Economics

Happy Birthday, Adam Smith

The author of The Wealth of Nations would have been 290 years old today, had we discovered warp capability in the 18th century.

Adam Smith

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter II

It was in this work and in this passage that Smith first began to describe the “invisible hand” of the market — the way that the rational self-interests of individual actors in a market, acting in concert with each other, yield efficient allocations of resources.

By the design of some grand cosmic joke, noted George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux in 2011, today is also John Maynard Keynes’s birthday.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Another speech from Obama, another huge disappointment

Obama gives State of the Union

Last night during a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama gave his fifth the State of the Union address where he laid out his agenda for the next year. As was anticipated, the speech carried over the Leftist themes of last month’s inaugural address and was more aggressive in tone.

Despite recent GDP numbers showing that the economy contracted in the last quarter of 2012, President Obama started off the hour long speech by repeat a familiar line, explaining that “[t]ogether, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.”

After a couple of shots at Congress, President Obama spent a few minutes discussing the sequester, claiming that “both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion – mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.” Obama claimed, “we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.”

If only that were true. In Cato Institute’s response to the State of the Union address, Michael Tanner explained, “Let’s be absolutely clear — there have been no spending cuts under this President.”

In 2010, the first year that this President was responsible for the budget, the federal government spent $3.4 trillion,” noted Tanner. “Last year, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion, and for the first four of last year, we’re spending at a fast pace than the first four months of last year.”

We Are All Modern Monetary Theorists Now

As a consequence of loose monetary policy with a fiat currency, the United States is rapidly descending into an economic reality of Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT.  While MMT (also known as Chartalism) is typically associated with its Keynesian predecessor and the policies of the Left, new developments reveal that both parties are responsible for the slip into a brave new economic world.

Essentially, there are four preconditions in Modern Monetary Theory:

1) Money enters the economy through government spending, as the total amount of money is constrained not by gold but by the total output of the national economy;
2) Government spending is speculative as it prints as much money as it needs to control production and, as a byproduct, employment, and spending beyond productive capacity leads to inflation;
3) Taxes do not pay for expenditures but are instead a way to throttle private sector demand; and
4) The government is the issuer of the currency, sovereign governments that issue their own currency are never insolvent, so debts essentially don’t matter.

Tax Rates Impact Economic Performance, but other Policies also Matter

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

I’m a big fan of fundamental tax reform, in part because I believe in fairness and want to reduce corruption.

But I also think the flat tax will boost the economy’s performance, largely because lower tax rates are the key to good tax policy.

There are four basic reasons that I cite when explaining why lower rates improve growth.

  1. They lower the price of work and production compared to leisure.
  2. They lower the price of saving and investment relative to consumption.
  3. They increase the incentive to use resources efficiently rather than seek out loopholes.
  4. They attract jobs and investment from other nations.

As you can see, there’s nothing surprising or unusual on my list. Just basic microeconomic analysis.

Rising from the ashes: Why bailouts ultimately hurt

It was just a couple of years ago. The housing market wasn’t doing so hot, and these things called derivatives were supposedly making things very difficult for the banks. President Bush stood behind a podium and addressed the American people. He told us that the government needed to buy these derivatives because it would help the banks, and then when the value went up, the government could sell them. It sounded fine.

What we got was something else entirely as various banks began to fail. Then auto companies were barely limping. There was panic in Washington, and they said we simply had to do something. But did we?

Economic matters are always tricky, and there’s always another point of view that will disagree with whatever you think. However, the biggest mistake we made was believing in the idea of “to big to fail”.

Take a hypothetical bank called Bank of Tom (BoT). BoT starts out as a small community bank, but grows and grows. Thanks to government assistance, it becomes one of the largest banks in the United States. It buys up smaller competitors with loans from the government, as well as lobbies Congress for laws that are favorable to it while hurting smaller competitors. It’s massive, employing thousands and controlling a huge part of the market.

Then the economy goes to crap and BoT is in serious trouble. If it’s going to stay, it needs help from the government. This is where we found ourselves just a couple of years ago. We already know what can happen if BoT gets the help. The economy stagnates for at least a couple of years and the company continues doing business as it always had, confident that they’re “to big to fail”. But what if we had taken the other road? What if BoT had been allowed to fail?

Blinder’s Blindnesses

Alan Blinder, the well-known professor of economics at Princeton, wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today. He claims that the fiscal hawks who fear that the stimulus hasn’t worked are wrong, and that their refusal to give in on the unemployment benefits issue is misguided—what he labeled “pretty anti-Keynesian thinking.”

