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What Bernanke Means: QE2 Will Not Boost Money Supply


Most of the loudest critics of the Federal Reserve are aghast at Ben Bernanke’s recent interview, in which he stated that:

We’re not printing money.

The amount of currency in circulation is not changing.

The money supply is not changing in any significant way.

— Ben Bernanke, 60 Minutes Interview, December 2010

What on earth, people wonder, does he mean by that? How could he say such an obviously crazy thing?

I mean, he is spending NEW money buying up bonds and notes…everyone but Bernanke is calling this QE2 (Quantitative Easing)…and the whole point of this is to add money to the economy.

How can he say the money supply is not changing?

But he isn’t simply crazy…he means something specific, and sane (if misguided).

He means this:

Quantity Times Velocity

The real money supply is not simply the number of dollars in existence. As Nobel-laureate economist Friedrich Hayek pointed out, real money supply is really a multiplication of the amount of money, times how much the money is moving around.

(S)upply equals (Q)uantity times (V)elocity.

This chart of the movement of MZM, the best measure of money people can actually use, tells the tale of woe...velocity, and therefore REAL money supply, has fallen deeply, despite the Fed's hopeless efforts to stop it.

And right now, money velocity is as low as it’s been since the Great Depression…not surprising, since this is the first depression the US has suffered, since.

That means it’s moving very little. In fact, it’s mostly sitting around in banks, doing nothing. It is, as Bernanke implied, effectively out of circulation.

That money is as absent from the economy as if it did not exist. This is the Fed’s fault, because they started paying interest on reserves held idle right at the beginning of this depression, but that’s a separate article.

So even though we now have more Quantity than ever, it’s multiplied by an abnormally low Velocity, to the real supply is lacking.

Right now, Austrians like Hayek and socialists like Keynes would agree that our real money supply is actually at a traumatic low, because much of the quantity is sitting around, unavailable.

Let’s hear Hayek agree with Keynes, himself:

On the first issue — whether to use one’s money or whether to hoard it — there is no important difference between us. It is agreed that hording money, whether in cash or in idle balances, is deflationary in its effects. No one thinks that deflation is in itself desirable.

— Hayek in an open letter to Keynes, 1932, regarding how to respond to the Great Depression

 

Money, money, everywhere, but not a cent to spend.

Like the ocean in my favorite poet’s most famous poem, the money sitting around in banks is, ironically, unavailable for the real money supply.

Bernanke is trying to fix this, by temporarily buying up bonds and treasury notes, therefore bypassing the banks’ massive reserves, putting money directly in the economy.

For the moment, he is correct, that this isn’t boosting the real money supply, because so much of the money is lying salted in (virtual) bank vaults, useless.

Temporary Money

Now his critics, those who know enough monetary theory to understand about velocity the way you now do, say this doesn’t matter, because eventually the velocity will recover, and then we’ll have normal velocity times much more quantity. And that would mean inflation…there’s no way around that.

Bernanke would point out, correctly, that this is not correct, either…

See, the Fed doesn’t consider the money it is printing real. It is ephemeral, temporary money, like a Virtual Particle in physics…popped into existence for a bit, then gone.

And this is true:

When the Fed lends money to a bank overnight, the bank is required to pay it back the next day, plus interest. The same for its more recent, unhealthy bout of lending for thirty or ninety days…after that time, the bank pays the money back, with interest.

And when that money is paid back, it literally “vanishes”, into the “thin air” out of which it was created.

For now, the banks keep re-borrowing money, keeping the extra Quantity in a cycle…but when the Fed decides things are getting better, it can start making that borrowing less desirable, so banks re-borrow less, causing the Quantity of money to decline.

When it engages in Quantitative Easing (Bernanke hates that term, and calls it Credit Easing…bureaucrats love euphemisms), the same thing happens;

The Fed buys notes, adding money to the economy…but later it can SELL those notes, and destroy the money paid for them. It will probably sell them at a higher price than it bought, allowing it to actually destroy MORE money than it created, if it chooses.

