Ludwig von Mises
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.
The New Deal social insurance philosophers thus struck a Faustian bargain... To get government funded pensions and unemployment benefits for the most needy, they eschewed a means test and, instead, agreed to generous wage replacement on a universal basis. To fund the massive cost of these universal benefits they agreed to a regressive payroll tax by disguising it as an insurance premium. Yet the long run results could not have been more perverse. The payroll tax has become an anti-jobs monster, but under the banner of a universal entitlement organized labor tenaciously defends what should be its nemesis. The puzzling thing is that 75 years later - with all the terrible facts fully known - the doctrinaire conviction abides on the Left that social insurance is the New Deal’s crowning achievement. In fact, it is its costliest mistake.
Those who believe the economy is recovering are ignorant of the facts. Other than the Great Depression no US recovery (and I don’t believe we are in a recovery) taken longer. Eventually it may take more than a decade like the 1930s. Or perhaps it will be like Japan which is in its third decade of “recovery.” The truth is that our economy is spent, exhausted and filled with misallocations and distortions made much worse by government interventions. There is no recovery, nor will there be one until a massive purge (usually referred to as a depression) occurs. This event will result in bankruptcies that release scarce, misallocated physical capital from unproductive and unwanted areas to places where it is needed and can be utilized efficiently. Rather than allow this pre-condition to an economic recovery and a growing, efficient economy, politicians want to prevent it. They use smoke, mirrors and propaganda (lies) to hide the reality of our sick economy. Their obfuscations continue, but the effective life is limited.
The United States is estimated to have anything from 700 military bases around the world to more than 1000. Hans-Hermann Hoppe asks "how can democracy be a stable equilibrium if it is possible that it be transformed democratically into a dictatorship, i.e., a system which is considered not stable?" Empirically, democracies are anything but stable. Concluding it may be better to heed the advice of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and, instead of aiming to make the world safe for democracy, we try making it safe from democracy - everywhere, but most importantly in the United States.
The fact of the matter is, QE policies are really not so different from how central banks functioned back in the “old-normal” days of the earlier 2000s. They still just bought an asset and paid for it by increasing the money supply. One critical difference is that in order to increase the money supply by as much as they did, the central banks of the world had to change the scope of assets they were willing to buy. Herein lays the rub. By expanding its range of acceptable assets, the Fed created a market for these assets that did not exist. As a result it maintained their prices above which the market deemed necessary to clear – an essential occurrence in market economies. Instead, by expanding its asset purchases through quantitative easing policies, the effects we see are unreasonable prices among some financial assets, and a housing sector unable to sell its unsold inventory.
The Bank of Japan has embarked on one of the most inflationary policies ever undertaken. Pledging to inject $1.4 trillion dollars into the economy over the next two years, the policy is aimed at generating price inflation of 2% and further depreciating the Yen. The idea is to fight “deflation” and increase exports. Mises’ key insight was in looking at the long-term effects of such a policy, and in the process he examined the logic behind the short-term results as well. The ineffectiveness of the policy in the long run is apparent when one understands how prices – both domestic and foreign – interact to determine exchange rates. Exports will be promoted in the short run, though the effect will be cancelled in the long run once prices adjust. If the policy is ineffective in the long run, Mises demonstrated that the short-run gains are illusory. The same monetary policy aimed at depreciating the currency to promote international trade will reap domestic chaos.
Neil Macdonald of the CBC recently did an investigative piece on central bankers and what they’re doing to the world’s economies. Mark Carney was featured heavily. He told Macdonald, “there is no secret cabal orchestrating things,” despite CBC’s own findings earlier in the program. Central bankers around the world meet in Basel, Switzerland for secretive meetings. Of course, central banks have – and have always had – enormous power that remained more-or-less hidden until 2008. A paradigm shift is occurring where a large number of people (particularly young people) are questioning their assumptions. Some of them are even beginning to read economists like Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard. The “economics” of central bankers can now be revealed for what it truly is: statistical propaganda. Not only is the “Keynesian school” of economics unsound – the entire social science is bunk. Only the Austrian tradition can explain economic phenomena in such a way that makes common sense, scientific. Carney is asking us to trust him. This cannot be done. He is not speaking truth; he is speaking nonsense.
In the wake of the financial collapse of 2007, central banks around the world run by Keynesian zealots religiously applied the formulas they had been taught would boost aggregate demand and rescue the economy from the brink of total catastrophe. Easy money, going under the euphemistic moniker of “quantitative easing” was supposed to stimulate borrowing, spending and growth through the mechanism of historically low interest rates. Predictably, this approach failed miserably, as these kind of policy decisions largely miss the point of how the economy really works. As long as central banks continue to meddle with the money supply, investments will not be made efficiently and the economy as a whole will suffer.
The recent collapse of a small commuter bridge in Washington has brought back memories of Minnesota. Back in August of 2007, the I-35W Mississippi bridge connecting the Downtown East and Marcy-Holmes neighborhoods plummeted to the river below like a Chinese-made sofa. Thirteen individuals lost their lives while 145 escaped with injury. The suddenness of the debacle was met with the blunt response system of the state. That is, politicians in Minnesota and elsewhere went before the public to decry the deteriorating condition of government infrastructure across the country. A flurry of taxpayer money dedicated to overhauling the nation’s bridges followed. Five years after millions in tax dollars were fleeced, allocated, and distributed to this new urgency, less than two dozen of the state’s 172 “structurally deficient” bridges have been made whole.
