Category Archives: Inflation

Government Spending Has Been Flat The Past 5 Years. No, Really!

Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)

Back in 2011, I looked at some CBO projections, and said that the country was in dire straits financially. Spending seemed to be on an absolute tear, and revenue–even if it lived up to wildly optimistic projections–wasn’t going to come close to keeping up.

Essentially, the CBO projections pointed to spending occurring at absolutely unprecedented levels, and relied on completely unrealistic projections of economic growth to [not quite even] pay for it. At the time, I said:

Even with those assumptions, where does spending fall historically? Even at these rosy projections, it never falls under 22% of GDP (on par with the highest spending the country has seen since WWII), and those rosy projections came in January 2010. A year later, in January 2011, the CBO outlook got worse. It now shows spending never falling under 23% of GDP during the decade 2011-2020. Historically, spending has not exceeded 23% of GDP for a single year between 1946 and 2008.

Where has revenue been over the last few decades? Well, for the years 1991-2000, during which time we suffered one mild recession followed by the tech bubble, total government revenue averaged 18.75% of GDP. For the years 2001-2010, where we dealt with the tech bubble collapse followed by the subprime bubble and then crash, total government revenue averaged 17.07% of GDP. A sizeable drop, to be sure (the worst spots being 2009 & 2010, where the financial crash slammed revenue below 15% of GDP). But fundamentally not that far out of line with historical precedent.

Now, I hadn’t gone back to look at the numbers since then. So I was very surprised to read a Cato post suggesting that spending was stagnant and was sitting at a mere 20.3% of GDP, not the 23%+ area that the CBO was projecting. As Daniel Mitchell from Cato puts it (emphasis added):

Here are some specific numbers culled from the OMB data and CBO data. In fiscal year 2009, the federal government spent about $3.52 trillion. In fiscal year 2014 (which ended on September 30), the federal government spent about $3.50 trillion.

In other words, there’s been no growth in nominal government spending over the past five years. It hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves, but there’s been a spending freeze in Washington.

I was frankly shocked. So I ended up going straight to the OMB data (note: it’s an .xls file) to confirm.
Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)
Looks pretty legit. Spending was pushing well above 23% GDP for a few years due to the economic meltdown, the stimulus, and the continuing effects of global war.

What’s interesting, and I pulled this out of the graphic for clarity (go download the original source data if you want to confirm) is that this is NOMINAL spending. Considering there has been inflation since 2009, it’s actually fair to say that spending has decreased in real dollars over the last 5 years.

Spending is well below the CBO projections from 2010 that I used in my previous post. And frankly, revenue is WELL below their projections as well. But the spending restraint is sufficient to keep both spending as a percentage of GDP and deficits as a percentage of GDP in reasonable territory.

Now, there are always devils in the details. Mitchell points out a few in his post at Cato, and has even more to say on the subject here. But either way you slice it, the fiscal meltdown that many (including me 3 1/2 years ago) were predicting hasn’t come to pass.

Some on the left will credit Obama (even though they’ve never seen spending they didn’t like). Some on the right will credit the Tea Party (even though they spent the 8 years prior to Obama spending like a Kardashian wedding).

As for me, I’m just going to say that I’m glad my predictions–based on CBO projections–didn’t come to pass.

Tesla Whines About Protectionist Legislation for Auto Dealers While Using Government Largesse to Compete

Last week, I wrote about rent seeking auto dealers lobbying for protection from competition with manufacturers utilizing direct-to-consumer sales models. I mentioned direct-to-consumer manufacturer Tesla by name, and suggested such legislation would prevent consumers from enjoying the savings that might otherwise be realized from Tesla’s efforts to “eliminate the middle-man.”

I should have taken the opportunity to address Tesla’s own abundant receipt of government largesse.

And to be clear, “government” largesse is always paid for by the taxpayers.

In a piece entitled “If Tesla Would Stop Selling Cars, We’d All Save Some Money,” Forbes contributor Patrick Michaels details all the ways Tesla benefits from government handouts. Michaels concludes that taxpayers shell out $10,000 for every car Tesla sells.

Michaels starts with a claim that purchasers of Tesla vehicles receive a $7500 “taxback bonus that every buyer gets and every taxpayer pays.” Since the tax credit appears to be non-refundable, I would not count it as a cost to other taxpayers, as Michaels does.

But the federal tax credit is only the tip of the crony capitalist iceberg for Tesla.

There are also generous state subsidies paid by taxpayers to the wealthy people who buy Tesla’s expensive vehicles. Purchasers in Illinois, for example, can receive a $4,000 rebate from that state’s “Alternate Fuels Fund,” a $3,000 rebate to offset the cost of electric charging stations, and reduced registration fees. California likewise offers a long list of rebates and subsidies to buyers of electric vehicles.

