Enlightened Economics

Economics for an Enlightened Age

Posts Tagged ‘inflation’

• Debt/Bailout Bubbles May Burst. Brighter Future Beyond 2012!

Posted by Ron Robins on July 19, 2009

A stressed American consciousness focusing on material acquisition to the virtual exclusion of satisfying higher inner values has given rise to an unwieldy debt mountain. Now the U.S. government is borrowing and spending massively as it tries to pump-up the economy while backstopping much of the countries debt.

Consumers and companies have largely hit a ‘debt wall.’ And with a possible derivative meltdown and the recognition of enormous unfunded U.S. liabilities, we may see the U.S. government itself hit the debt wall in the not-so-distant future. The subsequent reaction would topple the debt mountain and pop the bailout bubble. But I believe a new higher consciousness will arise from these extraordinary events creating a truly enlightened economy mirroring our higher, inner human values.

Bailouts, guarantees, and write-offs galore
So far in this phase of the crisis the U.S. federal government and Federal Reserve have already guaranteed or spent around $13 trillion! And the current 2009 U.S. federal budget deficit will top $2 trillion, or about 14% of U.S. GDP. More stimulus packages are likely and massive deficits for years into the future are projected as it is unlikely that the economy will gain self-sustaining traction to stop unemployment from increasing. Economists such as 2008 Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman and others in the Obama administration are already discussing the possibility of another huge stimulus package.

Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on April 21, 2009, estimated global financial system write-offs to exceed $4,100 billion. The write-offs to-date are not anywhere close to that figure therefore, enormous additional financial system losses are yet to come.

A two-phased crisis
I see two phases to the U.S. financial crises. Each alone is capable of bursting the bailout bubble. Phase 1, which we are currently in, involves the write-offs of bad mortgages, loans, deleveraging, extraordinary U.S. government and Federal Reserve guarantees and financing, and a potential derivative implosion. Any sudden interest rate hikes and/or currency movements could trigger an implosion in the $450 trillion (ISDA April 22 press release) derivatives market and cause further financial chaos.

To enable U.S. government bond sales, it is probable that the U.S. federal government will, if it is not doing so already, pressure the banks with whom it has ‘invested in,’ to purchase considerable amounts of its bonds. The banks in turn will get substantial loans from the Federal Reserve for these purchases. In essence this is back-door ‘monetization’ (read ‘quantitative easing’) of U.S. government debt. Monetization simply means the printing of new money by central banks to purchase assets, in this case, U.S. government bonds.

Of course the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and other central banks have already engaged or have announced significant monetization efforts. The central banks claim that they will be able to drain this liquidity (excess money) out of the system as their economies recover. Unfortunately, historical examples do not give much reassurance that this can be done, especially in a global trading environment and where the major countries have amassed such extraordinary levels of debt.

Deeply indebted governments and societies have the choice of trying to reduce their debt levels—which can produce a potentially deflationary recession/depression—or they can encourage central bank monetization efforts that offer a ‘chance’ to get the economy rolling and create sufficient inflation, thus lessening the relative debt load. However, once started hefty monetization efforts often prove impossible to contain, leading to uncontrollable inflation—and even hyper-inflation. Subsequently, interest rates soar, the countries currency plunges in value, its debt mountain topples, and bailout bubbles burst.

Adding to the impetus for monetization will be when Phase 2 of this crisis kicks-in in 2010 as the U.S. begins to face its looming, huge, unfunded liabilities for medicare and social security. These are estimated by Shadowstats at $65.5 trillion. To properly fund this liability would require the U.S. government to put aside trillions of dollars yearly. Clearly, the U.S. government has no possibility or desire to put aside such funds. In addition, the current proposals for health care reform may add considerably to these numbers.

Taken together, these two phases of economic crisis make it unlikely that the U.S. can escape its fate of the bursting of its debt and bail-out bubbles.

Beyond 2012 a brighter future
I believe the underlying collective consciousness of U.S. society is moving toward higher values, and the more balanced approach to consumption and savings is evidence of this. However, in the course of these changes the likelihood of the debt mountain toppling, the bailout bubble bursting, and the onset of high or hyperinflation are real possibilities. By the end of this process, sometime around 2012, the American collective consciousness will have sufficiently evolved to begin the path of developing a truly sustainable economy mirroring the values of an economics based on our higher inner human values and consciousness—and that path is the realm of Enlightened Economics.

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© Ron Robins, 2009.

