far from over.

What gets lost in all the reporting about stock market numbers, unemployment rate figures, and other economic data is the understanding that real wealth results from production of real goods, not from the creation of money out of thin air. The Fed can rig the numbers for a while by turning the monetary spigot on full blast, but the reality is that this is only papering over severe economic problems. Six years after the crisis of 2008, the economy still has not fully recovered, and in many respects is not much better than it was at the turn of the century.

Since 2001, the United States has grown by 38 million people and the working-age population has grown by 23 million people. Yet the economy has only added eight million jobs. Millions of Americans are still unemployed or underemployed, living from paycheck to paycheck, and having to rely on food stamps and other government aid. The Fed’s easy money has produced great profits for Wall Street but it has not helped — and cannot help — Main Street.

An economy that holds its breath every six weeks, looking to parse every single word coming out of Fed Chairman Janet Yellen’s mouth for indications of whether to buy or sell, is an economy that is fundamentally unsound. The Fed needs to stop creating trillions of dollars out of thin air, let Wall Street take its medicine, and allow the corrections that should have taken place in 2001 and 2008 to liquidate the bad debts and malinvestments that permeate the economy. Only then will we see a real economic recovery.

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.

Inflation Has Not Cured Iceland’s Economic Woes – Article by David Howden

Inflation Has Not Cured Iceland’s Economic Woes – Article by David Howden

The New Renaissance Hat
David Howden
November 6, 2013

No two countries’ responses have polarized commentators over the past five years more than the contrasting post-crisis policies in Iceland and Ireland.

In a paper published in Economic Affairs (available here as a PDF) I contrast the policies enacted by Iceland and Ireland, perhaps the two countries most affected by the liquidity freeze of 2008. A common conclusion has been that one country did everything right and the other did everything wrong, however, I take a more pragmatic approach. There are some positive aspects in each case, and other aspects we can do without.

At the risk of over-simplifying their situations, the key policy differences are:

  1. Iceland allowed substantial swaths of its financial sector to collapse (mostly foreign-domiciled subsidiaries) while Ireland enacted blanket guarantees to keep its financial sector afloat.
  2. Iceland quickly inflated its krona in a bid to regain international competitiveness through depreciation. By being locked in the euro, Ireland was unable to pursue a similar path and instead had to become more attractive to foreigners by lowering its domestic prices (i.e., disinflation or outright deflation).
  3. Iceland stymied a capital flight by enacting monetary controls aimed at keeping investment within the country. By being part of the European Union, Ireland maintained its commitment to free capital markets, and investors were able to enter or exit as they pleased.

The evidence is mixed as to which solution was more effective. Iceland seems to have softened the immediate blow of its recession, but present growth in Ireland is stronger. In a similar way, unemployment in Iceland was less and still remains lower today.

For our purposes here, I want to focus just on the effects of their respective monetary policies, and how the short-term gains from Iceland’s inflationary response now pale in comparison to Ireland’s more subdued response.

Figure 1: Nominal GDP (2008 = 100) Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Figure 1 shows the common story. Iceland’s inflationary policy stimulated exports, papered over some bad debts, and in general allowed it to exit the storm relatively unscathed. In contrast, Ireland is languishing in slow growth and five years later the country’s income is still 10 percent below its pre-bust peak.

Such an analysis neglects the pernicious effects of inflation on the Icelandic economy. This policy increased the money supply by almost 20 percent in 2008 alone, and lead to an immediate increase in prices.

Figure 2: Real GDP (2008 = 100) Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

In figure 2 we get a better feel for how the situation felt to the average Icelander or Irishman. As the Central Bank of Iceland inflated the money supply, price inflation raged. Icelanders continually felt their financial security worsen as their purchasing power collapsed. This was not apparent to the rest of the world, fixated as it was on the nominal prices the Icelandic economy posted. By its nadir in late 2010, inflation-adjusted income in Iceland was down over 35 percent.

In Ireland this decline was muted because of price deflation. As domestic prices fell it became easier for Irish citizens to make their declining nominal incomes go further. At its worst, the Irish economy collapsed less than 10 percent in real terms.

This seems to suggest that Ireland had the better solution by not pursuing an inflationary monetary policy. Some will note, however, that Iceland’s recovery since 2010 has been quite strong.

Indeed, if we look at the drop in the employment rate for both countries most probably feel more sympathy for the masses of unemployed Irishmen.

Figure 3: Employment rate (2008 = 1) Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Digging deeper, however, we find that not all is as it seems. Many Icelanders work two jobs to make ends meet. This effect was increasingly pronounced through the recession as inflation made it more difficult to get by with one salary. As a consequence, many Icelanders lost one job during the recession but the unemployment statistics did not reflect this as they were still employed elsewhere. This is notably not the case in Ireland, where not only is one job per worker the norm, but falling prices made it easier for an employed person to make ends meet as the recession continued.

A better way to gauge the employment situation is to look at changes in the hours worked.

Figure 4: Annual hours worked (2008 = 100) Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Here we can see the situation is reversed. By the recession’s trough in 2010 the number of hours worked by the average Icelander had fallen 6 percent while in Ireland the corresponding drop was only 3.5 percent — almost half as much.

Both countries still have problems. Iceland’s monetary controls are notably stifling needed investment, while Ireland is left with a large debt from bailing out its banks, and this is stalling growth. One thing is clear though — the effects of monetary policy are stark and the proclaimed benefits of Iceland’s inflationary policy were counteracted by the price inflation that ensued.

