Ludwig von Mises
The reigning paper money system is at the center of the growing income inequality and expanding poverty rates we find in many countries today. Nevertheless, states continue to grow in power in the name of taming the market system that has supposedly caused the impoverishment actually caused by the state and its allies. If those who claim to speak for social justice do nothing to protest this, their silence can only have two possible reasons. They either don’t understand how our monetary system functions, in which case, they should do their research and learn about it; or they do understand it and are cynically ignoring a major source of poverty because they may in fact be benefiting from the paper money system themselves.
End America’s central bank because it caused the crashes of 2008, 1987, and 1929 and will blunder again. That’s what many critics are saying about the Federal Reserve System (the Fed), which turns 100 on December 23. They note that on the Fed’s watch America has endured numerous bubbles, crashes, and inflationary cycles that have greatly devalued the dollar. The Fed, they say, has caused or aggravated several crashes. “If you say the goal of the Fed was to prevent calamities, then you have to say that it has been a failure,” says William A. Fleckenstein. “History and current experience,” Joe Salerno adds, “reveal to us that groups endowed with a legal monopoly over any area of the economy are prone to use it to the hilt to enrich themselves, their friends and allies.”
One economic myth is that paper money is wealth. The proponents of big government oppose honest money for a very specific reason. Inflation, the creation of new money, is used to finance government programs not generally endorsed by the producing members of society. It is a deceptive tool whereby a “tax” is levied without the people as a whole being aware of it. Since the recipients of the newly created money, as well as the politicians, whose only concern is the next election, benefit from this practice, it’s in their interest to perpetuate it. For this reason, misconceptions are promulgated about the “merits” of paper money and the “demerits” of gold. Simply put, “Easy” money causes hard times.
As far as our well-being is concerned, government intervention in the economy is no more effective than the straw aeroplanes and wooden headphones of some bewildered “cargo cult.” In truth, it probably does more harm.
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.
The economic turmoil in Venezuela has received increasing international media attention over the past few months. Earlier this month, in another attempt to ensure “happiness for all people,” Maduro began to hand out Christmas bonuses, in preparation for the coming elections in December. Although not yet officially in hyperinflation, monetary expansion is pushing Venezuela toward the brink. In such an environment, paychecks need to be distributed quickly, before prices have time to rise; hence, early bonuses. This kind of policy is nothing new in economic history: Venezuela’s hyperinflationary episode is unfolding in much the same way Germany’s did nearly a century ago. Consequently, Venezuela’s economic policy is proving to be another example of Ludwig von Mises’s argument that economic intervention, if left unchecked, leads to complete socialism. As disturbing as the thought is, the difference between the U.S. and other Western economies and Venezuela is merely one of degree, not of kind.
In Collins’s fictional world known as Panem, a despotic government rules over all with a violent iron fist. There is a strict separation between the political class and the rest of the populace, with the latter working in slave-like conditions to support the former. Throughout Catching Fire, the subject of revolution is paramount. Stories such as the Hunger Games are wonderful things because they spark what conservative statesman Edmund Burke called the “moral imagination.” Whether viewers know it or not, the basic plot of the Hunger Games series is an appeal to the moral imagination that men should be free from working as servants to others. We may not be living hand-to-mouth while being forced to labor for thuggish overlords but the modern trend is clear: the political class is consuming more and more wealth-generating capital for themselves.
The Fed is busy doing everything in its considerable power to get credit (that is, debt) growing again so that we can get back to what it considers to be “normal.” But the problem is that the recent past was not normal. For the Fed to achieve anything even close to the historical rate of credit growth, the dollar will have to lose a lot of value. This may in fact be the Fed’s grand plan, and it’s entirely about keeping the financial system primed with sufficient new credit to prevent it from imploding.
A zombie government armed with accounting tricks has bailed out a zombie banking industry using even more financial phoniness. A few numbers pushed here and there, and the industry is earning record profits. But out in the real world where people live and work, things aren't so rosy. Zombies make negligent landlords and dangerous neighbors.
Economics should not not try to effect human behavior, but to explain it. It does, however understand how incentives and disincentives affect behavior. All political visions involve the improvement of man and/or society by changing the nature of man. Social planners want to “improve” and “perfect” matters according to their ideas of what these terms imply. Little commonality exists regarding utopian visions. One commonality between these utopian ideas does exist — the universal failure of all such schemes. There is no better way to understand the wisdom “the perfect is the enemy of the good” than to study the historical wreckage that has resulted from trying to “perfect” society.
Until recently, Alan Greenspan’s main argument to exonerate himself of responsibility for the 2007-2009 financial crisis has consisted in the claim that strong Asian demand for US treasury bonds kept interest rates on mortgages unusually low. Though he has not given up on this defense, he is now emphasizing a different tack... His new tack is no better than the old tack.
“We paid our Social Security and Medicare taxes; we earned our benefits.” It is that belief among senior citizens that President Obama was pandering to when, in his second inaugural address, he claimed that those programs “strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers.” If Social Security and Medicare both involved people voluntarily financing their own benefits, an argument could be made for seniors’ “earned benefits” view. But they have not. They have redistributed tens of trillions of dollars of wealth to themselves from those younger. Social Security and Medicare have transferred those trillions because they have been partial Ponzi schemes.
Still unnoticed by a large part of the population is that we have been living through a period of relative impoverishment. Money has been squandered in welfare spending, bailing out banks or even — as in Europe — of fellow governments. But many people still do not feel the pain. Many people believe the paper wealth they own in the form of government bonds, investment funds, insurance policies, bank deposits, and entitlements will provide them with nice sunset years. However, at retirement they will only be able to consume what is produced by the real economy. Savers and pensioners will at some point find out that the real value of their wealth is much less than they expected. In which way, exactly, the illusion will be destroyed remains to be seen.
Standard microeconomic theory shows that deviations of a price from its natural level bring forth bad results. One of the easiest ways to grasp the pernicious effects of price controls is when it is phrased in terms of the minimum wage. Long story short, the minimum wage acts as a price floor which stops people from selling labour services at a price below the mandated level. The final result is an increase in unemployment, partly from existing workers who lose their jobs and partly from new entrants to the labour market looking for a job but unable to get hired. It’s really not a very difficult theory to comprehend. Yet I’m always surprised at how few are able to apply this basic lesson.
How could such a monetary disaster happen in a civilized and advanced society, leading to the total destruction of the currency? Many explanations have been put forward. It has been argued that, for instance, that reparation payments, chronic balance of payment deficits, and even the depreciation of the Papermark in the foreign exchange markets had actually caused the demise of the German currency. However, these explanations are not convincing. Looking at the world today - in which many economies have been using credit-produced paper monies for decades and where debt loads are overwhelmingly high, the current challenges are in a sense quite similar to those prevailing in the Weimar Republic more than 90 years ago. Now as then, a reform of the monetary order is badly needed; and the sooner the challenge of monetary reform is taken on, the smaller will be the costs of adjustment.