One of the hidden costs to consumers comes in the form of the increased price tag on cars sold by manufacturers who do not qualify for California’s mandated emissions credits, which they instead have to buy from Tesla, allowing it to earn a profit despite selling cars at a massive loss. As Michaels explains:

Tesla didn’t generate a profit by selling sexy cars, but rather by selling sleazy emissions “credits,” mandated by the state of California’s electric vehicle requirements. The competition, like Honda, doesn’t have a mass market plug-in to meet the mandate and therefore must buy the credits from Tesla, the only company that does. The bill for last quarter was $68 million. Absent this shakedown of potential car buyers, Tesla would have lost $57 million, or $11,400 per car. As the company sold 5,000 cars in the quarter, though, $13,600 per car was paid by other manufacturers, who are going to pass at least some of that cost on to buyers of their products. Folks in the new car market are likely paying a bit more than simply the direct tax subsidy.

Slate’s Scott Woolley details another way in which Tesla has cost taxpayers money. In 2009, Tesla received a $465 million Department of Energy loan that allowed it to weather a financial maelstrom. Unlike Solyndra (and Abound Solar and Fisker Automotive and The Vehicle Production Group LLC), Tesla managed to repay the loan in 2013. According to Michaels, it did so by reporting its first ever quarterly profit (earned from the sale of the emissions credits), which sent its stock soaring and enabled it to borrow $150 million from Goldman Sachs, and then issuing a billion in new stock and long-term debt.

But Tesla paid the U.S. taxpayers back at a rate far below what venture capitalists would have earned on the same loan. As an example, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk also made a loan to Tesla. Musk got a 10% interest rate and options to convert the debt to stock, which he did, resulting in a 3,500% rate of return on his investment.

In contrast, the U.S. taxpayer received a 2.6% rate of return.

In other words, in our crony capitalist system, taxpayers take the loss on bad loans like the one to Solyndra, but do not enjoy commensurate reward on good loans like the one to Tesla.

But there is still more. Tesla cannot keep earning emissions credits, which allow it to earn a profit despite selling its cars at a loss, unless it can keep selling those cars. Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones, writes that:

Its first-quarter profit, a modest $11 million, hinged on the $68 million it earned selling clean-air credits under a California program that requires automakers to either produce a given number of zero-emission vehicles or satisfy the mandate in some other way. For the second quarter, Tesla announced a $26 million profit (based on one method of accounting), but again the profit hinged on $51 million in ZEV credits; by year’s end, these credit sales could net Tesla a whopping $250 million.

Tesla’s ability to continue selling the cars that earn the credits is in question. The market for $80,000 cars has a limited number of buyers. Tesla must expand its customer base with a more affordable product.

One way to achieve that would be to cut the vehicle’s range. But subsidies, credits and fuel savings notwithstanding, consumers have little taste for lower ranges—even at a much lower price. Another way for Tesla to lower the cost of its vehicles is to cut the cost of its batteries without sacrificing the range. As Harkinson observes:

That, however, may again depend on massive subsidies—in this case funding to battery researchers and manufacturers by the governments of Japan and China. Over the past five years, Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, a public-private partnership founded in 1980, has pumped roughly $400 million into developing advanced battery technologies. Tesla’s Panasonic cells also might be pricier if not for subsidies the company received to expand its battery plants in Kasai and Osaka.

When Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill reaffirming Michigan’s protectionist legislation for traditional automobile franchise dealers, auto blog Jalopnik reported GM’s position as follows:

“Competition is always healthy,” GM spokeswoman Heather Rosenker tells Jalopnik. “But it needs to be on a level playing field.”

In the context of the substantial aid Tesla receives from federal, state and foreign governments, it is easier to have some sympathy for the plight of traditional manufacturers—and their dealers.

Ultimately, that sympathy shines a spotlight on the problems created when government starts “tinkering” in the market. Inevitably, that initial, well-intentioned tinkering necessitates ever more intrusive secondary tinkering aimed at remediating the unintended side effects of its initial foray into the market.

Consider health care. Inflation in the cost of U.S. health care began to outpace the general rate of inflation when the government began subsidizing health care costs. Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman has estimated that real per capita health spending is twice what it would be in the absence of third party payments, and that Medicare and Medicaid are responsible for 43% of that increase. The remaining portion can be blamed in large part on the third party payments from mandated employer health care coverage, further separating patients from the cost of their care and eliminating the market forces that would otherwise keep costs down. Add to the foregoing the government-enforced monopolies on health care education, leading to 22% fewer medical schools in the United States now than one hundred years ago, despite a 300% increase in population, and attendant provider shortage. All that well-intentioned tinkering created a whole host of ugly, unintended side effects, necessitating more tinkering. The federal government responded with the Affordable Care Act and its accompanying thousands of pages of new regulations.

Everywhere the pattern repeats. The cost of higher education outpaces general inflation precisely because the government wants to help people pay for it. The unintended side effect is increasing numbers of graduates with useless degrees and few job prospects, necessitating further tinkering in the form of loan relief, jobs programs and minimum wage hikes. The Federal Reserve suppresses interest rates to artificial lows in the well-intended effort to speed recovery from the bust of the dot-com bubble. The unintended (in this case, it may actually have been intended, at least by Paul Krugman) side effect is a new bubble in housing. When that bubble bursts, the government must step in to bail people and banks out of their bad investments, create new bureaucracies and new regulations making it harder for people to qualify for loans (in contrast to previous tinkering designed to make it easier).

