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Corona Virus? The Chinese Central Bank Has a “Solution”

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Corona Virus? The Chinese Central Bank Has a “Solution”

In response to the economic paralysis brought about by the coronavirus, the Chinese central bank has pumped $243 billion into financial markets. On Monday February 3 2020, China’s equity market shed $393 billion of its value.

Most experts are of the view that in order to counter the damage that the coronavirus has inflicted, loose monetary policy is of utmost importance to stabilize the economy. In this way of thinking, it is believed that the massive monetary pumping will lift overall demand in the economy and this in turn is likely to move the economy out of the stagnation hole.

On this way of thinking consumer confidence, which has weakened as a result of the coronavirus could be lifted by massive monetary pumping.

Now, even if consumers were to become more confident about economic prospects, how is all this related to the damage that the virus continues to inflict? Would the increase in consumer confidence due to the monetary pumping cause individuals to go back to work?

Unless the causes of the virus are ascertained or unless some vaccine is produced to protect individuals against the virus, they are likely to continue to pursue a life of isolation. This means that most people are not going to risk their life and start using the newly pumped money to boost their spending.

It seems that whenever a crisis emerges, central banks are of the view that first of all they must push plenty of money to “cushion” the side effects of the crisis. The central bankers following the idea that if in doubt “grease” the problem with a lot of money.

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The Bank of England’s Governor Fears a Liquidity Trap

The Bank of England’s Governor Fears a Liquidity Trap

The global economy is heading towards a “liquidity trap” that could undermine central banks’ efforts to avoid a future recession according to Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England. In a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times (January 8, 2020), the outgoing governor warned that central banks were running out of ammunition to combat a downturn:

If there were to be a deeper downturn, more than a conventional recession, then it’s not clear that monetary policy would have sufficient space.

He is of the view that aggressive monetary and fiscal policies will be required to lift the aggregate demand.

What Is a Liquidity Trap?

In the popular framework that originates from the writings of John Maynard Keynes, economic activity is presented in terms of a circular flow of money. Spending by one individual becomes part of the earnings of another individual, and spending by another individual becomes part of the first individual’s earnings.

Recessions, according to Keynes, are a response to the fact that consumers — for some psychological reasons — have decided to cut down on their expenditure and raise their savings.

For instance, if for some reason people become less confident about the future, they will cut back their outlays and hoard more money. When an individual spends less, this will supposedly worsen the situation of some other individual, who in turn will cut their spending. A vicious cycle sets in. The decline in people’s confidence causes them to spend less and to hoard more money. This lowers economic activity further, causing people to hoard even more, etc.

Following this logic, in order to prevent a recession from getting out of hand, the central bank must lift the growth rate of the money supply and aggressively lower interest rates. Once consumers have more money in their pockets, their confidence will increase, and they will start spending again, reestablishing the circular flow of money, so it is held.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

More Money Pumping Won’t Make Us Richer

More Money Pumping Won’t Make Us Richer

Whenever a central bank introduces easy monetary policy, as a rule this leads to an economic boom — or economic prosperity. At least this is what most commentators hold. If this is however the case then it means that an easy monetary policy can grow an economy.

But loose monetary policies do not generate economic growth. These policies set in motion the diversion of real savings from wealth generators to the holders of the newly pumped money. Real savings, rather than supporting individuals that specialize in the enhancement and expansion of the infrastructure are consumed by various individuals that are employed in non-wealth generating activities.

Moreover, not all consumption is a good thing. The consumption of real savings by individuals engaged in the enhancements and the expansion of the infrastructure is productive consumption. Conversely, the consumption of real savings by individuals that are employed in non-wealth generating activities is non-productive consumption.

It is non-productive consumption that sets the foundation for the weakening of the existing infrastructure thereby weakening future economic growth. In contrast, productive consumption sets the foundation for a better infrastructure, which permits stronger future economic growth. Needless to say, productive consumption leads to the increase in individuals living standards while non-productive consumption results in the lowering of living standards.

Why then is loose monetary policy seen as a major contributor towards economic growth?

Given that economic growth is assessed by means of the gross domestic product (GDP) framework — which is nothing more than a monetary turnover — obviously then when the central bank embarks on monetary pumping (i.e., loose monetary policy) it strengthens the monetary turnover in the economy and thus GDP.

