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The Fed Is a Purely Political Institution, and It’s Definitely Not a Bank.

The Fed Is a Purely Political Institution, and It’s Definitely Not a Bank.

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Those who know Wall Street lore sometimes recall that Fed chairman William Miller—Paul Volcker’s immediate predecessor—joked that most Americans believed the Federal Reserve was either an Indian reservation, a wildlife preserve, or a brand of whiskey. The Fed, of course, is none of those things, but there’s also one other thing the Federal Reserve is not: an actual bank. It is simply a government agency that does bank-like things.

It’s easy to see why many people might think it is a bank. “Bank” is right there in the name of the twelve regional banks that make up the system: for example, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The Fed also enjoys many titles that make it sound like a bank. It’s sometimes called the “lender of last resort.” Or it is sometimes called “a banker’s bank.” Moreover, many people often call the Fed “the central bank.” That phrase is useful enough, but not quite true.

Moreover, even critics of the bank often repeat the myth that the Federal Reserve is “a private bank,” as if that were the main problem with the Federal Reserve. And then there are the economists who like to spread fairy tales about how the Fed is “independent” from the political system and makes decisions based primarily on economic theory as interpreted by wise economists.

The de facto reality of the Federal Reserve is that it is a government agency, run by government technocrats, that enjoys the benefits of being subject to very little oversight from Congress. It is no more “private” than the Environmental Protection Agency, and it is no more a “bank” than the US Department of the Treasury.

It’s a Purely Political Institution

…click on the above link to read the rest…

No Surprise: Wall Street Wants to Raise the Target Inflation Rate above 2 Percent

No Surprise: Wall Street Wants to Raise the Target Inflation Rate above 2 Percent

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Price inflation in the United States remains stubbornly high, with October’s print at 7.7 percent. The Fed’s preferred measure, so-called core inflation is only two-tenths of a percent below 40-year highs, at 6.3 percent. Yet, it was just last year that the Federal reserve and other “experts” were concerned that inflation wasn’t high enough. In January 2021, for example, Jerome Powell stated that the Fed wanted price inflation to run above the “2-percent goal” because it had run below 2 percent for too long. The 2-percent inflation target, of course, is the arbitrary target picked by the Federal Reserve (and many other central banks) as the “correct” inflation rate.

Now with inflation running near 40-year highs, many are wondering what will be necessary to bring price inflation back down to the target level. More specifically, how many hikes in the target interest rate will be necessary, and how severe of a recession will be required? Wall Street is especially interested in the answer to this question because Wall Street is no longer about fundamentals. Rather, the “market” depends overwhelmingly on how much easy money the central bank pumps out. Naturally, the banker class wants a return to “normal”—i.e., quantitative easing and ultralow interest rates—as soon as possible. Moreover, Washington wants the same thing since the political class wants low interest rates to help ease the path to ever more government debt and higher deficits.

It’s not the least bit surprising that we’re already hearing calls for the Federal Reserve to abandon the 2-percent inflation target and instead embrace even higher perpetual inflation rates. For example, last week Bank of America economist Ethan Harris suggested that the 2-percent target CPI inflation rate be raised. We’ve seen similar urgings from both the Wall Street Journal and from think tank economists in recent months.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The Fed Is Winging It: A 75 Basis-Point Hike “Seemed Like the Right Thing”

The Fed Is Winging It: A 75 Basis-Point Hike “Seemed Like the Right Thing”

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The Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) today announced an increase of 75 basis points to the target federal funds rate, raising the rate to 1.75% from 1%. June’s meeting today was the third meeting this year at which the FOMC has raised rates. Coming into the March meeting this year, however, the FOMC had not raised the target rate since March of 2020, even though price inflation began to accelerate during the second half of 2021.

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Today’s 75-basis-point increase is the largest increase since late 1994 when the FOMC raised the target rate from 4.75% to 5.5%.

Notably, however, this increase comes mere weeks after the Fed Chair Powell slapped down the idea of a 75-basis point increase in June. As reported by Reuters on May 4, Powell had insisted “A 75 basis point increase is not something that the committee is actively considering.”

That didn’t last long.

The fact that the Fed was forced to hike the target rate by higher than it had suggested was even possible earlier in the year is a reminder that the Fed and its economists are simply in a reactionary mode when it comes to the US economy’s problem with mounting price inflation.

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As even Powell admitted during today’s press conference, the Fed was surprised by how high price inflation has grown. The Fed then had to pivot in order to answer calls that the central bank “do something” about price inflation.