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am not a radical free-marketer because I dislike poor people or have a special love for corporations. I am a radical free marketer because I know no amount of tinkering ever produces results as beneficial as what the market produces, naturally and efficiently, all on its own.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Cost is NOT Price, and Neither Cost, nor Price, are Value

Prices Provide a Misleading Measure of Dollar Devaluation
Forbes Magazine Online – Keith Weiner

There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t know the dollar is falling. Everyone over 25 has stories of what prices were like, way back when (and younger people have heard them). I remember when gasoline was 60 cents a gallon, and my mom remembers when it was 20 cents.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledges the official objective to push the dollar down by 2 percent per year. This intention is behind the Fed’s ill-conceived loose money policy.

It’s important to measure each drop. This is not just to keep a scorecard on the Fed, but because a change in the dollar skews historical comparisons and distorts business decisions, like giving increases to workers and pensioners….

Read the whole piece, and then come back…

The thesis statement of the piece is correct, in that prices provide a misleading indicator of currency valuation (and that our weak dollar policy, as pursued by every administration since Bush 1 to some degree or another, is fundamentally wrong and destructive for that matter).

Unfortunately the author suggests that simply using a different price denomination and comparison (to gold) is a less misleading indicator… In this, he’s absolutely incorrect.

What you really want to compare is purchasing power parity (PPP) as measured by equivalent standard of living, expressed as a dollar cost in constant dollars normalized to average labor hour wage or compensation.

i.e. this item costs 5 minutes of average labor, this costs 8 hours, this costs 20 years; the cost to maintain this equivalent normalized standard of living across an aggregate population is 1940 hours of median labor wage etc… etc…

Note, this is NOT an expression of the fallacious labor theory of value, it is an explicit measure of purchasing power parity as actual cost, INCLUDING opportunity cost (in terms of time), not currency denomination.

The critical function isn’t price, and it isn’t wage… it’s cost, in this case expressed as a cost to value ratio as a normalized dollar (to make it easy to relate to wages and prices).

Cost is not price; it’s a totalized measure of inputs including resources, time, and opportunity.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

More Than One Class of Parasite

The welfare state is a problem in America, there’s no question about it. When you have a country were nearly 49 million people are dependent on food stamps as of this writing, that is a problem. We libertarians as well as conservatives lament the growing welfare state because of what it is doing to the economic health of this country and the negative incentives (i.e. the moral hazard) to discourage people from working when it’s easier to get a check from the government. That being said, I think we libertarians could do a better job with the messaging on this particular issue.

Today’s episode of the Neal Boortz show is a perfect example of what I’m referring to. Boortz’s personality is that of a curmudgeon. Over the years he has referred to himself as the “High Priest of the Church of the Painful Truth.” I usually enjoy his blunt, non-P.C. style but sometimes I think he goes a little overboard when he calls people who are on one type of welfare or another “parasites” regardless of their individual circumstances. I missed the first part of his show (which is normal) but I tuned in about the time a caller who said the only government assistance he was receiving was food stamps called in. He went on to explain that he worked 3 minimum wage jobs at about 120 hours a week to support his 5 kids (I think that was the right number). After explaining his circumstances, he asked Boortz: “Do you think that I am a parasite?” Boortz responded “yes.” Boortz went on to criticize the man for having children he couldn’t afford to support and told him that perhaps since he still couldn’t support his children on his three jobs that perhaps he should give them up.

Taking the caller’s word at face value that he works 120 hours a week, I have to disagree somewhat on Boortz’s characterization that the man is a parasite. I also think that telling someone who really is trying to support his children but still coming up short and supplementing his income with food stamps to give up his kids is an unreasonable suggestion. How much would it cost taxpayers if every person who struggled with supporting their children put their children in the foster care system or an orphanage? We hear all the time from conservatives – especially social conservatives* that the ideal situation for raising children is a household with a mother and a father. I have heard some social conservatives say that the reason the state shouldn’t recognize gay marriage or civil unions is that the purpose of marriage is procreation. They also argue for the child tax credit and favorable tax treatment for married couples to encourage more people to have families**.

I don’t know to what extent Boortz agrees with these notions as he doesn’t seem to talk about these issues much. I do think there is something to say about children growing up in a stable environment, however. I haven’t done much research at all about the foster care system but from what I understand, it’s far from ideal. How many children in the foster care system find themselves in the criminal justice system whether on probation or incarceration versus those who are raised by at least one loving biological parent? I don’t happen to know the answer but I suspect that there are more of the former than the latter. Again I ask, how much would this man giving up his children possibly cost the taxpayers? I suspect it would be more than whatever he is getting in food stamps.

To some degree***, this man is a parasite but certainly not to the extent some people I have met are. There are the single dads who have too many children to too many baby mamas who don’t take responsibility for their children and have no shame about going on the dole. There are also far too many single moms out there who have made some very bad choices who basically marry the government. If anything, the caller is probably receiving less government support because he is working so many hours. Slacking is rewarded while trying to better oneself is punished – this in of itself is a major part of the problem, I think.

