Category Archives: Currency and Monetary Policy

Ron Paul Will Never Be President But He HAS Made a Difference

Those who support the establishment of the Republican Party tend to be irritated that Ron Paul’s supporters kept trying to put his name up for nomination against Mitt Romney at the convention in Tampa even though Paul had no realistic chance of winning. Even very early in the campaign, establishment whores such as Hugh Hewitt were arguing that Ron Paul along with Herman Cain and Gary Johnson should be “exiled” from the debates because they didn’t have “a prayer of winning” the nomination. But are political campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, only about winning the nomination and ultimately, the presidency?

As someone who supported Ron Paul in the primary, I believed his winning the nomination would be the greatest upset in political history to say nothing about becoming the next president. When Terry Moran asked Paul the question: “When you lay your head on your pillow at night, do you see yourself in the Oval Office?” Paul replied “not really.” This is not a typical response of someone who is making a serious run for president.

This isn’t to say in any way that Ron Paul was not making a serious run for president, I think he was. Paul made three unsuccessful runs for the presidency but has succeeded in changing the political conversation. He advanced the ball in ways that he otherwise would not have had he not made these runs for the White House.

The most obvious example of how Paul has changed the political debate would be his call for a full audit of the Federal Reserve. As recently as 2006, the following was written about the Federal Reserve in a book by Richard Brookhiser entitled What Would the Founders Do (Our Questions, Their Answers)*

Everyone likes the Federal Reserve System these days, partly because it seems to work so well. (Not one person in a thousand ever thinks of it, a rough definition of working well.) But suspicion of public banks could revive at any time, for the same reasons that many of the founders were suspicious of them — most people (the founders included) do not understand banks or banking, and some bankers are in fact crooks. (p.92)

Back when this paragraph was written, I don’t think the Federal Reserve was even on my radar and I don’t think I was alone. Maybe the Fed isn’t the top issue for the average voter even now but I do think it’s safe to say more people are skeptical of the Fed especially in the era of bailouts and quantitative easing (i.e. printing money out of thin air). The mere mention of Ben Bernake or the Fed, especially at Ron Paul or liberty oriented rallies bring about boos and chants of “End the Fed!” “End the Fed!” This in of itself isn’t that big of a deal; these are true believers. What is a big deal, however; is that language to audit the Fed has made its way into the 2012 Republican Party Platform. Even more importantly, Paul’s Audit the Fed bill passed the House by an overwhelming 327-98 vote margin. Every single Republican but one supported the legislation along with 89 Democrats.

The bill wasn’t brought to a vote in the Senate but pressure will mount on Harry Reid if the Democrats maintain control to schedule a vote. If the Republicans take the Senate, a vote is even more likely to happen and Audit the Fed would be more likely to pass. If it gets to the president’s desk, the president – be it Obama or Romney will sign the bill, I believe.

A bipartisan bill authored by Ron Paul – who would have thought?

Ron Paul, one man who prior to the 2008 campaign wasn’t a household name, has changed the conversation within the G.O.P. concerning the Fed, spending, constitutional government, taxation, and civil liberties. Though his delegates were mistreated in Tampa, the RNC saw fit to at least try to mollify them with this tribute to the congressman’s career.

Missing from the tribute video was Paul’s anti-war/anti-interventionist views that he has espoused throughout his political career. Paul challenged people to do their own research concerning American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. He openly challenged the notion that policing the world trying to “make the world safe for democracy” and nation building was in America’s national security interest. Though the Neocons and war hawks are still firmly in control of the G.O.P., more voices in the party are challenging the prevailing view and cautioning Americans about blowback – a term invented by the C.I.A. but popularized by the Texas congressman.

Most important of all, Ron Paul is leaving a legacy behind him as he retires from congress. What will become of the rEVOLution in his absence? A small but growing number of individuals are being elected to the House and the Senate who share many of Paul’s small government/pro-liberty views. Ron Paul’s son Sen. Rand Paul along with Sen. Mike Lee, Sen. Mark Kirk, Rep. Justin Amash among others will lead the movement into the future. If the Paul activists continue to fight the establishment from inside** the G.O.P., there is at least a chance that the party will actually live up to its more small government ideals it purports to stand for.

*Basic Books, New York.

**While I understand why some Paul supporters might be tempted to leave the party due to how they have been treated by the party establishment, I would advise against this. The G.O.P. is ripe for a hostile takeover BUT the establishment isn’t going to give up control so easy. If you drop out, you are allowing them to win; this is precisely what they want you to do. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Focus on the Senate, House, and races at the state and local levels and vote your conscience for president (the wonderful thing about voting is that you don’t have to tell anyone who you voted for). After this election, regroup and continue to fight for liberty.

