After studying and teaching Keynesian economics for 30 years, it is clear that the “sophisticated” Keynesians really do believe in magic and fairy dust. Lots of fairy dust. Austrians such as Mises and Rothbard have well understood what Keynesians do not: the structures of production within an economy are heterogeneous and can be distorted by government intervention through inflation and massive borrowing. Far from being creatures that can “save” an economy, the Debt Fairy and the Inflation Fairy are the architects of economic disaster. Despite Keynesian protestations that the U.S. and European governments are engaged in “austerity,” the twin fairies are active on both continents. The fairy dust they are sprinkling on the economy, however, is more akin to sprinkling ricin on humans. In the end, the good fairies turn into witches.
Not only is there a positive relationship between stronger public finances during the crisis and faster post-GFC growth, but the relationship holds both within and outside Europe. We have two observations. First, the results may help explain why Keynesian pundits resort to nonsensical arguments. They often claim that poor performance in countries attempting to contain public debt proves austerity doesn’t work, which is like deciding your months in rehab stunk, and therefore, rehab is bad and heroin is good. A more honest approach is to compare fiscal actions in one time period with results in later periods, after the obvious short-term effects have played out. But if Keynesians did that, they would reveal that their own advice has failed. Second, the effects discussed by Aslund don’t receive enough attention. As Tyler Cowen (who gets credit for the pointer) wrote, Aslund’s perspective “is underrepresented in the economics blogosphere.”... Until now, we haven’t offered research on intermediate-term effects – horizons of 2-5 years as in the charts above.
When the U.S. economy dipped into an inflationary recession in 1969, the Keynesian paradigm could not explain that phenomenon. Given the fact that both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations (not to mention Congress) have followed the Keynesian playbook, the sorry results should be enough to discredit Keynesianism, this time for good. Either a theory explains and predicts phenomena or it does not, and it should be clear that Keynesian theory has failed, but, alas, it seems that the Keynesian paradigm is more influential than ever. Here is a paradigm that claims there cannot be an inflationary recession, yet all of the recessions that have wracked the U.S. economy in recent decades have been inflationary. Alas, the academic “market test” really does not embrace the actual success or failure of a theory.
Unlike her predecessors, Janet Yellen has never had a youthful dalliance with hawkish monetary ideas. Before taking charge of the Fed both Alan Greenspan, and to a lesser extent Ben Bernanke, had advocated for the benefits of a strong currency and low inflation and had warned of the dangers of overly accommodative policy and unnecessary stimulus. (Both largely abandoned these ideals once they took the reins of power, but their urge to stimulate may have been restrained by a vestigial bias against the excesses of Keynesianism). Janet Yellen, who has been on the liberal/dovish end of the monetary spectrum for her entire professional career, has no such baggage. As a result, we can expect her to never waver in her belief that stimulus is the answer to every economic question.
Our grandparents believed in the value of thrift, but many of their grandchildren don’t. That’s because cultural and economic values have changed dramatically over the last generations as political and media elites have convinced many Americans that saving is passé. So today, under the influence of Keynesian economists who champion government spending and high levels of consumption, thrift has been devalued (and is even punished). It is the government’s role, Keynes’s followers believe, to keep the boom going through spending. So it is consumption, not supply, that makes a successful economy, they say. Mainstream media rehashes the message that the consumer, not the producer, is the biggest part of the economy. Politicians agree... But, despite the Keynesian sentiments of much of our political and media elites, we owe it to our grandparents to re-learn the lessons of thrift.
"The American people are being bamboozled into believing that you have to keep spending for ever," Ron Paul exclaims, as "neither side is truly looking for spending cuts." As he explains they all know that increasing spending is all that can maintain the status quo. In this brief CNBC clip, Paul says playing the blame game is ignorant of the reality that both sides are "rigid with bad ideas," dismissing Obama's 'faction' comments. For a glimpse at the chaos underlying the status quo (that is being exposed this week), Paul blasts that "it is a philosophy of government that is to blame; Keynesianism, Militarism, and Interventionism, and the funny-money system that we use. All that has come together and the country is bankrupt and nobody wants to amid it."
"There is nothing safe anymore, because the money-printing distorts all asset prices," is the uncomfortable response Marc Faber gives to Thai TV during this interview when asked for investment ideas. Faber explains how we got here "massive money-printing and ZIRP creates a huge pool of liquidity that does not flow evenly," as it washes from Nasdaq stocks to real estate to emerging markets and so on. Each time, "the bubble inflates and then is deflated as the capital (liquidity) floods out." The Fed, based on the doubling of interest rates since they began QE3 "has lost control of the bond market," Faber warns; adding that while he expects some "cosmetic tapering," the Fed members and other neo-Keynesian clowns will react to a "weakening US and global economy," and we will be a $150 billion QE by the end of next year, as the world is held hostage to US monetary policy.