While I agree with Boortz in principle that one man’s need does not mean he has a claim on another’s money, there are more classes of parasites I think are even more offensive than poor people on welfare. I am much more offended by the corporate welfare and the welfare for the rich. I’m not talking about tax cuts or anything like that but subsidies. I’m talking about billionaire sports franchise owners who have their stadiums built by taxpayer dollars so they can pay millions more to their millionaire athletes. I’m talking about TARP, the auto bailouts, QE 1, QE2, QE 3 and other policies the Federal Reserve has used to make our dollars worth less and less every day. I’m talking about corporate lobbyists who write regulations in their favor to make it difficult for competitors to enter the market place. I’m talking about lawyers.

Yes there are more than one class of parasite bringing our economy down. When it comes to going after those who are using taxpayer money for their benefit, I think it’s high time we libertarians say women and children last.

Point of Clarification: It wasn’t fair to lump all lawyers together as parasites. Lawyers are necessary in our system to take out some of the parasites I mentioned above (the white blood cells, if you will). Like any profession, there are bad apples. When I think of parasitic lawyers, I think of the likes of John Edwards and the ambulance chasers on late night TV. There are plenty of heroic lawyers who truly fight for liberty and justice such as those at the Institute for Justice and The Innocence Project. I’m sure we can count fellow Liberty Papers contributor Doug Mataconis among them as well (though I know nothing about his work as an attorney, he’s a good person and I’m sure that’s reflected in his profession as well).

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Atlas Shrugged Part II in Theaters This Weekend

Atlas Shrugged Part II is opening this weekend. Want to check it out? Follow this link to find a theater near you.

And now, the official Atlas Shrugged Part II trailer:

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).

Ron Paul Unveils “Restore America” Plan

LAS VEGAS – Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul unveiled his economic “Plan to Restore America” in Las Vegas Monday afternoon, calling for a lower corporate tax rate, a cut in spending by $1 trillion during his first year in office and the elimination of five cabinet-level agencies.”

[…]

Paul does get specific when he calls for a 10 percent reduction in the federal work force, while pledging to limit his presidential salary to $39,336, which his campaign says is “approximately equal to the median personal income of the American worker.” The current pay rate for commander in chief is $400,000 a year.

Based on Dr. Paul’s speech, there’s not a whole lot not to like. Cutting $1 trillion of government spending in the first year would be a very good thing IMO.

As a Gary Johnson supporter, I can’t help but get more than a little annoyed each time one of Paul’s supporters, member of his campaign staff, or the congressman himself makes the claim that Dr. Paul is the only candidate in the race who would balance the budget. Gov. Johnson has promised a balanced budget, not merely in his first term but in his first budget in virtually every debate, interview, and speech he has given since he announced his candidacy.

That criticism aside, I hope this plan is given serious consideration by the primary voters and debated among the candidates.

Herman Cain is Either a Liar or Has a Very Short Memory

Just when I was starting to give Herman Cain another look, he lies to Rep. Paul’s face in last night’s debate concerning comments he made concerning the need to audit the Federal Reserve.

Yeah, there goes crazy Uncle Ron again with these crazy misquotes he picked up off the internet!

I’m not sure if the crowd was laughing at Cain or Paul at this point but it wasn’t that difficult to find audio of his “misquotes” on YouTube from when he was guest hosting The Neal Boortz Show.

But this wasn’t the first time Cain has been busted on a flip-flop followed by an accusation that he was misquoted or received “misinformation”. The next example: Cain changes his mind as to whether the president can target an American citizen for assassination without due process.

The Flip:

The Flop:

I never said that [President Obama] should not have ordered [the killing]. I don’t recall saying that. I think you’ve got some misinformation. Keep in mind that there are a lot of people out there trying to make me sound as if I am indecisive.

I don’t know all of the compelling evidence that the intelligence agencies and the military had. I’m convinced — I’m convinced that they have enough intelligence information that said he’s a threat to the United States of America. You don’t try to prosecute or capture him simply because he’s a United States citizen.

What will he say when he is confronted with these audio and video clips? Would he have us believe that these were imposters?

If Cain would have said on either of these issues “You know, I after thinking about it a little more, I was wrong…” I might be able to respect that. But to accuse people who challenge him of misquoting him when it’s so easy to prove otherwise is disturbing to say the least.

SP Lowers the U.S. Debt Rating

The Standards and Poor rating service has downgraded the U.S. Federal Government’s bonds to AA+ status. This action long overdue does not go far enough.

To understand the meaning of this, we should first understand the meaning of the S&P ratings.

The ratings indicate several things:
1) The likelihood of a default – the debtor failing to make interest payments owed to the people who purchased the bonds.

2) The likelihood that the bond holders will recover some of their losses after a default.

3) How quickly the debtor’s financial condition could deteriorate causing them to slide into default.

In the pdf explaining their rating system, S&P has a very interesting table showing the default rate associated with organizations based on their classification. As one would expect, in the past thirty years no AAA organization has defaulted, nor has any organization that is rated AA+.

In their press release explaining the downgrade, S&P makes the following points:

• The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.
• More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
• Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.
• The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case
• The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short ofwhat, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’smedium-term debt dynamics.
• More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness,stability, and predictability of American policy making and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned anegative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
• Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics anytime soon.
• The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower thelong-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that lessr eduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or newfiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general governmentdebt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.