So it could, in theory, keep the real money supply at a constant, stable level, allowing prices to be natural.

So Bernanke is Right, Everything Is OK?

Unfortunately…no.

The first problem is that Bernanke, and his peers, don’t understand some economic basics:

We’ve been very, very clear that we will not allow inflation to rise above two percent or less…We could raise interest rates in 15 minutes if we have to. So, there really is no problem with raising rates, tightening monetary policy, slowing the economy, reducing inflation, at the appropriate time.

Now THAT is the part that makes me gasp in horror…he thinks he can stop inflation in fifteen minutes? Doesn’t he know the fishtail effect?

Bernanke’s predecessor, Alan Greenspan, and the Nobel Laureate Chicago school economist Milton Friedman, both understood that when the Fed meddles with the economy, its effects take up to EIGHTEEN MONTHS to show up.

So the day that Bernanke decides “Oh, we’ve hit two percent inflation”, he will raise rates…and then inflation will KEEP GOING UP for at least the next eighteen months.

Eighteen months is a LONG time, in economic terms.

Fishtail Effect

It’s long enough that the Fed will become frantic, as its efforts fail to show any results…they’ll keep raising rates, selling notes and bonds, destroying money, until the economy finally seems to be turning around…weakening.

Then they will have overshot the actual mark by around 18 months. For the next 18 months the economy will KEEP getting worse, KEEP getting slower, until it enters into a recession. Because of the amount of money the Fed bubbled in during this depression, and has to suck out, it will probably be the worst recession since the Stagflation of the late seventies and resulting recessions, which were the worst in history.

It’s like when you are on an icy road, and you try to turn…the car doesn’t respond, so you turn the wheel more, and more…by the time the car responds, you’ve turned too much. You straighten the wheel happily, but the car KEEPS turning past where you wanted. So you turn in the other direction…but it keeps turning the original direction. By the time it responds, you turned too much the other way…et cetera.

This is the source of the modern “business cycle” of recessions, that have happened since the US left the Gold Standard in the 1930s. The Fed, and the rest of government, are constantly meddling with the economy, and then discovering the damage they did when it shows up years later, then reacting to that with even more damaging behavior, back and forth in an endless cycle of unintended consequences.

Now this has, up to now, been better than the “business cycle” of depressions and panics the US suffered from 1873-1933, when the US was on a fiat gold standard. But now we’re suffering a depression, despite being off the gold standard, so that’s all out the window.

What we need, of course, is for the Federal Reserve’s monopoly dollar to be replaced by a free market in money, as Friedrich Hayek proposed.

But, failing that, we need the Fed to at least go back to mostly staying out of the economy, as Alan Greenspan tried to do, instead of constantly expanding its meddling, as Bernanke has done, helping lock us into this cycle of economic devastation.

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December 9, 2010 Posted by | Economy, International, Philosophy, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Tyranny of the Majority, vs the Unanimity of Liberty


T
he Founding Fathers despised democracy. They called the idea of 51% voting to impose its will the “violence of majority faction“. Poor Thomas Jefferson spent a great deal of effort and political capital proving he wasn’t a closet democrat. When writing Democracy in America, French philosopher Alexis DeToqueville coined the phrase Tyranny of the Majority referring to an idea from Plato’s Republic.

Majority rule imposes the will of a mere half of the population, plus one vote, upon minorities in each issue.

It is just as wrong to violate someone else's rights, even if you outnumber them and have a vote

It is just as wrong to violate someone else's rights, even if you outnumber them and have a vote

You need only to look at how this impacted blacks in the US to understand how evil majority rule over the minority is.

The Founders sought to solve this problem, by banning democracy in America, setting up a Republic where the majority could never legally vote to violate the natural rights of the minority. The only powers allowed to the Federal government were those listed in the Constitution, with the 9th and 10th articles of the Bill of Rights banning it from doing anything else, even if the majority voted for it.

