Archive for Hunter Lewis

Imagine if We Had Free Prices!

If you were asked how we should go about achieving real economic growth throughout the economy rather than just certain sectors of it, what would you suggest?  Would you revisit the Keynesian toolbox and call for a really, really big stimulus instead of just another really big one?  Would you impose more controls on business, especially the financial sector?  Some people want to revive Glass-Steagall, the gem from the Depression era that was abandoned in 1999 — sound good to you?.  How about officially merging the Fed and the Treasury — i.e., turn “monetary policy” over to the government?  Perhaps you’d break out Sheila Bair’s plan to allow each American household to “borrow $10 million from the Fed at zero interest”? Her proposal was tongue-in-cheek, you say? Ms. Bair, the former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, proposed a plan that in its essentials would be received enthusiastically by those in the know —  provided it was confined to special interests. But if it’s good for some, why not everyone?

“Look out 1 percent, here we come,” Ms. Bair trumpeted.

Many readers are familiar with the anecdote about a 1681 meeting between French finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert and a group of businessmen that included one M. Le Gendre.  Colbert, a mercantilist, was eager for industry to prosper because it would boost tax revenue . . . sort of a fatten-the-goose approach to economics.  When he asked how their government could be of service to the business community, Le Gendre famously replied, “Laissez-nous faire” — “Let us be.”

Read More→

The Hidden Motive Behind Quantitative Easing

220px-Marriner_S._Eccles_Federal_Reserve_Board_Building Foreign individuals and businesses long ago cut back on their purchases of U.S. bonds. Their place was taken by foreign central banks. The central banks simply created money in their own currency and used it to buy our bonds.

The Federal Reserve always knew that we couldn’t rely on foreign central banks to buy our bonds forever. This may be the main reason it began the program called quantitative easing, in which the Fed created money out of thin air specifically to buy back U.S. debt.

Quantitative easing may have been intended to be a kind of insurance policy. If foreign central bank buying of U.S. bonds collapsed, the Fed would already have a program in place to buy them back itself.

The Fed  said that quantitative easing was meant to create U.S. jobs, but this never made much sense. Even a hard core proponent of QE, Fed official William Dudley ( formerly of Goldman Sachs), admitted that the Fed’s own economic models could not explain how creating money out of thin air and using it to buy U.S. bonds would increase employment. Some link to rising stock prices could be demonstrated, if only through the cheap financing of corporate stock buy-backs, but then rising stock prices could not be shown to create jobs either.

One inference from this was that chairman Ben Bernanke, and now new chairman Janet Yellen, were just taking wild stabs in the dark. A more reasonable inference is that they had another reason for QE, one which they did not want to acknowledge.

Viewed in this way, the 2008 bail-out should be viewed not as a bail-out of Wall Street, but rather  as a bail-out of Washington. The Federal Reserve feared that the market for government bonds was about to collapse, which would lead to soaring interest rates, and a complete collapse of our bubble financed government.

The Fed did not have the option of creating money and buying debt directly from the Treasury. That would be illegal. The Treasury must first sell its bonds to Wall Street, after which the Fed can then use its newly created money to buy them back. Hence, in order to rescue the Treasury, the Fed felt it had to rescue Wall Street.

This is a simplification of what happened, and only part of the story, but it is the untold part of the story, and in all likelihood the most important part. The Fed was in a panic in 2008, but not primarily about what might happen to Wall Street, and certainly not about what might happen to Main Street. It was in a panic over what might happen to government finance.

This interpretation is strengthened by new information contained in former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson’s recent book. He revealed that Russia tried in 2008 to persuade China to join in a collaborative effort to dump U.S. bonds in order to bring down the U.S. financial system. Although China refused to do so at the time, its government would clearly like to end dollar dominance, and has  been paring U.S. bond purchases.

At the moment,  Janet Yellen’s worries about finding buyers of government bonds can only be getting worse. For much of last year, foreign central bank purchases of U.S. bonds in aggregate fell. As of October of 2013, they had been negative for three and six months. Then they turned up a smidge, only to fall again, so that the last three months show a decrease of just over 12%.

It is known that Russia withdrew its U.S. bonds from custody of the Fed after the Crimea invasion, and has either been selling or could sell at any time. It will no doubt try again to persuade other countries to join in undermining the U.S. bond market and replacing the dollar as the mainstay of world trade.

Under these circumstances, it should not be surprising that the Fed is today taking only baby steps to reduce its program of creating new money to buy U.S. bonds. This program is probably not just meant to revive the economy, which it has not done and cannot do. It is more likely designed as a desperate and in the long run counterproductive effort to finance the U.S. government and save today’s dollar dominated financial system.