No matter how hard the Washington crowd tries to sell an economic recovery, inconvenient and contrary facts keep rearing up to shatter their mythmaking. Few people any longer believe the claims of declining unemployment or low inflation at least based on purchases they make. The fable of a housing recovery is now crumbling. The recession, declared over in June 2009, never ended. Some wonder how bad the recession/depression might have been had government not acted. Others worry that we will find out when the Fed tapers. For lack of a better term, the process the entire country is headed for is “Detroitification.” At this stage, the damage is done and cannot be undone quickly enough to avoid this crisis. Even if there were time, there is no way that politicians would willingly address the problem.
After 2000 years, why do we not know which economic theory is correct: Keynesian, Marxism, or Hayek-Friedman? Surely, there is a demonstrably, statistically correct answer. It appears not. Then why do we have cargo-cult faiths (Keynesianism) instead of demonstrably correct models of economic behavior.
While we know that the Fed will be forced to taper in the short-term as it desperately avoids the 'appearance' of outright monetization that a falling deficit will create, Marc Faber sums up the endgame perfectly in this clip: "I don’t think they will come to their senses for the simple reason that insane people don't realize that they are insane." Faber adds, "they think they’re doing a great job," and in fact they believe - in general - that "if anything, we need to do more, not less." The 'forced-taper-to-plunge-to-untaper' progression means it's going to get worse; as Faber notes, QE/printing will continued indefinitely "until the system breaks down." Having printed this much money with such dismal results, Faber concludes, "the Fed is completely clueless."
It wouldn't be the new normal if the collapse in Q2 US GDP to sub-1% wasn't met by a new record high in the Dow Jones. And it certainly wouldn't be the new abnormal if a day of resplendent green in European bourses didn't have some "matching" economic news out of that perpetual reminder that Keynesianism in the end always fails: Greece. Luckily, validating that all is unwell and stocks can proceed to soar to record highs unbothered, on one hand the Greek Statistics Office reported that Greek unemployment in April just rose to a new all time high of 26.9%, up from 26.8% in March, and up from 23.1% a year ago, while Kathimerini reports that Non-performing loans: those perpetual thorns of insolvency in bank balance sheets, just surged to €66 billion, amounting to a whopping 29% at the end of March from a "manageable" 24.2% at end-December. That's a ridiculous 20% increase in total NPLs in three months that was only exposed due to the Troika's stress testing! Just how atrocious is the reality on European bank books anyway?
Earlier this month, in an article for “Project Syndicate” famous American economist Nouriel Roubini joined the chorus of those who declare that the multi-year run up in the gold price was just an almighty bubble, that that bubble has now popped and that it will continue to deflate. Gold is now in a bear market, a multi-year bear market, and Roubini gives six reasons (he himself helpfully counts them down for us) for why gold is a bad investment. His arguments for a continued bear market in gold range from the indisputably accurate to the questionable and contradictory to the simply false and outright bizarre. But what is most worrying, and most disturbing, is Roubini’s pathetic attempt to label gold bugs political extremists. It is evident from Roubini’s essay that he not only considers the gold bugs to be wrong and foolish, they also annoy him profoundly. They anger him. Why? – Because he thinks they also have a “political agenda”. Gold bugs are destructive. They are misguided and even dangerous people.
Since Mr. Krugman tells us all this spending and debt issuance/guarantees are not only good and necessary but in the long run, painless, why are we bothering with personal income taxes?
The US government will collect approximately $2.0bn this year in Personal Income and Payroll taxes. But why? Why are we even bothering with this when today’s leading economists and politicians are telling us that debts/deficits don’t matter and running up astronomical debts is a long-term painless process? It’s practically patriotic. So why shouldn’t we just add our tax burden to the list of items the Fed should be monetizing? Seriously. Why not relieve the burden on every tax paying citizen in the United States (about 53% of us according to Mitt Romney)? You want an economic recovery? Reduce my taxes to zero and see how fast I go out and start spending some of that extra income.
Even if the monetary fuel for this whirl of self-reinforcement is not lacking, the market still needs a narrative around which it can cluster psychologically. It needs a canon of shared myth about which the bard can weave a reassuringly familiar refrain so as to reinforce the sense of community when the members of the clan gather to listen to his warblings amid the flickering fires and guttering torchlight of the Great Hall at night. Despite the bubbles everywhere, hastily shrugged off by the Chairman-in-chief we must add, we are still all suckers for a good saga. As far as we can see, the current narrative contains several key themes... What could possibly go wrong?
The anti-consumerism Degrowth movement is gaining visibility and adherents in Europe. Degrowth (French: décroissance, Spanish: decrecimiento, Italian: decrescita) recognizes that the mindless expansion of mindless consumption fueled by credit and financialization is qualitatively and quantitatively different from positive growth. In a very real way, Degrowth embraces the devolution of paid work and wealth that cannot be reversed. Growth and consumption based on financialization, expanding credit and phantom collateral is unsustainable and will devolve or implode. Rather than pine for what cannot be, it's far healthier to embrace using less of everything and increasing well-being by leveraging the web, the commons and what cannot be commoditized or financialized.