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• Interest Rate Manipulation and Loose Money Promote Economic Collapse

Posted by Ron Robins on April 6, 2009

Few people would compare downward central bank interest rate manipulation and loose money policies to Soviet style command economics. But I do. And I suggest that if these policies continue for much longer, it could lead to an economic collapse, something approaching that of the Soviet Union’s in the late 1980s. Consider the outcomes for the United States of excessively low interest rates and loose monetary policies in recent years fostered by the U.S. Federal Reserve:

  • A real estate boom and bust, with massive over-building.
  • Discouragement of savings which fell to all-time lows relative to incomes.
  • The taking of inordinate financial risks.
  • The creation of excessive debt, particularly by consumers.
  • The expansion of total debt far faster than either GDP or income.

Furthermore, the Japanese experience with many years of zero-based interest rates and easy money has enormously compounded its economic problems. Here is the situation in Japan today:

  • Japan cannot raise interest rates in any meaningful way due to its gargantuan public debt. To do so could bankrupt the nation. The country is trapped into lower rates.
  • Until recently, Japan had become the financier of ultra cheap plentiful loans that artificially boosted global asset prices. The so-called ‘yen carry-trade’, and, its recent collapse has helped crush global asset values.
  • Zero-based rates combined with major monetary expansion smashed down Japan’s exchange rate, making imports expensive and discouraged balanced domestic consumption.
  • A ‘cheap’ Yen gave Japanese exporters an unfair trade advantage relative to other developed economies, particularly that of the United States.
  • Japan has failed to pull itself out of an almost twenty-year slump.
  • Japan has produced a situation of significantly diminished resources to fight its present downturn, not only due to the enormity of its government debt, but also because of deteriorating savings in recent years and lack of domestic consumer demand.

With central bank rates of zero per cent proving inadequate to get individuals and companies borrowing, and banks lending again, governments now seek to lower their bond yields. Thereby rates for mortgages, auto loans, consumer loans, etc., are also manipulated down, hoping to kick-start consumption. Hence, the U.S., Japanese, British and other central banks are engaged in a massive ‘printing money’ exercise to buy huge quantities of their respective governments’ bonds in an effort to lower their bond yields and create the easy money. Such policies usually have the following outcomes:

  • If successful, debt levels go from really bad to extremely bad!
  • Short-term artificial demand stimuli distort longer term supply/demand relationships. Look what has happened to the American auto industry arising from zero-cost financing a few years ago. It appears that much of the increased sales was at the expense of future consumption and has helped shape the horrendous situation for the industry today.
  • Financial and economic imbalances mount, producing an ever more unstable economic environment. As Stephen Roach, Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, wrote on March 10, 2009 in the Financial Times, “Policies are being framed with an aim towards recreating the boom. Washington wants to get credit flowing again to indebted US consumers… It is a recipe for disaster.”

Economies with excessively loose monetary policies and who force interest rates to ultra low levels for extended periods of time eventually succumb to a massive top-heavy debt structure which at some point ‘topples over.’ These countries then suffer either a deflationary debt implosion/depression in which much of the debt is liquidated, or the country’s central bank instigates a huge inflationary push to reduce the value of all credit market debt in the country by vastly increasing the amount of currency and the expansion of its money supply.

A big inflationary push frequently leads to a lack of confidence in the country’s currency and hence the possibility of ‘hyper-inflation’ occurring as everyone unloads the country’s currency for real goods or other currencies. Argentina earlier this decade and Zimbabwe recently, are examples of central bank sponsored inflation that led to no confidence in their currencies, resulting in hyper-inflation. The inflationary approach is what appears to be favoured by the American, Japanese and British central banks.

From an Enlightened Economics perspective, the actions of manipulating down interest rates and the over printing of money by central banks fall under a terrible fallacy: the belief that we can resolve our short-term economic problems by going more into debt and not concern ourselves with the long-term consequences. A global consciousness has to arise which understands that manipulating markets, most especially interest rates and money supply, leads to highly unstable economies which in time either implode or explode!

Sometime in the next few years we will again learn history’s lesson concerning long periods of ultra-low interest rates and loose money. And the lesson is that by artificially enforcing such policies for extended periods of time leads to an inevitably unwieldy mammoth debt structure that eventually crushes the economy. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it is comparable in my view to that of the Soviet command economy which finally imploded after trying for decades to make it work.

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© Ron Robins, 2009.