But when it comes to the Fed’s decisions about setting target rates, it is I increasingly obvious there is no model. The “plan,” to the extent one exists at all, amounts to “let’s see how bad inflation is, and then we’ll pick a target rate and hope that solves the problem.”

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

Ending Fiat Money Won’t Destroy the State

Ending Fiat Money Won’t Destroy the State

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A certain meme has become popular among advocates of both gold and cryptocurrencies. This is the “Fix the money, fix the world” meme. This slogan is based on the idea that by switching to some commodity money—be it crypto or metal—and abandoning fiat currency, the world will improve greatly.

Taken in its moderate form, of course, this slogan is indisputably correct. State-controlled money is immoral, dangerous, and impoverishing. It paves the way for government theft of private wealth through the inflation tax, and thus allows the state to do more of what it does best: wage wars, kill, imprison, steal, and enrich the friends of the regime at the expense of everyone else. Privatizing the monetary system and imposing a “separation of money and state” would help limit these activities.

But it’s also important to not overstate the benefits of taking money out of the hands of the state. The temptation to push the “fix the world” idea to utopian levels is often seen among cryptocurrency maximalists, and among some gold promoters as well.

For example, at least one bitcoin enthusiast thinks bitcoin will bring “the end of the nation states.” And in one particularly over-the-top paragraph from another bitcoin promoter, we’re told that cryptocurrency will essentially cure every ill from poverty to corruption to environmental destruction.

The idea that changing to different money will somehow end theft, poverty, or even war is the sort of messianic thinking that would have given old-school Marxists a run for their money.

Yes, we can all agree that if we “improve the money” we also “improve the world.” But removing the state’s money monopoly won’t make states fold up their tents and slink away in the night. (And, needless to say, simply changing the money won’t make bad food or poverty disappear either.)

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

The Fed’s Inflation Is behind the Supply Chain Mess

The Fed’s Inflation Is behind the Supply Chain Mess

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It seems supporters of the Biden administration finally settled on a narrative they like for explaining away supply chain shortages.

Here’s the administration’s talking point: the US economy is rolling along so well that Americans are demanding huge amounts of goods. That’s overwhelming the supply chain and causing the backups roiling America’s ports and logistic infrastructure.

For example, transportation secretary Buttigieg this month declared “Demand is up … because income is up, because the president has successfully guided this economy out of the teeth of a terrifying recession.”

Similarly, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters supply chain problems are occurring because “people have more money … their wages are up … we’ve seen an economic recovery that is underway.”

This position has been mocked by a number of conservative politicians—including Senator Ted Cruz—and commentators, who find this to be an absurd assumption. Indeed, Cruz and other critics could point to a variety of factors ranging from the weight of government regulations to the problem of covid lockdowns limiting the productivity of supply-chain workers.

Yet the administrator’s defenders are right about consumer demand and spending—even if for the wrong reasons. As Mihai Macovei showed earlier this month, the global volume of trade and shipping volume in 2021 have actually exceeded prepandemic numbers. For example, in the port of Los Angeles, “loaded imports” and “total imports” for the 2020–21 fiscal year (ending June 30, 2021) were both up when compared to the same period of the 2018–19 fiscal year.

In other words, it’s not as if little is moving through these ports. In fact, more is moving through them than ever before. That suggests demand is indeed higher.

But why is it higher? It some ways, it’s true that, as Psaki says, “people have more money.” That, however, is where the veracity and usefulness of Biden’s defenders end in explaining the problem.

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

The COVID-19 “Lockdowns” Are What Twenty-First-Century Mob Rule Looks Like

The COVID-19 “Lockdowns” Are What Twenty-First-Century Mob Rule Looks Like

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As of April 6, forty-one states have statewide “stay-at-home” decrees in place. These orders vary widely from place to place. In some states, there are long lists of exempted industries including marijuana dispensaries, liquor stores, hardware stores, and of course, grocery stores. In some states with these edicts, public lands, state parks, and beaches remain open. In some states, city parks are more crowded than ever as local residents, with little else to do, attempt to recreate. In other places—such as California—one can be arrested for paddleboarding all alone in the ocean.

Yet in all of these places, the current regime of rule by decree will have—and already has had—a devastating effect on many small and medium-sized businesses and their employees. As governments have created new arbitrary definitions of what constitutes an “essential” business, some businesses find themselves forced to close. Employees have lost these jobs. The owners of these enterprises will likely lose far more as debts mount and business investments are destroyed. As unemployment and poverty increase, the usual pathologies will arise as well: suicides, child abuse, and stress-induced death.

