Janet Yellen, Politicizing the Fed?

Janet Yellen gave a widely noted speech, Perspectives on Inequality and Opportunity from the Survey of Consumer Finances, at the Conference on Economic Opportunity and Inequality held  by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston on October 17th.

The speech presented as a if ghostwritten for her by Quincy Magoo, that beloved cartoon character described by Wikipedia as “a wealthy, short-statured retiree who gets into a series of comical situations as a result of his nearsightedness compounded by his stubborn refusal to admit the problem.” What was most interesting was how political was the speech… and what Madame Yellen didn’t say.

Her omission even raised an eyebrow of one of the commentariat’s most astute Fed sympathizers, The Washington Post‘s Ylan Q. Mui. Mui:  “Yellen did not address in her prepared text whether the Fed has contributed to inequality. Nor did she weigh in on whether it may actually be slowing down economic growth, an idea that is gaining traction among economists but which remains controversial.”

Yellen’s speech drew a public comment from the Hon. Steve Lonegan, director of monetary policy for American Principles Project and project director of its sister organization’s grass roots campaign (which I professionally advise):

There is a strong correlation between the post-war equitable prosperity to which Madam Yellen alluded and the post-war Bretton Woods gold-exchange standard.  And there is a strong correlation between the increase in inequality under the Federal Reserve Note standard put into effect by President Richard Nixon to supplant Bretton Woods.

The monetary policy of the United States has a profound impact on wage growth and prices, both domestically and internationally.  Hence the importance of a thorough, objective, and empirical look at its policies — from Bretton Woods through the era of stagflation, the Great Moderation, and the “Little Dark Age” of the past decade.

That is why the Brady-Cornyn Centennial Monetary Commission, and the Federal Reserve Transparency Act which recently passed the House with a massive bipartisan majority, are critical steps forward to ending wage stagnation and helping workers and median income families begin to rise again.  As President Kennedy once said, “Rising tide lifts all boats.”

Madam Yellen addresses four factors in what she calls “income and wealth inequality.”  Madame Yellen stipulates that “Some degree of inequality in income and wealth, of course, would occur even with completely equal opportunity because variations in effort, skill, and luck will produce variations in outcomes. Indeed, some variation in outcomes arguably contributes to economic growth because it creates incentives to work hard, get an education, save, invest, and undertake risk.”

Even with that ostentatious stipulation, the Fed Chair’s speech is amplifying one of the Democratic Party’s foremost election themes, “income inequality.”  The New York Times‘s Neil Irwin observed of this speech: “Nothing about those statements would seem unusual coming from a left-leaning politician or any number of professional commentators. What makes them unusual is hearing them from the nation’s economist-in-chief, who generally tries to steer as far away from contentious political debates as possible.”

Her speech could be read as an Amen Corner to Elizabeth Warren’s stump speech, on behalf of Sen. Al Franken’s reelection effort, that The game is riggedand the Republicans rigged it.Her speech could be read as a little election-season kiss blown to Sen. Franken (D-Mn), who voted for her confirmation and then glowed on Madame Yellen very publicly.

One cringes at the thought that the Fed even might be giving the appearance of playing politics.  To align the Fed, even subtly, with either party’s election themes during an election season would seem a deeply impolitic, and unwise, violation of the Fed’s existential principle of political independence.  House Financial Services Committee chair Jeb Hensarling and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Id), should he accede to the chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee, might just wish to call up Madam Yellen for a public conversation about avoiding even the appearance of impropriety.

The Fed’s independence is as critical as it is delicate. To preserve it demands as much delicacy by the officials of the Federal Reserve System as by the Congress. As Barack Obama might say, here is a “teachable moment” for our new Fed chair.

Also troubling is the decision by the Chair to focus her mental energy, and remarks, on four areas entirely outside the Fed’s jurisdiction: resources available for children; higher education that families can afford; opportunities to build wealth through business ownership; and inheritances.  These might be splendid areas for a president’s Council of Economic Advisors (which Madame Yellen chaired, commendably, under President Clinton).  Good topics for a professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, as is Madam Yellen.

They are, however, at best mere homilies from the leader of the world’s most powerful central bank. We would like to hear Madam Yellen talk about monetary policy and its possible role in the diminishing of economic mobility. It does not seem like too much to ask.

Since Madame Yellen, rightly, is considered an eminent Keynesian (or Neo-Keynesian), why not begin with Keynes? In The Economic Consequences of the Peace, Chapter VI, Keynes addressed this very point. The brilliant young Keynes was addressing the insidious power of inflation, not now in evidence and not portended by the data.  Yet let it be noted that there is more than one way to debauch a currency:

Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. … By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. Those to whom the system brings windfalls, beyond their deserts and even beyond their expectations or desires, become ‘profiteers,’ who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished, not less than of the proletariat. …

Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.