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The Pseudo-Psychology Behind Monetary Policy

The Pseudo-Psychology Behind Monetary Policy

In his various writings, the champion of the monetarist school, Milton Friedman, argued that there is a variable time lag between changes in money supply and its effect on real output and prices. Friedman holds that in the short run changes in money supply will be followed by changes in real output.

However, in the long-run changes in money will only have an effect on prices. All this means that changes in money with respect to real economic activity tend to be neutral in the long-run and non-neutral in the short-run. Thus according to Friedman,

In the short-run, which may be as much as five or ten years, monetary changes affect primarily output. Over decades, on the other hand, the rate of monetary growth affects primarily prices.1

According to Friedman because of the difference in the time lag, the effect of the change in money supply shows up first in output and hardly at all in prices. It is only after a longer time lag that changes in money start to have an effect on prices. This is the reason according to Friedman why in the short-run money can grow the economy, while in the long run it has no effect on the real output.

According to Friedman, the main reason for the non-neutrality of money in the short-run is the variability in the time lag between money and the economy.

Consequently, he believes that if the central bank were to follow a constant money growth rate rule this would eliminate fluctuations caused by variable changes in the money supply growth rate. The constant money growth rate rule could also make money neutral in the short-run and the only effect that money would have is on general prices in the long run.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Blame the Fed — Not Investors — For Asset Bubbles

Blame the Fed — Not Investors — For Asset Bubbles

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In his speech on April 7 2010 at the Economic Club of New York the President of the New York Fed, William Dudley argued that asset bubbles pose a serious threat to real economic activity.

The New York Fed chief is of the view that the US central bank should develop effective tools to counter this menace.

According to Dudley, it should be the role of the Fed to stop the expansion of the bubble while it is still in the making.

By an asset bubble, I mean price increases (or declines) that become unmoored from fundamental valuations. 1

Dudley is of the view that the way people trade also generates bubbles. On this, he suggests that,

Bubbles may simply emerge from the way market participant’s process information and trade. In many carefully controlled experiments in which the intrinsic value of the asset could be determined with certainty, participants still bid prices up far above fundamental valuations, with the bubbles being followed by sharp declines in prices.

Furthermore, Dudley is of the view that,

A bubble is difficult to discern and, second, each bubble has unique characteristics. This implies that a rules-based approach to bubbles is likely to be ineffective and that tackling bubbles to diminish their potential to destabilize the financial system requires judgment.

In conclusion, the New York Fed President has suggested,

Let me underscore the challenge that central bankers face in combating asset price bubbles. Doing so effectively requires us to be successful in both identifying the incipient bubble and in developing and implementing a response that will limit bubble growth and avert a destructive asset price crash. This is not easy because asset bubbles are hard to recognize in real time and each asset bubble is different. However, these challenges cannot be an excuse for inaction.

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Is Funding About Money?

A key factor that constrains people’s ability to generate goods and services is the scarcity of funding. Contrary to popular thinking, funding is not about money as such but about real savings.

Note that various tools and machinery or the infrastructure that people have created is for only one purpose and it is to be able to produce final consumer goods that are required to maintain and promote peoples life and well-being.

For a given consumption of final consumer goods, the greater the production of these goods the larger the pool of real funding or savings is going to be. The quantity and the quality of various tools and machinery i.e. the available infrastructure, place a limit on the quantity and the quality of the production of consumer goods.

Through the increase in the quantity of tools and through the introduction of better tools and machinery a greater output can be secured. The increase in the quantity of tools and their enhancement requires funding to support various individuals that are engaged in the production of new tools and machinery.

This of course means that through the increase in real savings, a better infrastructure can be built and this in turn sets the platform for a higher economic growth.

A higher economic growth means a larger quantity of consumer goods, which in turn permits more savings and also more consumption. With more savings a more advanced infrastructure can be created and this in turn sets the platform for a further strengthening in the economic growth.

Note that the savers here are wealth generators. It is wealth generators that save and employ their real savings in the buildup of the infrastructure. The savings of wealth generators employed to fund various individuals that are specialized in the making and the maintenance of the infrastructure. Real savings also fund individuals that are engaged in the production of final consumer goods.