Yet the politicians—mostly state governors, mayors, and unelected bureaucrats—remain popular. In New York State, where the lockdown orders are among the most draconian in the nation, it is now claimed that 87 percent of those polled approve of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the situation. As Donald Trump’s administration has recommended ever harsher government limits on the freedom of Americans, his poll numbers have only improved. 

Meanwhile, among critics there appears to be a misconception of these lockdowns (which are very often only partially imposed or enforced) as being imposed over the howls of the local population, which is being silenced and cowed by jackbooted local police.

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

How the US Wages War to Prop up the Dollar

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How the US Wages War to Prop up the Dollar

At Counterpunch, Michael Hudson has penned an important article that outlines the important connections between US foreign policy, oil, and the US dollar.

In short, US foreign policy is geared very much toward controlling oil resources as part of a larger strategy to prop up the US dollar. Hudson writes:

The assassination was intended to escalate America’s presence in Iraq to keep control of the region’s oil reserves, and to back Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi troops (Isis, Al Quaeda in Iraq, Al Nusra and other divisions of what are actually America’s foreign legion) to support U.S. control of Near Eastern oil as a buttress of the U.S. dollar. That remains the key to understanding this policy, and why it is in the process of escalating, not dying down.

The actual context for the neocon’s action was the balance of payments, and the role of oil and energy as a long-term lever of American diplomacy.

Basically, the US’s propensity for driving up massive budget deficits has created a need for immense amounts of deficit spending. This can be handled through selling lots of government debt, or through monetizing the debt. But what if there isn’t enough global demand for US debt? That would mean the US would have to pay more interest on its debt. Or, the US could monetize the debt through the central bank. But that might cause the value of the dollar to crash. So, the US regime realized that it must find ways to prevent the glut of dollars and debt from actually destroying the value of the dollar. Fortunately for the regime, this can be partly managed, it turns out, through foreign policy. Hudson continues:

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

How to Avoid Civil War: Decentralization, Nullification, Secession

How to Avoid Civil War: Decentralization, Nullification, Secession 

It’s becoming more and more apparent that the United States will not be going back to “business as usual” after Donald Trump leaves office, and it is easy to imagine that the anti-Trump parties will use their return to power as an opportunity to settle scores against the hated rubes and “deplorables” who dared attempt to oppose their betters in Washington, DC, California, and New York.

This ongoing conflict may manifest itself in the culture war through further attacks on people who take religious faith seriously, and on those who hold any social views unpopular among degreed people from major urban centers. The First Amendment will be imperiled like never before with both religious freedom and freedom of speech regarded as vehicles of “hate.” Certainly, the Second Amendment will hang by a thread.

But even more dangerous will be the deep state’s return to a vaunted position of enjoying a near-total absence of opposition from elected officials in the civilian government. The FBI and CIA will go to even greater lengths to ensure the voters are never again “allowed” to elect anyone who doesn’t receive the explicit imprimatur of the American intelligence “community.” The Fourth Amendment will be banished so that the NSA and its friends can spy on every American with impunity. The FBI and CIA will more freely combine the use of surveillance and media leaks to destroy adversaries.

Anyone who objects to the deep state’s wars on either Americans or on foreigners will be denounced as stooges of foreign powers.

These scenarios may seem overly dramatic, but the extremity of the situation is suggested by the fact that Trump — who is only a very mild opponent of the status quo — has received such hysterical opposition. After all, Trump has not dismantled the welfare state. He has not slashed — or even failed to increase — the military budget.

Electoral College: Why We Must Decentralize Democracy

Electoral College: Why We Must Decentralize Democracy

Although it was long assumed that the electoral college favored Democrats — and this assumption continued right up to election night 2016 — Democrats in the United States have now decided the electoral college is a bad thing. Thus, we continue to see legislative efforts to do away with the electoral college, accompanied by claims that it’s undemocratic.

Not All Democracy Is Created Equal

In fact, the electoral college is neither more nor less democratic than the electoral college system. It’s unclear by what standard winning the presidency through 50 separate state-level elections is “less democratic” than winning one large national election.

What makes the electoral college different, however, is that it was born out of recognition that the interests, concerns, and values of voters can differ greatly from place to place. Moreover, the system anticipated the phenomenon in which people in large densely populated areas would have different political values from people in other areas. The electoral college was designed to make it less likely that voters from a single region — or small number of regions — could impose their will across the entire nation.

In contrast, one large national election — as envisioned by the critics of the electoral college system — could hand national rule over to a small number of cities and regions.