Walking Dead Economics

My wife and kids got me hooked on a series some of you may have heard of called The Walking Dead (and like the rest of the Walking Dead fans out there, I have to wait until October for the next season to begin as the characters have been left in quite a precarious situation) For those who haven’t heard of this series, basically Atlanta, GA (and as far as we know, the rest of the world) has been taken over by zombies (called “walkers” by most people who inhabit this world). While the series does have many of the elements of the zombie genre, the story and the characters in the story are quite a bit more complex.The story isn’t so much about the walkers as it is about the characters who not only have to survive this zombie apocalypse, but also manage to survive the other survivors and live with very limited resources.

One thing that becomes very clear at the beginning of this series is that many of the societal rules quickly go out the window when under constant threat of flesh eating walkers. Paper money is of no practical use (other than to start a fire perhaps). Debit cards and credit cards are even less valuable as there is no way to access your worthless money.

One other thing I noticed is that gold isn’t even a commodity that is of much use in this world.

It so happens that I have been reading Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover as my wife and I are trying to apply his system to get our financial house in order (I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get out of debt). In the book I ran across the following passage in which Ramsey explains why he does not believe gold is a good investment, even as a hedge against a total economic collapse:

It is important to remember that gold is not used when economies fail. History shows that when an economy completely collapses, the first thing that appears is a black-market barter system in which people trade items for other items or services. In a primitive culture, items of utility often become the medium of exchange, and the same is temporarily true in a failed economy. A skill, a pair of blue jeans, or a tank of gas becomes very valuable, but not gold coins or nuggets. Usually a new government rises from the ashes, and new paper money or coinage is established. Gold will, at best, play a minor role, and the gold investor will be left with the sick feeling that real estate, canned soup, or knowledge would have been a better hedge against a failing economy. – The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey (Thomas Nelson, 2003, 2007) p. 55.

I don’t know that I fully agree with Ramsey here though I’m by no means an expert on the history of gold or monetary policy. It seems to me that as a new civilization emerges from economic collapse, gold (and other commodities) would play a much greater role before people would accept any new fiat money. He seems to have a legitimate point, however; with regard to a collapsing or fully collapsed economy.

This is certainly the case in The Walking Dead. The resources most necessary to survive in this world are water, food, shelter, firearms, ammunition, medicine, fuel, spare parts, etc. Without these items, you aren’t going to survive for very long. Under these circumstances, who would trade a shotgun and ammunition for a bar of gold? I sure wouldn’t. I might trade a shotgun, assuming I already have enough firearms to hold the flesh eaters at bay, for some food and water. Better yet, I might offer to provide security for a few nights in exchange for food, water, and a temporary place to stay. This arrangement would continue as long as both parties agree.

In the course of the series, these are the kinds of arrangements that are worked out. Security is a major concern because, despite apparent efforts by the federal government to impose martial law, the government failed* and the law of the jungle is now in full effect. Many resources such as firearms, water, auto parts, food, fuel, etc. are scavenged from those who were either killed or simply abandoned their property (finders’ keepers).

Earlier in this season, the main characters find themselves at a dead end on the interstate as thousands of abandoned cars litter the road. Though on one hand this is very bad news, on the other, it’s an opportunity to scavenge whatever resources were left behind. At another point, a couple of the survivors make their way into an abandoned small town where they hit the jackpot in finding an abandoned pharmacy with a decent supply of prescription drugs. At the very end of this last season, the camera pans out to a prison near where the remaining surviving characters are camped out. What, if anything, can these refugees benefit from the prison? (I’m very interested to see where the story goes from here with the prison).

“What about silver bullets, do they have any value?” you ask. Silver bullets are needed to kill ware wolves, not walkers. Ware wolves? Seriously, ware wolves? Now that would be ridiculous.

*Or did it? Perhaps all the “important” people have been relocated to a secret and secure location while the citizens are left to fend for themselves.

Ron Paul at His Very Best Confronting Ben Bernake

If Rep. Ron Paul has accomplished anything in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns it would be the way he has educated the American public about monetary policy and the Federal Reserve. I’ve listened to on line lectures from the Cato Institute and read about monetary policy but more often than not its either over my head or bores me to tears. Paul manages translate the Fed’s policy and put into language people like me can understand and keep it interesting.

Today’s hearing where Paul questioned Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake is a case-in-point. My favorite part is when he asks Bernake if he does his own grocery shopping driving home the point about how his inflationary policies impact average people where it matters most (cost of groceries and fuel doesn’t go into determining the rate of inflation).