Majority as Consensus

Of course the Federal government has been corrupted enough to overstep its legitimate authority, but that’s another article.

The modern apologists for majority rule, who unfortunately have managed to get the word “democracy” spun into a positive thing in public schools, defend their tyranny over minorities by saying “hey, at least we can be sure that there isn’t a larger group who opposes a vote, than the group who supports it”.

Advocates of liberty, though, object that you still should not violate the will of ANY people, in a free society. They say that you have no more authority to violate the rights of another because you are a large group, than if you are one man trying to impose your will on your neighbor. At least not legitimately.

Of course, the obvious retort is “hey, the only way to solve the problem of having minorities on issues is to have a unanimous vote…and that’s impossible! If we depended on unanimity, then nothing would ever get accomplished at all!”

majority-rule-orourkeBut this isn’t true:

Unanimous Self-Government

A free market is based, purely, on unanimity.

This is because the fundamental principle of liberty is private property:

Each person is a government of one, over his rightful possessions, starting with his own body.

But if someone wanted a vote on what everyone in the country is going to have for supper tonight, the odds are that he would not be able to get everyone to agree on the same thing. So if this were a power of the government, up to half of the population, minus one vote, would have their right to choose what to eat violated.

Of course that’s if there are only two options…which is a sort of farce of an election in the first place. With a real selection of all things people might reasonably desire for supper, probably more than 99% of people will be forced to eat something they would not have chosen.

And, let’s face it, with how goofy people are, you’re almost always going to end up being forced to eat something you don’t even like, much less want for tonight.

Eccentric sitcom character Mrs. Slocombe used to emphasize a decision by saying "and I am unanimous in that!"

Eccentric sitcom character Mrs. Slocombe used to emphasize a decision by saying "and I am unanimous in that!"

On the other hand, if each man governs his own life, as in a free market, then you may choose not only exactly what to eat, but even when to eat it.

Every time you are hungry, there is a vote, and you are unanimous. Sure, it’s limited to what you can afford, but what better way to determine what a meal is worth than that? Imagine if the majority were always voting themselves caviar and steak, bankrupting society.

With majority rule, you only get rare input at all, and only one option is selected, with most people being losers in the process.

But with the free market, you vote every instant, of every day, and are able to reverse yourself at will.

Of course, this also applies to groups, not just individuals, because their membership is purely voluntary, unlike an authoritarian government:

Sure, your chess club or paintball team may have majority votes, but your participation in them is purely consensual. Each moment of your life, you are free to leave, and if you stay you are voting unanimously for your own membership.

If you leave an organization in a free society, they are not going to blockade your house until you’re forced to fire on them, and then claim you started a hostilities, invade, and conquer you.

democracy.sucksIf the majority of your local town council votes to condemn your perfectly sound family home, just to put up a strip mall that will bring them more tax money and campaign contributions, it does this in violation of the unanimity of private property rights, and you can’t simply withdraw your membership.

Don’t worry; in two years you’ll be allowed to cast a single vote against at least one of those politicians who stole your home…if you still live in town, and at a legal residence, not in a cardboard box.

You might even try to get 51% of all voters in your city to set aside all other issues and vote for the single challenger to each of those bad politicians.

Of course, if your private property rights were protected as they should be, you wouldn’t be in this predicament. Maybe you should just push for laws protecting those rights in general, so such things couldn’t happen in the first place.

While majority rule imposes tyranny over minorities, capitalism, through private property rights, protects even the smallest minority, that of the individual, with unanimity.

Words of the Sentient:

The political principle that underlies the market mechanism is unanimity. In an ideal free market resting on private property, no individual can coerce any other, all cooperation is voluntary, all parties to such cooperation benefit or they need not participate.

— Milton Friedman, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits, The New York Times Magazine

Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority

— James Madison, Federalist Papers #10

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.

— John Adams, , letter to John Taylor, April 15, 1814

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Economy, Philosophy, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

   

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