In essence, the S&P rating agency is implying that since the recent debate about raising the debt ceiling was immaturely handled, they are now more pessimistic than they were this spring. This strikes me as and excuse to give plausible deniability to the accusation that for years they have been rating the U.S. government much more favorably than is appropriate by any objective manner.

The fact is that over the past few decades, the U.S. government’s long-term fiscal condition has been steadily eroding, and the legislature has shown no willingness to seriously tackle the issue.  Unsurprisingly any legislator who broaches the topic of reducing any of the major sources of spending, medicare, social security, millitary spending,  corporate subsidies, etc risks being voted out of office by an electorate whipped into a frenzy about an attack on the elderly, the poor, our allies, etc.

The rating agencies, having been granted a monopoly on ratings by the U.S. government, have been loath to bite the hand that feeds them, to risk the wrath of the legislature by frankly describing the terrible financial outlook for the U.S. government. At this point the AAA rating has become a joke; there is no way that the U.S. government can pay back the loans. There is no ideological chasm between the Republicans and the Democrats.  Both parties support massive welfare spending, high taxes, and massive plundering of the productive bits of the economy.  I am increasingly of the opinion that the debt fight was a kabuki theatre engaged in by the Democrats and the Republican leadership in order to end the Tea Party threat to the metastasizing state.  The Teaparty were the grownups announcing that the party has to stop, and the political parties’ leadership were the petulant teenagers plotting to keep things going a little longer.

At this point U.S. government bonds are a very bad thing to buy. The interest the U.S. government is offering is pathetically low.  Inevitably, to attract buyers, the government will have to raise the interest rate. Once they do this, prices in the secondary market for the older low-yield bonds will collapse.  The interest payments needed to service the outstanding debt will increase, and the U.S. government will be in even worse financial shape.  It’s possible that the Federal Reserve will buy the bonds itself, using newly printed dollars, much like the central bank of Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately too many retirees have invested in U.S. government bonds, expecting that the income from the bonds would provide a reliable, dependable source of income. Either they will be screwed by the inevitable default, or they will find their income’s purchasing power destroyed by inflation.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

A Brief Constitutional Lesson for Congresscritters… Particularly those from Kentucky…

United States Constitution
Article 1, Section 7


All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

The issuance of debt is a revenue raising measure. The “debt ceiling” is, in fact, legislation initiated in the House of Representatives, which authorizes the executive branch to issue debt through the treasury (and by extension the federal reserve), up to a specific limit.

This “debt ceiling” and authorization of debt issuance; allows the executive branch to raise revenue in a constitutionally legitimate way; because the revenue is raised under the auspices of specific authorization by the house or representatives.

Neither the Senate, nor the House, acting separately or together; has the authority or ability to delegate this exclusive power of the house, to any other entity, including the president. In fact, it would be a clear violation of the principle of separation of powers to do so.

That is all.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

The Inflation Won’t Come From The Fed

Everyone knows the Fed is pushing Quantitative Easing. By that, it means that when America is having trouble selling T-bills at advantageous interest rates, the Fed prints up some money to keep demand. It buys the bonds with newly-printed money. The recent run was $600B or so, and the Fed’s current balance sheet holds about $2.7T in assets (that they can choose to hold as long as they find prudent — since they print the money to keep them and/or roll them over).

But what if I told you that there was another $11T of outstanding US dollars* out there in the world, and that everyone except the US has a say in whether they are circulated. In fact, that those dollars are sitting on foreign soil is a very good thing for the US and has been for decades, but it’s not assured it will last forever. As I said WAAAY back in 2007:

As I’ve pointed out in the past, the dollar’s status as a reserve currency has largely allowed America to inflate with very little visible burden on our own citizens. We create worthless money, use it to buy durable goods from other countries, and watch as they hold that money or reinvest it in the sinkhole that are Treasury bonds. It’s a credit card on the world, and we can print whatever we need to pay it off…

…as long as they don’t wise up. If they do, suddenly that money might come back to us, and we’ll feel the results of the inflation we’ve engaged upon.

Inflation benefits those who see the money first — in this case, Americans who used that money to buy durable goods from overseas. It has the least benefit for those who see the money last. To date, that has been forex reserves, sovereign wealth funds, etc. But should those foreign nations decide they no longer want to hold US dollars, they’ll spend them right back into circulation — and they’ll eventually want us to sell them goods in exchange for those dollars.

If that happens, the inflation comes full circle and we feel it right here at home — without the Fed ever releasing the $2.7T they have on their balance sheet.

We’ve spent the last four decades, ever since Nixon “closed the gold window”, sending dollars abroad to other nations who stick them under their mattresses. This has been the persistent trade deficit we’ve held. Sure, some of those dollars came back to be lent to our own government to finance even MORE spending that didn’t come from the American people, but much of them quite literally got shoved under the mattress.

What happens if they want to spend those dollars? Well, dollar-denominated assets and goods produced in the US will rise in price. Oil, gold, silver, food (produced in the US), etc. Look at gold, for example: In the last year, gold has increased in dollar terms by over 32%, but by less than 8% in Swiss francs. USD vs other currencies show similar (but smaller) gaps. What can explain this? Well, if nothing else, that big buyers like China and India are using their dollar surplus, rather than their reserves in other currencies, to buy gold.