America and the world needs, and rightly expects, the chair of the Federal Reserve to be that one in a million able to diagnose.  Madame Yellen is called upon to step up her game and pivot from pious homilies to the heart of the matter.  If Keynes could call out how bad monetary policy can strike “at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth,” perhaps so too ought his followers.

What is to be done? Wikipedia also observes of Mr. Magoo that “through uncanny streaks of luck, the situation always seems to work itself out for him, leaving him no worse than before.”  We devoutly hope that Madame Yellen — and, thus, the economy — will be the beneficiary of “uncanny streaks of luck.”  Hope is not a strategy.  Relying on luck tautologically is a dicey way of bringing America, and the world, to a renewed state of equitable prosperity.

Rely on luck?  It really is time to shift gears.  An obvious place for Madame Yellen to begin would be to register active support for the Brady-Cornyn Centennial Monetary Commission designed to conduct a thorough, empirical, bipartisan study of what Fed policies have worked.   What policies of the Federal Reserve have proven, in practice, or credibly portend to be, conducive to equitable prosperity and healthy economic mobility?

Should the correlation between the (infelicitously stated if technically accurate) “40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression” and the Bretton Woods gold-exchange standard be ignored?  Why ignore this?  Should the tight correlation of “the most sustained rise in inequality since the 19th century” with the extended experiment in fiduciary dollar management be ignored? Why ignore that?

What might be learned from the successes of the Great Moderation inaugurated by Paul Volcker?  Is Volcker’s recent call for a “rules-based” system, a position from which Madam Yellen staunchly dissents, pertinent? Discuss.

Madame Yellen?  Let’s have a national conversation about monetary policy and its effects on economic mobility.  It really is time to bring to a decisive end many decades of Magooonomics and the disorders that derive therefrom.  Fire Magoo.  Show the world that you are Keynes’s one in a million.

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Banksters on the Welfare State of Credit

Our Corporate Affairs Director Steve Baker has posed this question to some of his fellow board members, “Would be great to nail this phenomenon on the system of money – that is to demonstrate clearly that it is credit expansion which redistributes wealth to the wealthy:

In other words, the trickle-down effect that is meant to spring from wealth accumulation has not worked as it should have. Flexible labour markets have delivered big time for bankers and shareholders, but failed to improve the lot of ordinary workers in the same way. In Britain, growth in consumption was funded not by real economic advancement, but by the fool’s paradise of ever-increasing debt.

 The essence of a credit expansion starts with the policy of the Treasury / Bank of England aka “the State”. The aim is to make money cheaper so that more money / credit is granted to borrowers, more economic activity is then meant to take place.

How is this done?

 If you wanted to make jam cheaper, you would need to produce more of it for the same level of demand. The only way the jam market would clear is for the jam to sell at that demand for a lower price.

 The State has the monopoly issue of money under its control. If the whole history of man was displayed in the form of a 12 hour clock, with today being the 12th hour, the State has only had this monopoly of the production of money since the end of the Gold Standard at the outbreak of the 1st World War. Attempts to get back on the Standard took place in the 20’s but were abandoned in the 30’s. Post World War II until 1971 there was a weak form of Gold Standard under the Bretton Woods system. Since that date, there has only been paper standards in different countries. So from the dawn of civilization until about the 11th hour and the 59th minute of human existence, Gold was money. It was a commodity for which all things exchanged for, it was produced by private individuals and no one person controlled the production of gold. Like language, it was a spontaneous invention of human beings to facilitate working together. It is thus one of the greatest inventions of man.

 If the the State, as the monopoly issuer of paper money decided that the economy needs more liquidity (we have done this with our £200bn QE program), the bank will buy its governments outstanding debt obligations , or IOU’s, commonly called Gilts or Bonds, with newly minted money (to monetize). Thus the new money, like the new jam, or the jam over supply illustrated in the above example , enters the economy via the recipients of the new money.

 Dear reader, I would like you to pause for a minute and ask yourself how comfortable would you feel about the government setting the price of jam and issuing all of its supply? Is this not what they tried to do in the Soviet Union? Absenting the price mechanism, that coordinates the choices of many millions of people, to allow suppliers of jam to know how much to produce to satisfy the demand for jam, and we have shortages for jam leaving shops empty for sometimes many months on end. Why do we trust the State to do this?

 We seem to accept that the government, in its wisdom, that must be greater than that of all its citizens , can plan the production and supply of money as the old Soviet system did for a whole host of goods and services, for its subjects.

 Experience will tell us, that like the Soviet production of jam, our State production of money will cause shortages and surpluses of varying degrees. Worst still, constructivist policy activism by the State via its agents at the Bank of England attempt each time they set the interest rate, to produce just enough money to keep the economy on an even keel. The evidence that they get this wrong is called “Boom and Bust.”