The old idiom “you can lead a horse to water, but not make him drink” has proven itself true in the course of human learning. Or rather, it would be more accurate to label it man’s inability to learn from mistakes. You can hold a mirror up to grotesque instances of hypocrisy, but most men will remain mules – stubborn in their prejudice and beliefs. The ability to heed lessons from blunders is, often times, a skill unable to be mastered by the mass populace. The mule, being a universal symbol for stubbornness, has become indistinguishable from the average news and politics ingester. Toeing the carefully-planned ideological path of media personalities, divergence from party line is a hurdle most pedestrians are incapable of clearing. What’s not done is a forthright attempt to continually rectify our wrongs and pursue truth – even when it conflicts with inner bias. It’s far less painful to not acknowledge faulty logic.
As virtual fantasy worlds go, Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo 3 is particularly foreboding. Within this fairly straightforward gaming framework, virtual “gold” is used as currency for purchasing weapons and repairing battle damage. Over time, virtual gold can be used to purchase ever-more resources for confronting ever-more dangerous foes. But in the last few months, various outposts in that world have borne more in common with real world places like Harare, Zimbabwe in 2007 or Berlin in 1923 than with Dante’s Inferno. A culmination of a series of unanticipated circumstances has over the last few weeks produced a new and unforeseen dimension of hellishness within Diablo 3: hyperinflation. Considering the level of planning that goes into designing and maintaining virtual gaming environments, if a small, straightforward economy generating detailed, timely economic data for its managers can careen so completely aslant in a matter of months, should anyone be surprised when the performance of central banks consistently breeds results which are either ineffective or destabilizing? The Austrian School has long warned of the arrogance and naïveté intrinsic to applying rigid, quantitative measures to the deductive study of human actions and the events of the last week provide a stark reminder of the power and inescapability of the laws of economics.
For 727 editions, and nearly 30 years, Bill Buckler, the "captain" of the free market-praising Privateer newsletter provided a welcome escape from a world overrun with "free-lunch" economists, "for-hire" politicians, "crony-capitalist" oligarchs, "heroin-addict" bankers, "the-solution-to-record-debt-is-more-record-debt" Keynesians, and all those other subclasses of that species which Einstein, or whoever, described so aptly in saying that they all expect a different, and happy, outcome when applying the same flawed methods over and over. And for 30 years, Buckler's steadfast determination and adherence to his arguments, beliefs, reasoning and ironclad logic brought him countless followers, all of whom are now able to see past the bread and circus facade of a world every day on the edge of political and social collapse. Sadly, all good things come to an end, and so does The Privateer. We are delighted to celebrate its illustrious memory by presenting to our readers the final, must read, issue of the newsletter which encapsulates the philosophy and ideology of its author - a man much respected and admired in the free market circles - and thirty years of objective, unbiased market and economic commentary, best of all.
What once used to be a field in which men of towering intellect tried to establish, discuss and lay down the tenets of what was widely considered an entirely new science as recently as the late 19th century, has become a field in which a great many rather mediocre intellectuals are mainly serving the interests of the State. Nassim Taleb recently too to task a number of the so-called mainstream economists - assessing and analyzing the flaws of modern policy-making and central economic planning as well as the fractionally reserved banking system. We wish him success in tackling the handmaidens of statism and their pseudo-scientific output. Anyone criticizing the producers of fig leaves for interventionism deserves our support. Of course, if an economist rejects interventionism and supports the establishment of an unhampered free market, then there is obviously no role for him as an 'economic planner' and 'adviser to policymakers' (except for advising them to stay the hell out of the economy and stop meddling with it).
Bitcoin has been all the rage lately. The stuff, or lack thereof, runs on peer-to-peer technology, is fully decentralized, has no patents, and is open source. Currently, there are almost 11 million bitcoin units in existence and the maximum amount of bitcoin units that will ever be created by the logic of its design are 21 million. While bitcoins are designed so that they cannot be hyperinflated in name, they certainly can be hyperinflated in substance. There is no doubt that bitcoin is a spontaneous answer to the monetary instability that we see all around us today. On one side of the pond people are worried about the glorified currency peg known as the Euro and on the other about the amount of damage that Bernanke is willing to inflict upon the world’s reserve currency. However, let us not become so enamored of an innovative stateless solution that we forget Austrian economics and hitch libertarianism’s wagon to something heading for a crash.
Bitcoins have been much in the news lately. Against the background of renewed concerns about the integrity of the euro zone and the imposition of capital controls in Cyprus, the price of a bitcoin has tripled over the last month and reached more than $141 for 1 BTC. Are we witnessing the spontaneous emergence of an alternative virtual medium of exchange, as some would put it? This article offers an answer to this question by considering three aspects of the economy of bitcoins: their production process, their demand factors, and their capacity to compete with physical media of exchange. Virtual monies, of which bitcoins seem to be the most perfected specimen up to date, do not allow acting individuals to manage the uncertainty of the future as well as material monies do. They could serve to intermediate exchanges among those who invest in the technology that creates them, stores them, and transfers them. Nevertheless, they could never achieve that degree of universality and flexibility that material monies carry with them by nature. Thus, on the free market, commodity monies, and presumably gold and silver, still have a great comparative advantage.