Where’s the endgame if this dollar-spending widens? Well, eventually those dollars are sold to people who don’t want to buy goods from China or US T-Bills: they want to buy US exports or US assets. That sounds good, of course; everyone likes exports! But is it good? Restate it this way: a durable good (i.e. product of American workers’ output) needs to be produced to leave our shores, and it increases the circulating money supply in the USA. The good we produce here is enjoyed elsewhere, while the increased money supply makes our own goods at home more expensive.

We change from trading our paper for other nations’ hard work to trading our hard work for our own paper back.

The endgame is the end of trade deficits, where we work harder as a nation to supply the rest of the world with goods in exchange for a lower standard of living here. That doesn’t sound good to me at all.

America has enjoyed a very privileged position in the world, and that position has only been possible from two things: other nations have trusted us and they’ve had no other options. The first is eroding to the point where they’re looking for the second. If we want to continue enjoying our position in the world, we need to convince the rest of the world that holding the US Dollar as a reserve currency benefits them — and neither trillion Dollar deficits as far as the eye can see or quantitative easing accomplish that.

When the inflation comes, it’s not going to be the Fed printing money — it’s going to be other nations sending us the money printed over four decades and expecting to buy something with it.
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Quote Of The Day

I posted yesterday about Bernard von Nothaus of the Liberty Dollar being convicted. I definitely think the fact support a guilty verdict on the charge of “issuing and passing Liberty Dollar coins intended for use as current money”, but some of the others seem quite a bit ridiculous, such as “conspiracy against the United States”. I think this was more fraudulent than conspiratorial…

…but it appears that the US Attorney doesn’t agree. She seems to think this is a lot more important than the rest of us… And what she says here [on the FBI press release, no less] is chilling:

“Attempts to undermine the legitimate currency of this country are simply a unique form of domestic terrorism,” U.S. Attorney Tompkins said in announcing the verdict. “While these forms of anti-government activities do not involve violence, they are every bit as insidious and represent a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country,” she added. “We are determined to meet these threats through infiltration, disruption, and dismantling of organizations which seek to challenge the legitimacy of our democratic form of government.”

Really, Anne? Really? You’re going to throw around terms like “domestic terrorism” over this? For as much as I disagree with what von Nothaus was doing — profiting off of those who feel your fiat currency, backed by nothing more than a promise, is on the verge of a potential collapse — he wouldn’t have such a big market to sell to if the Fed wasn’t doing everything in its power to undermine the legitimacy of the US Dollar every day.

Every day the government’s inflationary policies erode the value of the US Dollar, stealing the wealth of people who have worked their butts off to earn those Dollars. While I think what von Nothaus was doing was fraudulent, I think I’m beginning to agree with those who have used the old adage to explain why you chose to go after him: “Don’t steal. The government hates competition.”

Liberty Dollar Founder Reportedly Convicted

Hard to believe it was over three years ago, but may of us in the libertarian movement will remember the seizure of the Liberty Dollar holdings/equipment/etc. For those new to the movement, the Liberty Dollar was a metal-backed currency presented as an alternative to traditional fiat currencies, but unlike Gold/Silver Eagles, or Krugerrands, or gold/silver bullion, was actually intended to be used and spent and traded as money in exchange for goods. It attracted the attention of libertarians and goldbugs, and earned a bit of national visibility when it set to release Ron Paul versions of one of the popular gold coins.

Let me state, first and foremost, that I am not a fan of the Federal Reserve, or of fiat money. I fully support the right of the people of the US to use and circulate alternative currencies. I enjoy the fact that some of those currencies would be backed by precious metals. But I incurred quite a firestorm of comments here after the raid, when I explained that I thought the government was right. While I support alternative currencies, and would love the Liberty Dollar to have been one, I claimed it was NOT an alternative currency:

A competing currency must not be interchangeable with FRN’s, which is the fiction that the Liberty Dollar creators try to uphold. Thus, the ALD becomes a method for them to sell silver at a profit while their associates or merchants work to defraud businesses by offering silver worth less (in FRN terms) for goods that are priced in FRN terms. At each level, it appears to have a cut of profit, as all multi-level marketing schemes do, and at the bottom of the scale, those who receive ALD’s as a “face value” equivalent to FRN’s are being shafted.

The Liberty Dollar does not seem to live up to what is bills itself as. If it were a true competing currency, merchants would price goods in ALD terms higher than in FRN terms, in order to receive identical value for their wares. If it were a true competing currency, the “exchange rate” between ALD’s and FRN’s would float, rather than be defined by the Liberty Dollar creators. I previously have written favorably about the Liberty Dollar, but given new information, I have changed my mind. It does not fit the bill of an alternative currency; it is a scam.

After three years of legal wrangling, it was announced today that the founder of the Liberty Dollar, Bernard von Nothaus, has been convicted on all four counts.

The crux of the government’s case rests pretty much on this, care of Coin World magazine [emphasis added]:

The federal government alleges that Von NotHaus, with three other defendants, worked together to violate the law by making Liberty Dollars the government characterizes as “coins” of silver “intended for use as current money” and “in resemblance of genuine coins of the United States …”

U.S. Assistant Prosecutor Craig Morenao, in opening statements, said the government would set out to prove that von NotHaus deliberately told people to give Liberty Dollars as change for Federal Reserve notes, in direct violation of laws that specifically prohibit the use of passing originally designed coins as current money.