Book Review: Slackernomics, by Dale Franks

Those of you that have been around the libertarian blogosphere for any length of time will recognize the name Dale Franks. His main writing gig is over at QandO, where he spends the bulk of his time writing about the economy. In addition, he’s a bit of a gunblogger, and runs a separate blog for motorcycles.

At one point a few years ago I had noticed a link to a book Dale has written called Slackernomics: Basic Economics for People Who Think Economics is Boring. Given that I’m not the type who thinks economics is boring, but had enjoyed his blogging, I wanted to get a chance to read it. At that time, the book was only available in print at a price above $20. It took a spot on my “buy when I get around to it list”, and sat there for quite some time, but I never pulled the trigger. Then, more recently, it became avaiable for the Kindle at only $2.99 — I no longer had an excuse not to buy it. So onto the Kindle it went, and after several long months of sitting there taking up space, I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

Slackernomics is a primer on basic economic theory that, as the title suggests, is written for people who think economics is boring. It’s written in a convivial tone, and the illustrative examples that Dale uses reminds one more of Freakonomics than of Adam Smith. Don’t let that fool you, though — the book is not a “sideshow” like Freakonomics — it gets to the heart of the matter. I liken it to be similar to Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in one Lesson”, but written for people who may not be interested in the more formal writing style of Hazlitt. In addition, having been written many decades after Hazlitt’s book, it’s obviously much more up to date.

The book covers everything from price theory, minimum wage & rent control to monetary theory and the business cycle, Keynesianism, taxes / deficit spending, savings & investment, and economic statistics. He continues with a great defense of free trade and a bit of entrance into politics (touching a tad on public choice theory). In all, for being a relatively short book, he hits all the major notes that anyone looking for an introduction to economic thought would need to learn.

But the big question, for readers of this blog, is whether it’s worth it to buy. “Am I going to learn anything new?” And I can honestly say that despite the fact that I read economic books & blogs for leisure, and that I’ve blogged a fair bit about economics myself, I learned some new things from Slackernomics. Dale’s fourth chapter, unwinding the mess of the myriad of economic reports and statistics he’s constantly posting on Twitter, Google+, and at QandO, was wonderful. I’ve looked at many of these reports merely reading analysts *reaction* to the numbers (Higher jobless claims? How unexpected!), but rarely understood which group (public or private) was putting out certain reports nor how they all fit together. For me, a layman who is conversant on a lot of economic theory but not as perhaps on the technical reports, I have never seen an explanation of the reports that come out each week and each month as simple and readable as that chapter. That was more than worth it for my $2.99.

So my recommendation is simple: at $2.99, if you have a Kindle (or a device with a Kindle app), it’s hard to pass it up. You’re almost assured to get your money’s worth from the book. Even further, if you know someone in high school or college that may not have received good schooling in economics (which is, unfortunately, most of them), and who isn’t exactly about to tackle The Wealth of Nations, find a way to get them a copy of Slackernomics. Dale’s writing style will keep them interested.

All in all, it’s a book that lives up to its title, and goes well beyond.

The Challenge of Creating an Economically Sound, Simpler, and More Just Tax Code (Part 3 of 3)

Part 1
Part 2

The challenge of creating an economically sound, simpler, and more just tax code, be it the existing code, 9-9-9, a flat tax, or a sales tax will remain an impossibility if tax revenues is the only focus of any reform. The problem that dwarfs any notion of how tax policy is implemented is how the money is spent by the government.

As I write this, the national debt is approaching $15 trillion. That’s $47,810 per citizen or $132,927 per tax payer.

Even more staggering, the sum total unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare is just over $116 trillion. The prescription drug part of Medicare is over $20 trillion by itself!

Other than the Federal Reserve creating money out of thin air, what tax policy can possibly begin to support this kind of spending? It seems stupid to even pose the question.

Yet the only answer the Obama administration seems to have to pay down the debt or turn the economy around is to raise taxes on the wealthy and continue the reckless spending. The Republicans for their part offer modest tax cuts and modest spending cuts that will have no noticeable impact on the debt.

It’s high time that we as citizens tell our public servants that the out of control spending has to stop. We must demand serious structural reforms to entitlement programs or phase them out over time.

We must also recognize the difference between military spending and true national defense spending. We can no longer afford to police the world. It’s time to tell Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, Japan, and others that they are now responsible for their own national defense and domestic security.

That’s just a start; there’s a great deal more spending that should be cut. But before any significant cuts can be made, we need to decide just how much government we want in our lives and what we are each willing to pay. For those who believe that individuals who make under a certain income level should be spared from paying any taxes at all (i.e. too small to tax) maybe it is you who should be out front in demanding a whole lot less government.

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