Don’t let a good crisis go to waste; learn something from it. As the tale of these two countries demonstrates, inflating one’s currency may give the appearance of recovery, but the truth is somewhat less rosy.

David Howden is Chair of the Department of Business and Economics and professor of economics at St. Louis University’s Madrid Campus, Academic Vice President of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada, and winner of the Mises Institute’s Douglas E. French Prize. Send him mail. See David Howden’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.

Mainstream Economists Prove Krugman Wrong About Hayek and Mises – Article by John P. Cochran

Mainstream Economists Prove Krugman Wrong About Hayek and Mises – Article by John P. Cochran

The New Renaissance Hat
John P. Cochran
September 13, 2013

Paul Krugman has recently been critical of Friedman (and Phelps), the Phillips curve, and the Natural Unemployment Rate (NUR) theory in the process of arguing that due to the recent Great Recession, the accompanying financial crisis, and Bush-Obama-Fed Great Stagnation, Friedman has vanished from the policy front. Krugman makes this claim despite the fact there is an on-going vigorous debate on rules versus discretion with at least some attention to Friedman’s plucking model. While maligning Friedman’s contributions, Krugman manages a slap at Austrians and claims a renewed practical relevance for Keynes:

What I think is really interesting is the way Friedman has virtually vanished from policy discourse. Keynes is very much back, even if that fact drives some economists crazy; Hayek is back in some sense, even if one has the suspicion that many self-proclaimed Austrians bring little to the table but the notion that fiat money is the root of all evil — a deeply anti-Friedmanian position. But Friedman is pretty much absent.

The Friedman-Phelps hypothesis was the heart of the policy effectiveness debate of the 1970s and early 80s. The empirical evidence developed during the debate over the policy implications of the NUR model, at least temporally, discredited active Keynesian discretionary policy as an effective tool to reduce unemployment in the long run. One result of the debate: monetary policy appeared to improve, especially compared to the Fed’s dismal record in the late 1920s and 1930s and the mid 1960s to the late 1970s. Central banks, à la Friedman, focused on rules-based policy and inflation targeting resulting in what many, following John B. Taylor, call the Great Moderation of the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

Krugman does recognize the “stagflation (of the 1970s) led to a major rethinking of macroeconomics, all across the board; even staunch Keynesians conceded that Friedman/Phelps had been right (indeed, they may have conceded too much [emphasis added]), and the vertical long-run Phillips curve became part of every textbook.”

My early work on Hayek and Keynes (see here and here) argued that this development was important, but misleading. The then current business cycle research and its newer variants could benefit from re-examining the issues at the heart of the Hayek-Keynes debate.

Money, banking, finance, and capital structure were, and still are, for the most part ignored in much of the new (post-Friedman-Phelps) macroeconomics including the new–Keynesian approaches. In this regard, Hayek (and Mises) had then, and has now, more to offer than Keynes.

Recent papers by respected mainstream economists are beginning to recognize that attention to Hayek and Mises can be useful. Guillermo Calvo of Columbia University, in a recent paper [PDF], has even gone so far as to argue, “the Austrian school of the trade cycle was on the right track” and that the Austrian School offered valuable insights and noting that:

There is a growing empirical literature purporting to show that financial crises are preceded by credit booms including Mendoza and Terrones (2008), Schularik and Taylor (2012), Agosin and Huaita (2012), and Borio (2012).

Calvo adds “[t]his was a central theme in the Austrian School of Economics.”

Claudio Borio highlights what Austrians have long argued is a key flaw in inflation-targeting or stable-money policy regimes such as many central banks either adopted or emulated during the 1980-2008 period. This flaw contributed to back-to-back boom-busts of the late 1990s and 2000s:

A monetary policy regime narrowly focused on controlling near-term inflation removes the need to tighten policy when financial booms take hold against the backdrop of low and stable inflation. And major positive supply-side developments, such as those associated with the globalisation of the real side of the economy, provide plenty of fuel for financial booms.

Borio thus recognizes that a time to mitigate a bust is (contra-Keynes) during the boom:

In the case of monetary policy, it is necessary to adopt strategies that allow central banks to tighten so as to lean against the build-up of financial imbalances even if near-term inflation remains subdued.

William R. White, another economist who has worked at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) and has been influenced by Hayek, has come to similar conclusions as does Calvo, who argues “Hayek’s theory is very subtle and shows that even a central bank that follows a stable monetary policy may not be able to prevent business cycles and, occasionally, major boom-bust episodes.”

In the current environment, many, including Krugman, have argued for a higher inflation target or a higher nominal GDP target to jump start the current sluggish recovery.

Austrian business cycle theory on the other hand, as recognized by Borio and Calvo, provides analysis on why such a policy may be ineffective and if temporarily effective in the short run, harmful if not destructive, in the long run. (See here and here for more.)

An easy money and credit policy impedes necessary re-structuring of the economy and new credit creation begins a new round of misdirection of production leading to an “unfinished recession.” Calvo expounds:

Whatever one thinks of the power of the Hayek/Mises mix as a positive theory of the business cycle, an insight from the theory is that once credit over-expansion hits the real sector, rolling back credit is unlikely to be able to put “Humpty-Dumpty together again.”

It is too bad it took back-to-back harmful boom-bust cycles for the profession at large to begin to again examine Austrian insights, but it does illustrate how foolish Krugman is when he argues Austrians have nothing to bring to the table.

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.

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