Archive for May, 2012
Last week I held a hearing to examine the various proposals that have been put forth both to mend and to end the Fed. The purpose was to spur a vigorous and long-lasting discussion about the Fed’s problems, hopefully leading to concrete actions to rein in the Fed.
First, it is important to understand the Federal Reserve System. Some people claim it is a secret cabal of elite bankers, while others claim it is part of the federal government. In reality it is a bit of both. The Federal Reserve System is the collusion of big government and big business to profit at the expense of taxpayers. The Fed’s bailout of large banks during the financial crisis propped up poorly-run corporations that should have gone under, giving them a market-distorting advantage that no business in the United States should receive. The recent news about JP Morgan is a case in point. JP Morgan, a recipient of $25 billion in bailout money, recently announced it lost another $2 billion. If a corporation shows itself to be a bottomless money pit of “errors, sloppiness and bad judgment,” the Fed shouldn’t have expected $25 billion in free money to change that or teach anyone a lesson in fiscal discipline. But it determined that this form of deliberate capital destruction was preferable to one business suffering bankruptcy. Clearly, some changes need to be made.
Several reforms for the Fed were discussed at the hearing. One was a call for the full employment mandate to be repealed, in order to allow the Fed to focus solely on stable prices.
Another reform calls for changes to the composition of the Federal Open Market Committee. Still another proposal was for outright nationalization of the Fed or of its functions. But if what the Fed does now is bad and inflationary, allowing the Treasury to print and issue money at-will would be even worse, and could possibly lead to a Weimar-like hyperinflation.
The problems and advantages of the gold standard were discussed at the hearing. The era of the classical gold standard was undoubtedly one of the greatest eras in human history. For a period of several decades in the late 19th century, the West made enormous advances. However, the gold standard was still run by government. The temptation to suspend gold redemption reared its head again with the outbreak of World War I. Once the tie to gold was severed and fiscal restraint thrown to the wind, undoing the damage would have required great fiscal austerity. Instead, the Western world proceeded to set up a gold-exchange standard which lasted not even a decade before easy money led to the Great Depression.
While returning to the gold standard would certainly be far better than maintaining the current fiat paper system, as long as the government retains the power to go off gold we may end up repeating the same mistakes.
The only viable solution is to get government out of the money business permanently. The way to bring this about is through currency competition: allow parallel currencies to circulate without receiving any special recognition or favor from the government. Fiat paper monetary standards throughout history have always collapsed due to their inflationary nature, and our current fiat paper standard will be no different.
It is imperative that the American people be educated on the dangers of the Fed and the importance of restoring sound money. The laying of the groundwork must begin today, so that the American people will be prepared for the day when the mirage the Fed has created evaporates completely. The full hearing footage is available on my website and I would encourage every American to take a look.
In recent weeks, while the eurozone has suffered escalating levels of systemic stress in government bond markets and its banking system, the gold price has fallen under $1,600. One would have thought that – but for the occasional fat-finger trade– gold would rise in all this instability, not fall. Putting aside short-term considerations, the simple reason has to be that the investment establishment, which has bought into the bond market bubble, does not believe that gold is any longer an alternative to paper money.
We can understand why they think this. Though the Keynesian vs Austrian economic debate is attracting increasing attention, financial services companies recruit economists who have been trained in the traditions of Keynes and Friedman. They are thus immersed in economic disciplines that assume gold is old-fashioned and has no meaningful place in a modern economy. While they might accept that gold has an historical attraction for some investors, they see it as a “risk-on” investment. This is jargon for something you buy when you want to take risks, the opposite of gold’s traditional role.
For further proof, you need look no further than the average level of portfolio exposure, which across the global investment management industry is said to average less than one per cent. This is certainly not compatible with the level of risk in today’s markets, with many nations on the edge of bankruptcy. The result is that flaky gold bulls are experiencing the discomfort of rising panic.
Let us go back to fundamentals. The Keynesians and Friedmanites are oblivious to the debt trap faced by all major currencies. Central banks are printing money to fund government deficits at the lowest possible interest cost. The inevitable consequence of printing money is price inflation, and price inflation always leads to higher interest rates. Higher interest rates exacerbate budget deficits.
You cannot put it more simply than that. The alternative is to stop printing the money and jack up interest rates, but in that event at the head of the insolvency queue is government itself, so this can be ruled out as a deliberate policy. That is what a debt trap is all about: whichever way you turn, there is only one outcome: bankruptcy.
When a government goes bust, its paper is valueless: not just its bonds, but its fiat currency as well. On the surface it is different in euroland, because the nation states do not issue their own currency. On this basis the demise of the euro is an event one step removed from the bankruptcy of individual nation states. The relationship with the other major fiat currencies is direct.
The destruction of fiat currencies themselves is becoming more likely by the day. Meanwhile, the weakness of “risk-on” gold has led to a serious mispricing in the market. This has happened because the financial community, sucked into the bond market bubble, has not even begun to discount the debt threat to government paper from sovereign bankruptcies.
When this mispricing is inevitably resolved, it is unlikely to be gradual. It will be so swift that those old-fashioned enough to own gold for insurance purposes will have the protection they sought. Those that fall for modern neo-classical economics will learn a very sudden lesson about what gold is actually for.
By CHRIS POWELL, Secretary/Treasurer
Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee Inc.
“Civilized people don’t buy gold,” Berkshire Hathaway’s Charles Munger told CNBC the other day. Echoing his partner, Warren Buffett, Munger said civilized people instead “invest in productive businesses,” adding, “Gold is a great thing to sew into your garments if you’re a Jewish family in Vienna in 1939.” (See http://www.gata.org/node/11324.)
As indignant as such a comment may make certain gold investors, most are probably accustomed to such disparagement by the financial establishment, and greater indignation should be directed toward the mainstream financial news media for not seeking out any rebuttal, even if the rebuttal is obvious enough.
Perhaps first is that gold as money is the primary mechanism of enforcing limited government, and limited government is the first characteristic of civilized government. The distance between gold as money and unlimited fiat money is the distance between limited government and unlimited government, between democracy and totalitarianism.
The trend toward unlimited government lately has become overwhelming, from the stupid imperial wars being waged by the United States every few years to the comprehensive surveillance undertaken under the “Patriot Act” to the “financial repression” that even a recent member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors complained about a few months ago (http://www.gata.org/node/10839). This prompts our friend Bill A. to chide Munger that the United States in 2012 is in danger of becoming like Vienna in 1939, insofar as anyone now is subject to the abuse heaped on Jews by the Nazis.
Maybe it’s not quite that bad yet, but then the capacity for such abuse is the sort of thing gold as money aims to prevent. And of course gold was the first thing the Nazi occupation seized from both conquered governments and individuals, as gold was, as it remains, a protector of individual liberty as well as a power that competes with government’s power.
Fund manager Egon von Greyerz today tells King World News that money printing to save the developed world’s economies has barely begun, that gold seems to have bottomed, that a major move is coming, and that the paper gold market will disappear over the next few years as people realize that it can’t be trusted. An excerpt from the interview is posted at the King World News blog here: Money printing to save the developed world’s economies has barely begun