The Fed Is Not Following The Law

799px-Handcuffs01_2003-06-02Some of the games being played behind closed doors by the Fed are not only troubling. They are not even legal.

It was a clear violation of Section 14 (B) of the Federal Reserve Act for the Fed to respond to the Crash of 2008 by buying $1.5 trillion of mortgages not guaranteed by the federal government. The agency hid behind Section 13.3 language allowing a broad scope of action under “unusual and exigent circumstances,” but the statute states clearly that Section 13.3 loans can only be short term and backed by high quality collateral, a requirement that was blatantly ignored.

It was also a violation of both the Fed statute and the Constitution to offload potential Fed losses from its hedge fund-like operations onto the Treasury, as was done stealthily via a note to the Fed’s Statistical Release H 4.1 dated January 6, 2011. The notion of the Treasury (i.e. The taxpayers) having to bail out the Fed is not just a theoretical possibility. The Fed’s annual report just released shows a $53 billion unrealized loss.

It would also appear to be a violation of the Constitution to locate the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by the Dodd-Frank Act inside the agency. The Constitution requires that all government expenditures be authorized and funded by Congress. The Fed has always been treated as an exception. It uses income on securities it has bought with newly created money to pay its bills and has not even been subject to Congressional oversight.

Having a secretive, self-funded, extra-constitutional agency inside government was bad enough when the Fed consisted of seven governors and a few staff members. The new Consumer Bureau already employs an estimated 1,359 people and keeps growing. Many of these employees were transferred from other government agencies where they formerly had been counted as part of the federal budget, but are now suddenly off-budget. If this is allowed to stand, what other federal agencies will be slipped inside the Fed in future in order to reduce the reported Federal deficit?

Some of the Fed’s actions since the Crash have been perfectly legal, but also designed to escape detection by the press and public. For example, in the dark days of the 2008 crash, a provision was buried deep in the TARP bill passed by Congress authorizing the Fed to pay interest to banks on their lending reserves. This made it legal for the Fed to print money and hand it over to the banks in unlimited amounts. One wonders how many members of Congress were aware they were passing this?

Today the Fed pays ¼ of 1 percent interest on trillions of dollars of unused bank reserves. An estimated 37% of that is paid to foreign banks. This is a grey area legally. One wonders how many members of Congress know about it.

During the Crash itself, as much as 70% of Fed discount window loans seem to have gone to foreign banks at rates as low as 0.01%. In other words, we made huge gifts to foreign banks.

If the economy gets overheated, the Fed says that it will simply increase the interest it is paying on bank reserves to ensure that those reserves aren’t turned into loans to business and consumers. But the more money that is created to pay interest on unused reserves, the bigger the unused reserves become. In typical government style, a problem will be alleviated short term only at the cost of making it worse in the future.

After reading this post, you might conclude that someone should sue the Fed over its illegal actions. Unfortunately taking the Fed to court is easier said than done. Under federal law, you must have “standing” to sue. Ordinary citizens are deemed not to have standing. Under recent court decisions, even banks do not seem to have standing, despite their being regulated by the Fed.

Fed illegality can best be addressed by Congressional action. Congress created the Fed and can reform it or even shut it down. There are critics of the Fed in Congress, but not nearly enough of them. And there are reasons why Congress mostly leaves the Fed alone.

It is the Fed that backstops federal deficit spending. Without the Fed, government could not continue indefinitely spending more than its tax revenue. So long as politicians think they benefit from the expansion of government and runaway spending, they will not want to reform the Fed.

Comments (0)

Why Are Obamacare Exchange Policies So Bad?

6608Hunter Lewis writes in today’s Mises Daily:

Insurance companies respond to this dilemma in the only way they think they can. They squeeze the doctors fees and gamble that enough of them will go along to take care of the policy holders. Will this gamble pay off? It is doubtful.

Many doctors, doctor networks, and hospitals are already refusing to go along, so the policy holder will be stuck with insurance that is useless because no doctor will take it. Expect to see hospital emergency rooms flooded with even more patients under Obamacare, and expect to see the waits get even longer.

Older and sicker insurance customers may think they like the idea of price controls that work in their favor. But will they like insurance companies taking every available legal means to discourage their buying a policy or staying on that policy? Would you want to be covered by a company that does not want your business?

With Medicaid enrollees swelled by Obamacare, and much private insurance turned into what John Goodman calls “Medicaid Lite,” what will happen to medicine? The most likely result will be large numbers of doctors taking early retirement and fewer talented young people entering the field. The supply of medicine will shrink while the demand, fueled by government subsidies, increases.