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What Should Be the Criteria for Model Selection?

In order to make the data “talk,” economists utilize a range of statistical methods that vary from highly complex models to a simple display of historical data. It is generally held that by means of statistical correlations one can organize historical data into a useful body of information, which in turn can serve as the basis for assessments of the state of the economy. It is held that through the application of statistical methods on historical data, one can extract the facts of reality regarding the state of the economy.

Unfortunately, things are not as straightforward as they seem to be. For instance, it has been observed that declines in the unemployment rate are associated with a general rise in the prices of goods and services. Should we then conclude that declines in unemployment are a major trigger of price inflation? To confuse the issue further, it has also been observed that price inflation is well correlated with changes in money supply. Also, it has been established that changes in wages display a very high correlation with price inflation.

So what are we to make out of all this? We are confronted here not with one, but with three competing “theories” of inflation. How are we to decide which is the right theory? According to the popular way of thinking, the criterion for the selection of a theory should be its predictive power.

On this Milton Friedman wrote,

The ultimate goal of a positive science is the development of a theory or hypothesis that yields valid and meaningful (i.e., not truistic) predictions about phenomena not yet observed.[1]

So long as the model (theory) “works,” it is regarded as a valid framework as far as the assessment of an economy is concerned. Once the model (theory) breaks down, we look for a new model (theory).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fed Confused About What Drives Inflation

On October 4 2017, the former governor of the Federal Reserve Daniel Tarullo in a speech at the Brookings think-tank in Washington said Fed policy makers do not have a reliable theory of what drives inflation. According to Tarullo, central bankers should pay less attention to theoretical models and more to actual data. However, how is it possible to make any sense of the data without having a reliable theory?

The importance of theory

The purpose of a theory is to enable to ascertain the definition of a phenomenon that is subject to investigation.

The correct definition attempts to identify the essence of the phenomenon i.e. the key parts that drives the phenomenon.

For instance, the definition of human action is not that people are engaged in all sorts of activities, but that they are engaged in purposeful activities – it is purpose that gives rise to an action.

So when Tarullo states that Fed policy makers do not know the causes that drive inflation he basically says that Fed policy makers have not as yet established the correct definition of inflation.

Is it then valid to be practical, as suggested by Tarullo, to focus only on the data to understand what inflation is all about? If Fed policy makers respond to changes in price indices without establishing what drives these changes this runs the risk of making things much worse.

Attempting to define what inflation is all about

The subject matter of inflation is embezzlement by means of diluting the purchasing power of individuals. The source for this act of embezzlement is increases in money supply out of “thin air”. The increase in money out of “thin air” sets in motion an exchange of nothing for something or the diversion of real wealth from wealth generators to the holders of the newly created money.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why US Price Inflation Remains Relatively Subdued?

The yearly growth rate of the US consumer price index stood at 1.9% in August against 1.7% in July, while the growth rate of the price index less food and energy stood at 1.7% in August against a similar figure in July and 2.3% in August last year.

Given that the Fed’s target for the core CPI i.e. the CPI less food and energy is 2%, this has  prompted some experts and Fed policy makers to seek answers as to why price inflation remains subdued in the midst of a declining unemployment rate and prolonged economic expansion. The unemployment rate stood at 4.4% in August against 4.9% in August last year and below the so-called natural, or the equilibrium rate of unemployment of 4.5%.

If price inflation hovers too low, it raises the risk of price deflation, which is seen by most experts as bad news. Most experts are of the view that prolonged price inflation below the Fed’s target runs the risk damaging the credibility of the central bank.

We suggest that the main reason for the dilemma as to why the pace of inflation is relatively low in the midst of supposedly strong economic indicators is a misleading definition of what inflation all about.

Contrary to the accepted thinking, the subject matter of inflation is increases in money supply. Note that we do not say that increases in money supply cause inflation. What we are saying that increases in money supply is what inflation is all about.

Contrary to the accepted thinking, the subject matter of inflation is increases in money supply. Note that we do not say that increases in money supply cause inflation. What we are saying that increases in money supply is what inflation is all about.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Does the Central Bank Determine Interest Rates?

According to mainstream thinking, the central bank is the key factor in determining interest rates.

