Putting The Cart On Top Of The Horse, Or Why Heaping Fiscal "Stimulus" Upon "Stimulus" Is Suicide For America
Every time someone mentions fiscal stimulus (and specifically the failure thereof), the conversation, after repeated empirical demonstrations that said stimulus virtually always ends in tears, will veer to the Economics 101 textbook definition of the savings-investment identity, in which Investment = Private Saving + Government Saving + Current Account (the simplistic argument goes that a surge in Government Savings, i.e. austerity, means a plunge in net investment as the private sector is unable to step up), which more than anything, seeks to provide the last possible goalseeked explanation of why Keynesian assumptions still work in post-modern monetary environments, in which monetary policy has passed into the twilight zone of global central planning (i.e., money printing is rampant and thus textbook definitions of "savings" in a ZIRP environment are completely irrelevant). The irony, as so often happens, is that those who invoke this identity (which John Hussman has done a very admirable explanation of here) mix apples and oranges, and use, incorrectly, a monetary flow concept to explain what is fundamentally a production efficiency and labor (and post facto: consumption) phenomenon. That many of said proponents also make the gross mistake in assuming that in some perverse post-Keynesian universe a reserve currency issuer (however temporary, because there is no such thing as permanent reserve) can issue an infinite amount of debt, which by implication would result in the grotesque lim interest rate=0 as debt issuance ->infinity is inconsequential: this may work in a black box vacuum, but most certainly does not work in a globalized world in which currency, and yes, binary reserve status (consisting of 1s and 0s), is fungible with a keystroke (ref: the historic August 22 start of Renminbi futures trading which the CME today disclosed the margin requirements for). What this lengthy preamble tries to say is that feeding the government monster is, contrary to what Krugman and other Keynesians will tell you, in the current regime of coincident monetary irrigation, an exercise in futility. Perhaps nobody does a better job to explain said futility than Bill Buckler in his latest edition of The Privateer, which we urge everyone, and most certainly the POTUS who just requested more fiscal stimulus, to read in order to take a step back from theoretical, and wrong, textbook formulations and to see the stimulus forest for the burning trees.
Putting The Cart On Top Of The Horse:
For a human lifetime, since the 1930s in the US and across the developed world, the health and “growth” of an economy has been “measured” by how much has been consumed. Part of this consumption, it is true, is the natural result of prior production. But over the decades, an increasing proportion of it has been done by means of borrowed money. Worse still, the calculations of economic “growth” have included consumption by government. Government, by its nature, produces NOTHING. Any government, even one which is limited to protecting life and property and issues no debt whatsoever, is a cost on the economy. The fact that this cost is necessary does not negate the fact that it is a cost.
It is one thing to measure this cost in terms of money. It is another thing entirely to measure it in terms of the real wealth which has been consumed by government. The ONLY way to increase the wealth of an individual or a nation of individuals is to produce MORE than is consumed. The difference - which is SAVINGS - can then be used to produce more real wealth with more efficient means and thus less real effort. This is the only way that an economy can genuinely “grow”. This is what transformed the US from an all but untouched potential into a continent-girdling economic powerhouse. It was not done by means of currency manipulation. It was not done by means of government borrowing. It was not done by all encompassing rules and regulations. It was done by means of political AND economic freedom.
It cannot be done in any other way. Increasing the units of the medium of exchange will NOT do it. Increasing the debt burden on generations to come will not do it. These things will do the opposite. They will and have inexorably led to capital consumption. The results of capital consumption are visible all over the world today - but in few places is the evidence more stark and obvious than it is in the US.
The century-long experiment of putting the cart on top of the horse has all but killed the horse. There is no way that the genuine productive capacity of the US economy can keep up with the government’s stampede into unrepayable debt. In reality, the US government has destroyed the productive capacity of its people. If they refuse to realise it - the economy and the markets will do it for them.
That process began on August 4 when US stock markets had their worst tumble since February 2009.
When all the wooden philosophers, tenured academics, ivy league economists and constitutional lawyers understand the message in these 5 simple paragraphs, then, and only then, can America maybe resume its way to prior greatness.
Until then, we are merely digging our way out of very deep hole, increasingly "faster" and "faster."