It seems pretty clear that this is not counterfeiting in the *traditional* sense, where you try to copy the direct design. But given that everything I had seen from the website, marketing materials, etc suggested that the ALD should be spent at parity with federal reserve notes, and given to vendors in place of or given to consumers as change in place of federal reserve notes is problematic. Creating a currency to be spent alongside in competition with the US Dollar is one thing — creating a currency to be spent as a US Dollar equivalent is another.

I feel moderately bad for those who got sucked in to the Liberty Dollar system. But overall, I feel worse for anyone who would have the goal to create a *true* alternative currency, because the actions of Bernard von Nothaus have given the very concept a bad name, and imbued the idea of alternative currencies with fear of government prosecution. All this for what was just a scam to get rich fleecing people who distrust government fiat money.

Hat Tip: Reason

Quote Of The Day

Those of us who predicted lenders would avoid US Treasuries during the financial meltdown we initially somewhat surprised to see investors flocking to them. It’s the result of a supposed “flight to quality”, and nothing at the time seemed less risky than buying US Treasury bonds, since the Treasury sells its bonds in a currency it can print.

Well, that has changed, as represented by yields:

The bond market is saying that it’s safer to lend to Warren Buffett than Barack Obama.

When it’s “safer” to lend to a corporate businessman who can’t print his own currency or extort his subjects citizens for more tax dollars, you know something serious is going down.

Berkshire Hathaway, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, and Lowe’s are all trading below similar maturity US T-bills, a situation the linked article calls “exceedingly rare”.

But don’t worry, mere citizen. I’m sure Obama’s working on an individual mandate to get you to “do your part” and invest in Treasury bonds.

Hat Tip: QandO

UPDATE: Looks like yields are continuing to rise.

LP’s Wes Benedict on ‘Limited Government’ Conservatives

Those of us who truly believe in limited government* tend to be simultaneously amused and irritated hearing the folks at CPAC speak of limited government as though it’s a principle they truly support. Yesterday, the Libertarian Party’s Executive Director Wes Benedict, monitoring the CPAC festivities from afar, said some of the things that many of us have been thinking:

Unlike libertarians, most conservatives simply don’t want small government. They want their own version of big government. Of course, they have done a pretty good job of fooling American voters for decades by repeating the phrases “limited government” and “small government” like a hypnotic chant.

It’s interesting that conservatives only notice “big government” when it’s something their political enemies want. When conservatives want it, apparently it doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants a trillion-dollar foreign war, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants a 700-billion-dollar bank bailout, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to spend billions fighting a needless and destructive War on Drugs, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to spend billions building border fences, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to “protect” the huge, unjust, and terribly inefficient Social Security and Medicare programs, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants billions in farm subsidies, that doesn’t count.

It’s truly amazing how many things “don’t count.”

Benedict went on to point out the lack of concern these same people had with the government expansion of President Bush and the health care mandates of another CPAC favorite – Mitt Romney.

While I’m by no means a supporter of the Obama Administration, the idea that many Conservatives seem to have that all the problems we are faced with started on January 20, 2009 is completely ludicrous**.

These are the same people who would gladly support Sarah ‘the Quitter’ Palin, ‘Mandate’ Mitt Romney, or ‘Tax Hike Mike’ Huckabee – none are what I would call ‘limited government’ by any stretch of the imagination.

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Ludwig Von Mises Finally Getting Some Of The Respect He Deserves

von_mises

When Ludwig von Mises first arrived in the United States after escaping from Nazi Europe, and pretty much up until the present day, he was essentially ignored by the mainstream economics community in the United States. It was only through the assistance of American businessmen that he was able to get a job teaching at New York University, and, even then, the work he did had nothing to do with official university activities because he was, effectively, shunned for his uncompromising defense of the free-market.

Earlier this week in The Wall Street Journal, though, Mises is given credit for being one of the few economists in the 1920s to foresee the impending Great Depression:

Mises’s ideas on business cycles were spelled out in his 1912 tome “Theorie des Geldes und der Umlaufsmittel” (“The Theory of Money and Credit”). Not surprisingly few people noticed, as it was published only in German and wasn’t exactly a beach read at that.

Taking his cue from David Hume and David Ricardo, Mises explained how the banking system was endowed with the singular ability to expand credit and with it the money supply, and how this was magnified by government intervention. Left alone, interest rates would adjust such that only the amount of credit would be used as is voluntarily supplied and demanded. But when credit is force-fed beyond that (call it a credit gavage), grotesque things start to happen.

Government-imposed expansion of bank credit distorts our “time preferences,” or our desire for saving versus consumption. Government-imposed interest rates artificially below rates demanded by savers leads to increased borrowing and capital investment beyond what savers will provide. This causes temporarily higher employment, wages and consumption.