 If you got jam production wrong, your surplus jam goes to waste or you can not feed your demand.

 An over supply of money is called a “boom.” An undersupply is called “bust.” Every single boom from the Soutth Sea Bubble onwards can be traced back to some artificial expansion of money / credit not brought about by the free interplay of market forces determining the production of money. As money permeates every aspect of the economy, an over or under supply of it has far more consequences than an over or under supply of money. In this current “bust” I would submit that virtually all people in the world wide system of capitalistic production have been effected in their personal lives to some degree of negativity as they have had to adjust to the new world order.

The effects of this over supply are so little understood, it is worth while explaining once more by looking Richard Cantillon in his Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général (1755). This showed us that if money supply doubled, prices do not necessarily double. Money is not neutral in terms of consumption and production. Money goes into the system when created by the government to the bond holders whose bonds are redeemed. With this new money they have the first wealth effect of this new money. Like a counterfeiter he exchanges his new bits of paper for real goods and services, bidding up the prices of these goods and services. The producers of these initial goods and services then do the same with the goods and services that they buy and so on and so forth until the prices for the last people, those who spend less in the economy, the poor, those on fixed income (pensioners, the thrifty saver) etc, spend on goods and services that now have  a higher money price. Thus, the insidious effect is a transfer of wealth away from the poorest in society to the richest in society: those banksters who buy / sell the bonds and the bond holders who have received the newly minted money.

We must remember, the bankster in all of this is often the agent of the State when he sells and buys the government debt either creating over supply or under supply of money. He takes his commission right at the well spring or the fountain of this money making process. He gets the first ability to benefit from the wealth effect as he can spend his money on goods and services at the same time as the bond investor. He is a direct recipient of the first order of the wealth transferred from the poorest to the richest members of society. The bankster is on the welfare state of credit. The government is totally in control of this process yet does not seem to realize it.

This is why Jeremy Warner in his well argued Telegraph article wonders how so much wealth has been created for so few and why his the trickle down did not have a positive effect on the poorest members of our society. I hope I have demonstrated that as the production of paper money in itself does not create wealth , as if it did, world poverty could be ended tomorrow, like a counterfeiter, new money allows its first recipients to exchange nothing (bits of paper) for real things such as Mayfair town houses etc. The sad salient point, is as the “wealth effect” works its way through society bidding up prices, the poorest people pay more for their goods and services. They have what little wealth they have confiscated to the benefit of the likes of the banksters who are knee deep on the welfare state of credit. Real wealth creation happens when entrepreneurs start coming up with better methods of production to make better goods and services more efficiently then before. There has been too much of the former providing the illusion of wealth and too little of the latter.

Economics — “Wall St profits from Fed role”

FT-front1Prompted by an FT article on banks’ excess profits arising from quantitative easing, entrepreneur and economist Toby Baxendale explains how QE widens wealth inequality and damages the economy.

Via / Companies / Banks – Wall Street profits from trades with Fed:

Lenders’ returns soar on deals with central bank.

Questions raised over acquisition of securities.

Wall Street banks are reaping outsized profits by trading with the Federal Reserve, raising questions about whether the central bank is driving hard enough bargains in its dealings with private sector counterparties, officials and industry executives say.

The Fed has emerged as one of Wall Street’s biggest customers during the financial crisis, buying massive amounts of securities to help stabilise the markets. In some cases, such as the market for mortgage-backed securities, the Fed buys more bonds than any other party.

“You can make big money trading with the government,” said an executive at one leading investment management firm. “The government is a huge buyer and seller and Wall Street has all the pricing power.”

Larry Fink, chief executive of money manager BlackRock, has described Wall Street’s trading profits as “luxurious”, reflecting the banks’ ability to take advantage of diminished competition.

So said the FT yesterday, on the front page: the article is available here.

The essential thrust of the article is that the United States Government — via the Federal Reserve — has intervened in the securities market to buy various bonds in great quantity and with a level of transparency which enables sellers to “game the system”. Sellers charge excessive prices to which the Fed does not object, because the policy objective is to inject new money. In turn, Wall Street bankers are enjoying a bumper recovery in their profits through charging a clip on all transactions brokered.

Thus, not only have these banks been bailed out by the American taxpayer but, for a large part of their profits, they are on the Welfare State. Indeed the whole apparatus of Wall Street is looking like a giant department of the Welfare State. The bankers are prospering on the Welfare State of Credit.

This should come as no surprise to economists in the tradition of Hayek and Mises. The article makes no reference to the very destructive effects on the economy caused by creating money out of thin air to buy government bonds; it just highlights the fact that the governments’ agents in placing the money into the economy are the banks and bankers themselves. This must always be done at the expense of the general population and in favour of the first recipients of the money, i.e. those on whom the government spends the money and the bankers themselves.

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