But even the electoral college system is too much slanted in favor of national politics and large majorities. Far better strategies for governance can be found Swiss democracy. Thanks to the presence of a multi-lingual, culturally diverse population, the creators of the Swiss confederation sought to ensure that no single linguistic, religious, or cultural group could impose its will nationwide. Thus, Swiss democracy includes a number of provisions requiring a “double majority.” That is, not only must an overall majority of Swiss voters approve certain measures, a majority of the voters in the majority of Swiss cantons must also approve.

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

The Creepy Line: A New Documentary on the Immense Power of Tech Giants

The Creepy Line: A New Documentary on the Immense Power of Tech Giants

The Creepy Line, a new documentary by director M.A. Taylor, is now streaming at Amazon Prime. It takes a disturbing look at how Google and Facebook influence their users’ view of the world, and how the companies have pioneered new ways of doing business. It’s a business model in which personal data harvested from users is exploited so as to offer targeted advertising to third parties.

The Creepy Line takes its title from a description of Google once uttered by Google executive Eric Schmidt who said Google’s mission was to “get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

In truth, though, by pioneering the “surveillance business model,” Google has been been stepping over “the creepy line” for years.

Is is perhaps in its basic explanations of how the surveillance model works that The Creepy Line is most interesting: the filmmakers explain in simple terms how a small number of companies have come to compile extensive data profiles of many hundreds of millions of human beings, and how that data is the real product sold and used by the companies that collect it.

This, of course, has always been the plan, although it was arguably much more modest at one time.

The Surveillance Model

There’s a lot of money to be made by helping advertisers target specific potential customers. But first you need a lot of data on the people you’re targeting. Successful tech giants can offer this data — and huge amounts of it.

In order to offer advertisers data on potential customers, though, a company first has to collect it. And in order to collect it, the company must offer some sort of bait for the users to seize upon, thus leaving behind their personal data.

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

No, Voting Doesn’t Mean You “Support the System”

No, Voting Doesn’t Mean You “Support the System”

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Listen to Ryan McMaken’s commentary on the Radio Rothbard podcast.

I admit it. I voted

In my home state of Colorado, all voting is by mailed paper ballots. That means, if you’re a registered voter, the county clerk sends you a ballot every election.

And then — at least in my case — it sits there on a table near my desk.

One is supposed to fill it out and then mail it back. Or drop it off in one of the mailbox-like boxes scattered around the city.

Sometimes I do it.

This time around, as the ballot sat there on the table, I kept thinking about the proposed tax increases I could vote “yes” or “no” on.

Like many states in the Western half of the United States, this state makes frequent use of ballot initiatives and referenda in elections. Voters are asked to vote up or down any number of regulations and taxes which the policymakers will be more than happy to implement if they can muster a “yes” from the majority of voters.

I’m certainly not willing to stand in line at a polling place, and I don’t care about getting an “I Voted!” sticker. But I had to admit the opportunity cost of sending in the ballot was really quite low. So, as I am not a big fan of new taxes, I filled out the ballot according to my whims, and sent it in.

Does Voting Mean You Support the Regime?

Nothing about this little anecdote would strike most people as remarkable in any way.

Since at least the nineteenth century, though, there has been a debate over whether or not voting somehow means the voter has agreed to submit to — or even support — whatever the state does.

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

No Matter How You Vote, Politicians Don’t Represent You

No Matter How You Vote, Politicians Don’t Represent You

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One of the most foundational assumptions behind modern democracy is that the elected officials somehow represent the interests of those who elected them.

Advocates for the political status quo flog this position repeatedly, claiming that taxation and the regulatory state are all morally legitimate because the voters are “represented.” Even conservatives, who often claim to be for “small government” often oppose radicalism of any kind — such as secession — on the grounds that political resistance movements such as the American Revolution are only acceptable when there is “taxation without representation.”The implication being that since the United States holds elections every now and then, no political action outside of voting — and maybe a little sign waving — is allowed.

This, position, however, rests on the idea that elected officials are truly representative. If taxation with representation makes government legitimate — as some argue — then we must first establish that the government’s claims of representation are believable.

On a theoretical level, Gerard Casey has already cast serious doubt on these claims. Casey draws on the work of Hanna Pitkin, who admits it is plausible that:

Perhaps representation in politics is only a fiction, a myth forming part of the folklore of our society. Or perhaps representation must be redefined to fit our politics; perhaps we must simply accept the fact that what we have been calling representative government is in reality just party competition for office.

After all, as Casey points out, representation in the private sector usually means there is an agent-principal relationship in which the agent is legally bound to attempt to represent the material interests of a clearly defined person or group of people.

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

Why Bad Economics Makes Such Good Politics

Why Bad Economics Makes Such Good Politics

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As the election nears, politicians will more and more frantically point out what wonderful favors they’ve done for the voters — or what favors they will do for the voters, if elected.