Ordinarily, any random spikes in credit would be quickly absorbed by the system—the pricing errors corrected, the half-baked investments liquidated, like a supple tree yielding to the wind and then returning. But when the government holds rates artificially low in order to feed ever higher capital investment in otherwise unsound, unsustainable businesses, it creates the conditions for a crash. Everyone looks smart for a while, but eventually the whole monstrosity collapses under its own weight through a credit contraction or, worse, a banking collapse.

The system is dramatically susceptible to errors, both on the policy side and on the entrepreneurial side. Government expansion of credit takes a system otherwise capable of adjustment and resilience and transforms it into one with tremendous cyclical volatility.

(…)

We all know what happened next. Pretty much right out of Mises’s script, overleveraged banks (including Kreditanstalt) collapsed, businesses collapsed, employment collapsed. The brittle tree snapped. Following Mises’s logic, was this a failure of capitalism, or a failure of hubris?

Mises’s solution follows logically from his warnings. You can’t fix what’s broken by breaking it yet again. Stop the credit gavage. Stop inflating. Don’t encourage consumption, but rather encourage saving and the repayment of debt. Let all the lame businesses fail—no bailouts. (You see where I’m going with this.) The distortions must be removed or else the precipice from which the system will inevitably fall will simply grow higher and higher.

That was Mises’ argument in The Theory Of Money And Credit, but he did so much more than that. In Socialism, first published in 1921, Mises laid out in detail the reasons why the centrally planned economy of nations like the USSR could never produce a rational economy and were doomed to failure. He was, of course, proven right in that regard as we learned only twenty years ago. Mises’ magnum opus is Human Action: A Treatise on Economics and while it’s not easy reading it is well worth consuming for even the amateur student of economics.

Here’s hoping people will start taking Mises’ lessons to heart before we make the same mistakes all over again.

Babs Boxer Will Do Anything For Re-Election: Even Cosponsor S.604!

Back in July, I sent letters to Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein urging them to support or even cosponsor S.604, the Audit-The-Fed bill. I received the typical mealy-mouthed responses (posted below after the fold), and like a bad blogger I never actually mentioned the responses here. How mealy-mouthed was Boxer’s response? Well, THIS was the most substantive thing she said:

I believe that all citizens should become involved in the legislative process by letting their voices be heard, and I appreciate the time and effort that you took to share your thoughts with me. One of the most important aspects of my job is keeping informed about the views of my constituents, and I welcome your comments so that I may continue to represent California to the best of my ability. Should I have the opportunity to consider legislation on this or similar issues, I will keep your views in mind.

Great… You thank me for sharing my thoughts. I feel empowered!

What you don’t say is anything whatsoever regarding your opinion on the legislation (at least Feinstein gave me *something*). So how do I interpret your letter?

‘I’m gonna put my finger up in the air and see which way the wind blows, because I have a vulnerable seat in 2010 and I don’t want to piss anyone off. If I see any benefit to myself, I might at some point take a position on this legislation.’

So, today, when I was reading United Liberty, I was reminded of S.604, and decided to check to see if there were any surprises. And to my astonishment, there was! Barbara Boxer actually co-sponsored S.604!!

Do I think she’s really all that interested in an audit of the Federal Reserve? Not from the email response I received. But hey, she knows a populist wave when she sees one, and she’s gonna ride this one to Nov 2010.

There are a lot of forces assembling behind the Audit the Fed movement. Those forces are having traction. Enough traction, in fact, to get a California Democratic Senator to fall into line. It may be a political calculation, but if someone like Boxer has to make that calculation, it proves that there’s actually some real mojo here. Congratulations are due to Ron Paul, because without his tireless work in the House, we wouldn’t be this close to a serious review of what goes on at the Fed.
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Why You Should Support Auditing The Fed

The Fed is tasked with the dual goals of price stability and restraining inflation. Folks like myself would suggest it hasn’t done a very good job of either, but that’s not crucial to the question of whether we should be able to determine how they’re attempting to fulfill their mission.

Particularly irksome when we’re talking about an audit is the fact that they’ve just admitted to engaging in gold swaps, influencing the gold price, in opposition to past denials and with the assertion that they should be able to continue hiding the specifics:

The Federal Reserve System has disclosed to the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee Inc. that it has gold swap arrangements with foreign banks that it does not want the public to know about.

The disclosure, GATA says, contradicts denials provided by the Fed to GATA in 2001 and suggests that the Fed is indeed very much involved in the surreptitious international central bank manipulation of the gold price particularly and the currency markets generally.

The Fed’s disclosure came this week in a letter to GATA’s Washington-area lawyer, William J. Olson of Vienna, Virginia (http://www.lawandfreedom.com/), denying GATA’s administrative appeal of a freedom-of-information request to the Fed for information about gold swaps, transactions in which monetary gold is temporarily exchanged between central banks or between central banks and bullion banks. (See the International Monetary Fund’s treatise on gold swaps here: http://www.imf.org/external/bopage/pdf/99-10.pdf.)

Gold has been flirting with the $1000/oz level for several weeks (topping it a few times). Those in the gold market have long believed that central banks are suppressing the price to keep fears of inflation from hitting the roof.

How much longer do we have to allow the fed to lie to us, and then when we catch them red-handed, assert that they know well enough that we have to let them hide details on top of their lies?

I say we audit the fed. Then End The Fed.

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