By setting short-term interest rates, the central bank, it is argued, through expectations about the future course of its interest rate policy can influence the entire interest rate structure.

Thus according to the popular way of thinking, the long-term rate is an average of current and expected short-term interest rates. If today’s one year rate is 4% and next year’s one-year rate expected to be 5%, then the two-year rate today should be 4.5% (4+5)/2=4.5%.

Conversely, if today’s one year rate is 4% and next year’s one-year rate expected to be 3%, then the two-year rate today should be 3.5% (4+3)/2=3.5%.

Note that interest rates in this way of thinking are established by the central bank whilst individuals in all this have almost nothing to do and just form mechanically expectations about the future interest rate policy of the central Bank.

Individuals here are passively responding to the possible interest rate policy of the central bank. However, does it make much sense?

We suggest that the key in interest rates determination is people’s time preferences. What is it all about?

People assign higher valuation to present goods versus future goods

As a rule, people assign a higher valuation to present goods versus future goods. This means that present goods are valued at a premium to future goods.

This stems from the fact that a lender or an investor gives up some benefits at present. Hence, the essence of the phenomenon of interest is the cost that a lender or an investor endures.

On this Mises wrote,

That which is abandoned is called the price paid for the attainment of the end sought. The value of the price paid is called cost. Costs are equal to the value attached to the satisfaction which one must forego in order to attain the end aimed at.[1]

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Does Government Spending Create More Economic Growth?

Does Government Spending Create More Economic Growth?

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After the 2007-2009 global financial crisis, fears of ballooning public debt and worries about the drag on economic growth pushed authorities in some countries to lower government spending, a tactic that economists now think may have slowed recovery. Note that in the United States the total debt to GDP ratio stood at 349 in Q1 this year.

In a paper presented at the Kansas City Federal Reserve’s annual economic symposium on August 26 2017, Alan Auerbach and Yuriy Gorodnichenko from the University of California suggested that “expansionary fiscal policies adopted when the economy is weak may not only stimulate output but also reduce debt-to-GDP ratios”. (Fiscal Stimulus and Fiscal Sustainability, August 1,2017, UC – Berkley and NBER).

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Some commentators are of the view that these findings may be welcome news to central bankers who face limited options of their own to combat a future downturn, given existing low interest rates and low inflation rates in their economies. “With tight constraints on central banks, one may expect — or maybe hope for — a more active response of fiscal policy when the next recession arrives,” the University of California researchers wrote.

These findings are in agreement with Nobel Laureate in economics Paul Krugman, and other commentators that are of the view that an increase in government outlays whilst the economy is relatively subdued is good news for economic growth.

Can increase in government outlays strengthen economic growth?

Observe that government is not a wealth generating entity as such — the more it spends, the more resources it has to take from wealth generators. This in turn undermines the wealth generating process of the economy.

The proponents for strong government outlays when an economy displays weakness hold that the stronger outlays by the government will strengthen the spending flow and this in turn will strengthen the economy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What Is the Liquidity Trap?

What Is the Liquidity Trap?

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Some economists such as a Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman are of the view that if the US were to fall into liquidity trap the US central bank should aggressively pump money and aggressively lower interest rates in order to lift the rate of inflation. This Krugman holds will pull the economy from the liquidity trap and will set the platform for an economic prosperity. In his New York Times article of January 11, 2012, he wrote,

If nothing else, we’ve learned that the liquidity trap is neither a figment of our imaginations nor something that only happens in Japan; it’s a very real threat, and if and when it ends we should nonetheless be guarding against its return — which means that there’s a very strong case both for a higher inflation target, and for aggressive policy …(of the central bank).

But does it make sense that by means of more inflation the US economy could be pulled out of the liquidity trap?

The Origin of the Liquidity-Trap Concept

In the popular framework of thinking that originates from the writings of John Maynard Keynes, economic activity presented in terms of a circular flow of money. Spending by one individual becomes part of the earnings of another individual, and spending by another individual becomes part of the first individual’s earnings.

Recessions, according to Keynes, are a response to the fact that consumers — for some psychological reasons — have decided to cut down on their expenditure and raise their savings.

For instance, if for some reason people have become less confident about the future, they will cut back on their outlays and hoard more money. Therefore, once an individual spends less, this worsens the situation of some other individual, who in turn also cuts his spending.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Saving and Money–What is the Relationship?

