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Monday, October 31, 2011 11:10 AM

Dear Christina: Reflections on Economic Fools and the Policies they Espouse

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The New York Times headline reads Dear Ben: It’s Time for Your Volcker Moment.

I expected the article to be about inflation. It starts out as such, praising Volcker for his commitment to lower inflation. A third of the way through came an innocuous looking sentence "Mr. Bernanke needs to steal a page from the Volcker playbook."

From there it went straight downhill.

Here are a few snips ...

To forcefully tackle the unemployment problem, he needs to set a new policy framework — in this case, to begin targeting the path of nominal gross domestic product.

More specifically, normal output growth for our economy is about 2 1/2 percent a year, and the Fed believes that 2 percent inflation is appropriate. So a reasonable target for nominal G.D.P. growth is around 4 1/2 percent.

It would work like this: The Fed would start from some normal year — like 2007 — and say that nominal G.D.P. should have grown at 4 1/2 percent annually since then, and should keep growing at that pace. Because of the recession and the unusually low inflation in 2009 and 2010, nominal G.D.P. today is about 10 percent below that path. Adopting nominal G.D.P. targeting commits the Fed to eliminating this gap.
Who is this Monetarist Fool?

At that point I stopped reading and asked "who is this monetarist fool?" I went to the bottom of the article to find out it was none other than Christina D. Romer, an economics professor at the University of California, and former chairwoman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Dear Christina ...

In case you have not noticed, interest rates are zero percent. The Fed cannot lower them any further. The Fed can of course print, but in case you did not notice again, the Fed already tried that and all it did was increase the price of food, gasoline, gold, and the stock market.

Moreover, and in case you did not notice, here is a chart of excess reserves sitting at the Fed.

You see Christina, there is 1.6 trillion dollars parked at the Fed already. Printing money in and of itself does nothing if it just sits there.

Moreover, and in case you did not notice, Japan over a 20 year period tried both quantitative easing and Keynesian stimulus (fiscal spending), and that did not stop Japan's deflation. All Japan did was dig itself a 200% debt-to-GDP hole that will at some point destroy the country.

Bernanke, a Complete Dunce, "Puzzled by Weak Consumer Spending"

On September 8, 2011 Bernanke said he was "surprised by how cautious consumers remain more than two years since the recession officially ended."

I responded with Bernanke, a Complete Dunce, "Puzzled by Weak Consumer Spending"
It does not take a genius to understand why consumer spending is weak.

  1. Unemployment rate is 9%
  2. Real wages are falling
  3. Income advances go to the wealthy
  4. Middle class is shrinking
  5. Jobs hard to find
  6. Approval ratings of Congress and Obama at record lows
  7. Consumers have high debt ratios
  8. Home prices are still falling
  9. Homeowners are trapped in their homes, unable to refinance
  10. Boomers need to save for retirement

However, those simple facts are far too complicated for a PhD like Fed chairman Ben Bernanke to figure out.

Is it any wonder his policies are so counterproductive when he cannot figure out simple things the average person can see clearly?
Change of Heart in Bernanke?

Christina, in case you did not notice, here are a few sentences by Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, Before the Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress, Washington, D.C., on October 4, 2011, regarding Economic Outlook and Recent Monetary Policy Actions

Fiscal policymakers face a complex situation. I would submit that, in setting tax and spending policies for now and the future, policymakers should consider at least four key objectives. One crucial objective is to achieve long-run fiscal sustainability. The federal budget is clearly not on a sustainable path at present. ...

As a nation, we need to think carefully about how federal spending priorities and the design of the tax code affect the productivity and vitality of our economy in the longer term. Fourth, there is evident need to improve the process for making long-term budget decisions, to create greater predictability and clarity, while avoiding disruptions to the financial markets and the economy. In sum, the nation faces difficult and fundamental fiscal choices, which cannot be safely or responsibly postponed.

Monetary policy can be a powerful tool, but it is not a panacea for the problems currently faced by the U.S. economy. Fostering healthy growth and job creation is a shared responsibility of all economic policymakers, in close cooperation with the private sector. Fiscal policy is of critical importance, as I have noted today, but a wide range of other policies--pertaining to labor markets, housing, trade, taxation, and regulation, for example--also have important roles to play.
Dear Christina, please read those three paragraphs closely.

What is it you fail to understand about all three of them, but especially the last one?

Bernanke, like yourself is a dyed-in-the-wool monetarist, who hopefully (and at long last) may realize that monetary policy is next to useless at this juncture.

Hello Ben Bernanke, Meet "Stephanie"

Dear Christina, I also invite you to read Hello Ben Bernanke, Meet "Stephanie".

The article is about an email from "Stephanie" who wrote about the difficulty of living on fixed income with rising prices and getting 0% on CDs.

I responded that "Bernanke is a Coward Hiding Behind Mathematical Formulas", that he did not know what he was doing in 2006 and he does not know now. Here is one key snip ...
Fed's Policy Is Theft

Stephanie, it's a little known fact that inflation benefits those with first access to money, such as the banks, the wealthy (via rising asset prices), and the government (think rising sales taxes and property taxes when prices go up).

Everyone else gets screwed. You are right in the middle of the pack of those most hurt by the serial bubble blowing policies of the Fed.

Viewed this way, Bernanke's policies are nothing but theft, robbing the poor, for the benefit of banks and the wealthy.

This is why I support Congressman Ron Paul's effort to end the Fed.
Currency Cranks Agree With Themselves

Christina, I read your reference to The Case for a Nominal GDP Level Target by fellow monetarists Jan Hatzius Sven and Jari Stehn, as well as your reference to Nominal Income Targeting by Robert E. Hall and N. Gregory Mankiw, also monetarists.

The opening paragraph of the latter is quite humorous:
There is increasing agreement among economists on two broad principles of monetary policy. The first principle is that monetary policy should aim to stabilize some nominal quantity. Monetarists have sought to make monetary policy stabilize the growth of the nominal money stock. In some periods of history, policy has been committed to pegging the nominal price of gold. Some economists have proposed stabilizing a bundle of commodity prices or even the consumer price index (CPI).

The second principle, which was taken for granted up until the past fifty years, is the desirability of a credible commitment to a fixed rule for monetary policy. It is now apparent that there are substantial gains if the central bank commits in advance to a set policy, rather than leaving itself free to exercise unconstrained discretion.
Ants and Termites in Increasing Agreement

As with currency cranks agreeing with themselves, there is increasing agreement by ants and termites that anteaters should go vegetarian.

In short, put a bunch of monetarist currency cranks in a room, and the one thing they are sure to propose in an economic decline is currency expansion.

Is it Different this Time?

Dear Christina, in light of the facts I presented above in regards to the experiences of Japan, the excess reserves at the Fed, the increase in inflation with no increase in jobs, and the number of people on fixed income destroyed by the rise in price level while getting 0% on their CDs, you have a hell of a lot more explaining why "It's different this Time".

The ultimate irony of your preposterous proposal, is there is a chance (albeit a small one), that Bernanke's realization that there are limits to monetary policy constitutes his Volcker moment.

For the sake of the country, we should all hope so because history shows that additional monetary and fiscal stimulus will not help, no matter how many Monetarist currency cranks and Keynesian clowns think otherwise.

By the way, anyone wondering why the recovery went nowhere and will go nowhere need only look at who was advising president Obama and who has his ear now (Christina Romer and Tim Geithner, respectively).

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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