The Way-Back Machine strikes again...
Imagine a football coach who hasn’t caught onto the game’s complexities and continues to run the same play - call it a fullback dive - over and over. When we read calls for more monetary stimulus, we feel as though we're listening to that coach’s brethren in the economist community. These economists argue that the Fed should simply ramp the money supply higher and higher for as long as some economic statistic - GDP is a popular one - remains below a targeted outcome. Dive, dive, dive, punt and repeat. There’s an important difference between football and economics, though. One-dimensional approaches are quickly exposed in football, whereas economies don’t yield clear and timely verdicts on whether policies are effective. There are far too many moving parts to prove cause and effect in a way that everyone can understand and agree. Therefore, bad economic policies persist for a long time before they’re finally found out, and this may be the best way to describe the last 100 years or so of America’s economic history.
Someone once wrote that criticizing economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and his "vulgar Keynesianism" is the internet’s favorite pastime. All along, the Princeton prof has stayed true to the cause of aggressive government action to forestall the downtrodden economy. Large fiscal expenditures, aggressive monetary stimulus, increased legal privileges for organized labor, and boosting the degree of state pillaging – Krugman is the caricature of a tyrannical apologizer who will defend the cause of rampant statism at any cost. But now, it appears Krugman has gone overboard with his progressive moaning. Instead of getting bogged down in the economic imbecility that frequents Krugman’s twice-weekly diatribes; there is a fallacy more fundamental in this latest theorizing. What Krugman is embracing in his latest attack on historical cases has much more to do with the man’s epistemological bent and approach toward economics.
Paul Krugman meets Hannibal Lecter, Barack Obama stymies E.T., Ben Bernanke advises H.I. McDunnough, and more...
The Fed has created a Doomsday Machine. The Fed has nurtured moral hazard in every sector of the economy by unleashing an abundance of cheap credit and low interest mortgages; the implicit promise of "you can't lose because we have your back" has been extended from stocks to bonds (i.e. the explicit promise the Fed will keep rates near-zero forever) and real estate. An abundance based on the central bank spewing trillions of dollars of cheap credit and free money (quantitative easing) is artificial, and it has generated systemic moral hazard. This is a Doomsday Machine because the Fed cannot possibly backstop tens of trillions of dollars of bad bets on stocks, bonds and real estate. Its power is as illusory as the abundance it conjured. This loss of faith in key institutions cannot be fixed with more cheap credit or subsidized mortgages; delegitimization triggers a fatal decoherence in the entire Status Quo.
Nike recently published a series of ads declaring “winning takes care of everything,” in reference to Tiger Woods’ recapture of the world #1 golfer ranking. The slogan went over with certain critics like an illegal ball drop. Many economists insist that “economic growth takes care of everything,” and the related debate is no less contentious than the Nike ad kerfuffle. Listening to some pundits, you would think there’s one group that appreciates economic growth while everyone else wants to see the economy crumble. It seems to me, though, that growth is just like winning – there’s no such thing as an anti-winning camp, nor is there an anti-growth camp. More fairly, much of the growth debate boils down to those who think mostly about long-run sustainable growth and those who advocate damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead growth. I’ll break off one piece of this and consider: How much of everything does growth take care of?
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.
It's a central bank world, and we are all just suckerfish attached to the Great Central Planning Whites, hoping for little scraps to trickle down as trillions (Yen-denominated) in bonds are monetized every day.
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.
We discussed the new skirmishes this weekend in the very public debate about Carmen Reinhart’s and Kenneth Rogoff’s (RR) government debt research as they fought back against Paul Krugman's smear campaign. Krugman, of course, is one of the pundits who last month published “incomplete, exaggerated, erroneous and misleading” reports about RR’s research, as we explained at the time. We still haven’t found an RR critic who’s made a genuine effort to estimate how much debt is too much and in an effort to, we read Krugman's book (cover-to-cover) to see if there was anything more to Krugman’s positions than über-Keynesianism and boasts that his adversaries were proven wrong. Krugman's logic is full of holes. Near-term inflation and interest rate predictions have little to do with one’s beliefs about the mostly long-term risks of excessive debt. Krugman’s use of decidedly non-Keynesian episodes of debt reduction to justify his Keynesian beliefs reminds me of the many times (too many) that I’ve encountered 'circular reference' errors in Excel. His logic is no less flawed or 'circular.' But since there’s no spreadsheet involved, we’ll call it an error of induction. We think it’s time to change focus and consider the questionable thresholds, selective data use and induction error in Krugman’s work.
The wild ride in Japan's bond market is a prelude to what will happen in other developed markets.
The periodic Munk debate spectacle out of Canada is memorable for bringing together very flamboyant personalities, discussing very germane topics. The one that has just started has a topic of whether the rich should be taxed. More. Surely an issue that has seen its share of discussion in the US in the past year, so we hardly expect to learn anything new. What is most amusing, however, is that the debate tonight pits none other than Paul Krugman (and former Greek socialist leader and economic destructor extraordinaire George Papandreou, whose family incidentally was found with tax-evading Swiss accounts so brownie points for extra hypocricy) defending more tax hikes, and pitting Newt Gingrich and Arthur Laffer on the "don't tax me bro" side. The result should be quite a memorable catfight.
In a masterclass of what is 'really' going on in the world (as opposed to what we are told/spoon-fed on a daily basis), Grant Williams (of Things That Make You Go Hhhmm infamy) provides a must-watch presentation. Starting from the premise (unusual in this day and age) that the laws of mathematics are inviolable ("if it makes no sense, it is nonsense"), the Aussie investment manager sets out his own set of philosophical 'problems' that the world of 'markets' seems incapable of grasping. In a chart-filled extravaganza, Williams ranges from "Problem 1: If the global economy is stalling, Europe is in recession, China is slowing and growth is seemingly impossible to generate, what are equity markets doing at all-time highs?" to "Problem 7: The Gold Price and The Price of Gold are mutually exclusive" leaving the participant questioning everything Bob Pisani would have us believe warning in conclusion that gold is critical and "beware suppressed volatility."
Through most of the 20th century, America led something of a charmed life, at least when compared with the disasters endured by almost every other major country. We became the richest and most powerful nation on earth, partly due to our own achievements and partly due to the mistakes of others. The public interpreted these decades of American power and prosperity as validation of our system of government and national leadership, and the technological effectiveness of our domestic propaganda machinery - our own American Pravda - has heightened this effect. Author James Bovard has described our society as an “attention deficit democracy,” and the speed with which important events are forgotten once the media loses interest might surprise George Orwell.
As the global equity and bond markets grind ever higher, abundant signs exist that we are once again living through an asset bubble – or rather a whole series of bubbles in a variety of markets. This makes this period quite interesting, but also quite dangerous. This can be summarized in one sentence: How could this be happening again so soon?