Of course, they never mean all the voters. They mean groups or individuals within the voting population who believe they benefit from laws, taxes, regulations, and spending programs supported by the politician in question.

Two such examples of these sorts of favors are tariffs and minimum wage laws. Both impose costs on both producers and consumers overall, while benefiting a small sliver of the population that is able to take advantage of the government mandate.

The economics of each of these, or taxation and business regulation in general, have already been addressed numerous times in these pages.

It must suffice to point out that these policies, for which politicians think they deserve accolades, potentially benefit only very specific interest groups. Nevertheless, these policies can prove to be politically popular, and may help a politician get elected.

But why should policies that help so few — and impose many costs on even those they purport to help — be politically popular?

Hazlitt and Mises on the Popularity of Bad Economics

Answering this question was one of the main reasons that Henry Hazlitt wrote his perennially popular bookEconomics in One Lesson.

In the very first chapter, Hazlitt notes that economic science is prone to so many errors because people are motivated to believe an incorrect version of economics that supports their own economic interests. Or as Hazlitt put it, economic errors “are multiplied a thousandfold … by the special pleading of selfish interests.”

Sometimes, these attempts to throw good economics in the garbage are spectacularly successful. After all, for decades, no insignificant number of Americans believed the claim that “what’s good for General Motors is good for America.”1

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

The Fed’s Easy-Money Policies Aren’t Helping Income Growth

The Fed’s Easy-Money Policies Aren’t Helping Income Growth

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Back in August, Bloomberg interviewed Karen Petrou about her research on quantitative easing and the Fed’s policies since the 2008 financial crisis. What she has discovered has not been encouraging for people who aren’t already high-income, and in recent research presented to the New York Fed, she concluded “Post-crisis monetary and regulatory policy had an unintended but nonetheless dramatic impact on the income and wealth divides.”

This assessment is based on her own work, but also on a 2018 report released by the Minneapolis Fed.1  The report showed that both income and wealth growth in the US have been much better for higher-income households in recent decades

Notably, when indexed to 1971 (the year Nixon ended the last link between gold and the dollar) we can see the disparity between the top wealth groups and other groups:

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 Petrou continues:

What did we learn [from the Minneapolis Fed report]? This new dataset shows clearly that U.S. wealth inequality is the worst it has been throughout the entire U.S. post-war period. We also know now that the U.S. middle class is even more “hollowed out” than we thought in terms of income, with any gains made by the lower-middle class sharply reversed after 2007.

Indeed, the report concludes: “…half of all American households have less wealth today in real terms than the median household had in 1970.”

A closer look at income data also suggests that income growth has been especially anemic since 2007. Using data from the Census Bureau’s 2017 report on income and poverty, we find that incomes for the 90th percentile are increasingly pulling away from both the median (50th percentile) income and from the 20th-percentile income.2

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 The household income for the 20th percentile increased 70 percent since 1971, while it has only increased 20 percent at the 20th percentile.

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

When LBJ Assaulted a Fed Chairman

When LBJ Assaulted a Fed Chairman

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In his column today, Ron Paul mentions that those who insist the Fed functions with “independence” tend to forget — or at least not bring up — the numerous historical episodes in which the Fed did not exercise any such independence.

As an example, Paul mentions the time President Lyndon Johnson

summoned then-Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin to Johnson’s Texas ranch where Johnson shoved him against the wall. Physically assaulting the Fed chairman is probably a greater threat to Federal Reserve independence than questioning the Fed’s policies on Twitter.

For those unfamiliar with the episode, I thought it might be helpful to look at some of the historical context surrounding the situation. In his book The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan, Sebastian Mallaby writes:

Johnson had pushed Kennedy’s economic policies to their logical extreme. In 1964, he had delivered a powerful fiscal stimulus by signing tax cuts into laws, and he had proceeded to bully the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates as low as possible. When the Fed made a show of resistance [in 1965], Johnson summoned William McChesney Martin, the Fed chairman, to his Texas ranch and physically showed him around his living room, yelling in his face, “Boys are dying in Vietnam, and Bill Martin doesn’t care.”

This was the 1960s version of “you’re either with me or you’re with the terrorists.

Of course, Johnson didn’t stop at pushing around a central banker. Mallaby continues:

If the tax cuts and low interest rates caused inflationary pressure, Johnson believed he could deal with it with more bullying and manipulation. When aluminum makers raised prices in 1965, Johnson ordered up sales from the government’s strategic stockpile to push prices back down again. When copper companies raised prices, he fought by restricting exports of the metal and scrapping tariffs so as to usher in more imports.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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