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• An incendiary mix! Inflation, CPI and the U.S. Federal Reserve

Posted by Ron Robins on May 28, 2008

The U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) does NOT measure inflation
It is stunning how confusion reigns on the subject of inflation. Simply put: the Consumer Price Index (CPI) does not measure inflation. It tries, imperfectly, to measure the cost-of-living. Inflation and cost-of-living are not the same thing! As elite economists from Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman to the Bank of England’s Mervyn King comment, inflation is a monetary phenomenon. It is evidenced by excessive expansion of the money supply which exceeds economic growth. Therefore, the basis for higher prices in an economy is ‘too much’ money.

One measure of current U.S. broad money supply shows it growing at an annual rate of over 16%! However, there is considerable debate as to what money supply measure best links it with inflation. (I suspect that for developed countries, we might see credit expansion playing a much more important role in understanding the inflationary process than is currently appreciated. But that is for another post to research.)

Most people believe the CPI measures a fixed basket of goods and services over time. That is again, incorrect. It used to be the case, but not anymore. The current CPI basket of goods and services is constantly changing according to what bureaucrats think people are buying, and by numerous statistical alterations they deem ‘appropriate.’

How the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) modifies the CPI to show tame inflation
The kind of huge modifications the U.S. CPI is subjected to include the following:

  • Substitution of products. Should prices rise, it is inferred people will substitute with something less expensive.
  • ‘Hedonic’ adjustments. If computers’ performance doubles, the relevant index component is halved.
  • Weighting changes of index components. If an item becomes suddenly expensive, it may receive a smaller index weighting.
  • Chain-weighting. Applies to some ‘versions’ of the CPI. This smoothes-out sudden price changes over many months and means indexes using this are always ‘behind-the-curve.’
  • Intervention analysis/seasonal adjustments. Bureaucrats adjust index components according to historical seasonal variations, whether warranted in the current year or not. (See: The Government’s Statistical Whopper of the Year, by Robert P. Murphy.)

Hence, the BLS is able to manipulate the CPI to whatever doctrine holds sway at the time. Prior to about 1980, there actually was a fixed basket of goods and services that comprised the CPI. It did a much better job of measuring inflation caused by monetary expansion. But politicians and some academics did not like this as they said it overstated the actual cost-of-living. For instance, they figured that if beef became expensive, people might buy chicken, and so on, thereby reducing living costs, and thus effectively lowering the index.

Of course, these types of changes also inferred lower living standards. But no politician, or a bureaucracy headed by a political appointee such as the BLS, would want to say that!

CPI inflation over the past year: using 1980’s configuration, nearly 12%; using current methodology, 3.9%!
So around 1980 the CPI began to be massively modified and thus began the trek of divorcing it from monetary inflation. The difference in numbers between the 1980s CPI inflation measure and today’s cost-of-living CPI is extraordinary! John Williams at http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data shows that for April 2008, the CPI using 1980s methodology shows inflation over the past year of close to 12%; using CPI (CPI-U) as constructed today it is just 3.9%!

There is no doubt that the ideal of trying to get a consumer price index that reflects the reality of consumer buying behaviour is a good one. But to rely on the current CPI as a means of determining U.S. inflationary pressures so as to modify its monetary policy, is, at first glance, illogical. However, there is something else going-on here.

The Federal Reserve uses current CPI to fool the world in supporting U.S. economy and artificially high bond, stock prices
The U.S. Federal Reserve often cites the CPI as being very influential in shaping its monetary policy. From the foregoing this seems to be a very strange policy. When viewed through a political lens and the need to maintain confidence in the U.S. economy though, it makes sense to try to fool the world at large that inflationary pressures are minimal within its economy.

The U.S. economic problems are so big that if the Federal Reserve and other government agencies came clean on the true rate of inflation, we would see:

  • U.S. economic growth would be shown to have been negative for several years now (real GDP growth rate = nominal growth less inflation)
  • Bond yields would soar
  • Stock market could rise in highly inflationary environment or crash should deflation take-over
  • U.S. government deficit rocket higher
  • Severe economic downtown. Perhaps a depression

As consciousness rises investors everywhere will begin to understand the distinction between U.S. monetary based inflation that is in the double digits, and a highly stylized, theoretical, consumer price index that minimizes the monetary inflationary threat. Prices of everything will then be re-set accordingly.

There is huge danger ahead should the U.S. monetary and credit expansion continue unabated. The excess funds will find their way into more asset classes and lead to further big asset bubbles – and busts. Commodities anyone! Oh, what an incendiary mix!

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© Ron Robins, 2008.

Posted in Monetary Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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