Well yes, Professor, that’s on purpose.

Blinder later specifies that he is referring to Keynes’s recommendations to increase federal spending, and to the idea of reducing taxes so as to increase consumers’ discretionary income and hence consumption.

But Blinder himself differs from Keynes (taking permission for his inconsistency from Ralph Waldo Emerson) in that he does not endorse tax reduction. Blinder’s own Keynes-bis prescription is, on the contrary, to raise taxes by allowing the Bush tax cuts to lapse (because “we can’t afford them”), and to “combine more stimulus in the short run with more budgetary restraint for the long run.”

This means, I assume, that the government should allow the tax cuts to lapse and use the increased tax revenue to prolong unemployment benefits (basically a redistribution of income). Then Congress should increase federal stimulus deficit spending and worry about the consequences later (believing, I guess, that wishful thinking today will restrain tomorrow’s budget in spite of itself).

Thus, he declares, “Obama’s Fiscal Priorities Are Right.”

I see several problems with his reasoning.

Is This The Climax Yet?

I particularly enjoyed this non sequitur today in my inbox, from one of my favorite news providers, BusinessInsider.com:

“The G20 has agreed to pursue programs of austerity while also preserving and enhancing the recovery.”

When I clicked on the link, I got the real headline:

“G20 Officially Reveals Its Total Pointlessness.”

Yes, the politicians are stymied. The only good thing going for them is that they are finding lots of occasions to practice their talent for talking out of both sides of their mouth. But the straight-talking intellectual academics aren’t faring much better.

A few blogs ago, I described this slow-motion movie we’re all watching as this recession unfolds. The movie’s climax will approach when the Federal Reserve finds itself in front of a dilemma: They must withdraw central bank assistance to maintain credibility in the U.S. bond and dollar, but when is the right time to begin?

Their problem is that no one seems to know. Bernanke and his colleagues are reportedly hunkered down as I write, trying to figure out how to handle what is looking increasingly like another slowdown, or to be precise the second V in the W. But this is not what they expected to happen. This is not AT ALL what they expected to happen.

Podcast: $13 Trillion Debt, BP Oil Spill, Alvin Greene, 2011 Budget, and Economic Failing Guests: Mike Hassinger, Doug Mataconis

This week, Jason and Brett gathered a crack team of drinkers, fiscal conservatives, or both to “celebrate” the recent record-breaking $13 trillion national debt.

The discussion covers:

Inflation or No Inflation, That Is The Question

Once again, the question of future inflation is boggling the minds of many a financial forecaster. Are we headed for a rise in prices that will carry the Dow up and away, hopefully carrying the rest of us with it, or are we going to suffer the second leg of the W Recession as commercial property and/or the inevitable rise in interest rates hits the skids?

The questions I would pose are quite different. We are already engulfed in a sea of inflated purchasing media that is constantly roosting, taking off, and realighting in its search for new quick profits. Unfortunately, given the current labor market, it won’t even be dipping a little toe in the ordinary person’s paycheck on its way by, at least not anytime soon.

So where is it now, and what is going on? It is where it has gone for the last two years, to wit ten years or more: into speculative investment, biding its time. In America, at least, it isn’t going into production, and it isn’t going into salaries. It’s going into profits and speculative investments, instruments like Greek bonds and credit default swaps so popular with the hedge fund crowd.

This means that the answer to the introductory question is yes, inflation, but be careful how you define it. As I have harangued before, the word is used flippantly to mean at least two things: on the one hand, price increases represented supposedly by the CPI; and on the other: excess purchasing media, the kind that used to cause price increases before the market got savvy, but that now finds itself blowing bubbles while maintaining general prices that should be falling so that the ordinary consumer gets a break. This definition we could differentiate by naming the process “inflating.”

Podcast: Liberty Candidate - John Dennis (California’s 8th District)

Continuing our “Liberty Candidate Series” of interviews, Jason and Brett talk with John Dennis, discussing his opponent, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, liberty in San Francisco, and his candidacy.  Dennis is a “Pro-Liberty” Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in California’s 8th Congressional District.

This special edition podcast is the fifth in a series devoted to showcasing liberty candidates nationwide.  Dennis talks about his liberty-focused campaign against the Speaker of the House in California.

You can download the podcast here. The introduction music is “Silence is Violence” by the always lovely Aimee Allen.

You can subscribe to the RSS of JUST our podcasts here, or you can find our podcasts on iTunes here.

 
 


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