Conventional wisdom says that savings is the amount of money left after monetary income was used for consumer outlays, implying that saving is synonymous with money. Hence, for a given consumer outlays an increase in money income implies more saving and thus more funding for investment. This in turn sets the platform for higher economic growth.

Following this logic, one could also establish that increases in money supply are beneficial to the entire process of capital formation and economic growth. (Note increases in money supply result in increases in monetary income and this in turn for a given consumer outlays implies an increase in savings).

Relation between saving and money

Saving as such has nothing to do with money. It is the amount of final consumer goods produced in excess of present consumption.

The producers of final consumer goods can trade saved goods with each other or for intermediate goods such as raw materials and services.  Observe that the saved goods support all the stages of production, from the producers of final consumer goods down to the producers of raw materials, services and all other intermediate stages.

Support means that these savings enable all these producers to maintain their lives and wellbeing whilst they are busy producing things. Also, note that if the production of final consumer goods were to rise, all other things being equal, this would expand the pool of real savings and would increase the ability to further produce a greater variety of consumer goods i.e. wealth.

Note that people do not want various means as such but rather final consumer goods. This means that in order to maintain their life people require an access to consumer goods.

 

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Central Banks’ Obsession with Price Stability Leads to Economic Instability

Central Banks’ Obsession with Price Stability Leads to Economic Instability

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For most economists the key factor that sets the foundation for healthy economic fundamentals is a stable price level as depicted by the consumer price index.

According to this way of thinking, a stable price level doesn’t obscure the visibility of the relative changes in the prices of goods and services, and enables businesses to see clearly market signals that are conveyed by the relative changes in the prices of goods and services. Consequently, it is held, this leads to the efficient use of the economy’s scarce resources and hence results in better economic fundamentals.

The Rationale for Price-Stabilization Policies

For instance, let us say that demand increases for potatoes versus tomatoes. This relative strengthening, it is held, is going to be depicted by a greater increase in the price of potatoes than for tomatoes.

Now in an unhampered market, businesses pay attention to consumer wishes as manifested by changes in the relative prices of goods and services. Failing to abide by consumer wishes will lead to the wrong production mix of goods and services and will lead to losses.

Hence in our example, by paying attention to relative changes in prices, businesses are likely to increase the production of potatoes versus tomatoes.

According to this way of thinking, if the price level is not stable, then the visibility of the relative price changes becomes blurred and consequently, businesses cannot ascertain the relative changes in the demand for goods and services and make correct production decisions.

Thus, it is feared that unstable prices will lead to a misallocation of resources and to the weakening of economic fundamentals. Unstable changes in the price level obscure changes in the relative prices of goods and services. Consequently, businesses will find it difficult to recognize a change in relative prices when the price level is unstable.

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Money Creation and the Boom-Bust Cycle

In his various writings, Murray Rothbard argued that in a free market economy that operates on a gold standard, the creation of credit that is not fully backed up by gold (fractional-reserve banking) sets in motion the menace of the boom-bust cycle. In his The Case for 100 Percent Gold Dollar Rothbard wrote:

I therefore advocate as the soundest monetary system and the only one fully compatible with the free market and with the absence of force or fraud from any source a 100 percent gold standard. This is the only system compatible with the fullest preservation of the rights of property. It is the only system that assures the end of inflation and, with it, of the business cycle. (1)

Murray Rothbard was convinced that we should return to a sound monetary system based on the market-chosen money commodity gold. Note that the use of gold as money as such cannot keep banks from issuing fiduciary media (a.k.a. uncovered money substitutes). The important thing is therefore that the monetary and banking system are free. A free banking system will develop along sound lines of its own accord, not least because banks have to continually clear transactions between each other and will tend to shun overextended lenders. A free market monetary/ banking system would likely be different from today’s system in numerous aspects, but it would be just as sophisticated and efficient. Most importantly, it would be economically sound and the likelihood that severe business cycles emerge would be vastly lower. Photo via mises.org

Some economists such as George Selgin and Lawrence White have contested this view. In his article in The Independent Review George Selgin argued that it is not true that fractional-reserve banking must always set in motion the menace of the boom-bust cycle. According to Selgin:

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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