Curing a Debt Problem with More Debt

The Fed’s QE isn’t dead. But it’s off the job. For now. ZIRP (zero-interest-rate policy) is still at work. The Fed says it will keep short-term interest rates near zero for “considerable time.”

Stocks didn’t crash. The Dow fell only 31 points. Does this mean that the economy is stronger than we think… and that the Fed can take away the punchbowl without shutting down the party?

We wait to find out… safely on the sidelines. Yesterday, we picked up an issue of the Financial Times – the so-called pink paper due to its distinctive color. We wondered how many wrongheaded, stupid, counterproductive, delusional ideas one edition can have.

We were trying to understand how come the entire financial world (with the exception of Germany) seems to be singing from the same off-key, atonal and bizarre hymnbook. All want to cure a debt crisis with more debt.

 

1030-DRE-blogHillary is a fount of bad economic ideas – but there is one newspaper that manages to out-stupid even her.

(Photo source: clinton.senate.gov)

Choirmaster to the Economic Elite

The FT is part of the problem. It is the choirmaster to the economic elite, singing confidently and loudly the bogus chants that now guide public policy. Look on practically any financial desk in any time zone anywhere in the world, and you are likely to find a copy. Walk over to the ministry of finance… or to an investment bank… or to a think tank – there’s the salmon-pink newspaper.

Yes, you might also find a copy of the Wall Street Journal or the local financial rag, but it is the FT that has become the true paper of record for the economic world. Too bad… because it has more bad economic ideas per square inch than a Hillary Clinton speech.

It is on the pages of the FT that Larry Summers is allowed to hold forth, with no warning of any sort to alert gullible readers. In the latest of his epistles, he put forth the preposterous claim that more government borrowing to pay for infrastructure would have a 6% return.

He says it would be a “free lunch,” because it would not only put people to work and stimulate the economy, but also the return on investment, in terms of GDP growth, would make the project pay for itself… and yield a profit. Yo, Larry, Earth calling… Have you ever been to New Jersey?

It is hard enough for a private investor, with his own money at stake, to get a 6% return. Imagine when bureaucrats are spending someone else’s money… when decisions must pass through multiple levels of committees and commissions made up of people with no business or investment experience – with no interest in controlling costs or making a profit… and no idea what they are doing.

Imagine, too, that these people are political appointees with strong, and usually hidden, connections to contractors and unions. What kind of return do you think you would really get?

We don’t know, but we’d put a minus sign in front of it. But the fantasy of borrowing for “public investment” soaks the FT. It is part of a mythology based on the crackpot Keynesian idea that when growth rates slow you need to stimulate “demand.”

How do you stimulate demand? You try to get people to take on more debt – even though the slowdown was caused by too much debt. On page 9 of yesterday’s FT its chief economics commentator, Martin Wolf (a man who should be roped off with red-and-white tape, like a toxic spill), gives us the standard line on how to increase Europe’s growth rate:

 

“The question […] is how to achieve higher demand growth in the euro zone and creditor countries. [T]he euro zone lacks a credible strategy for reigniting demand [aka debt].”

 

It is not enough for people to decide when they want to buy something and when they have the money to pay for it. Governments… and their august advisers on the FT editorial page… need a “strategy.”

 

martin-wolfFinancial Times chief economic commentator Martin “toxic spill” Wolf – a dyed-in-the-wool statist dunderhead, not to put too fine a point to it. In line with the rest of the rag he is writing for, no long-refuted Keynesian nostrum is moronic enough to dissuade him from supporting it.

(Photo via positivemoney.org)

 

The Digital Divide

On its front page, the FT reports – with no sign of guffaw or irony – that the US is developing a “digital divide.” Apparently, people in poor areas are less able to pay $19.99 a month for broadband Internet than people in rich areas. So the poor are less able to go online and check out the restaurant reviews or enjoy the free pornography.

This undermines President Obama’s campaign pledge of giving every American “affordable access to robust broadband.” The FT hardly needed to mention it. But it believes the US should make a larger investment in broadband infrastructure – paid for with more debt, of course!

Maybe it’s in a part of the Constitution that we haven’t read: the right to broadband. Maybe it’s something they stuck in to replace the rights they took out – such as habeas corpus or privacy. We don’t know. We only bring it up because it shows how dopey the pink paper – and modern economics – can be.

Quantity can be measured. Quality cannot. Broadband subscriptions can be counted. The effect of access to the Internet on poor families is unknown. Would they be better off if they had another distraction in the house? Would they be happier? Would they be healthier? Would they be purer of heart or more settled in spirit?

Nobody knows. But a serious paper would at least ask. It might also ask whether more “demand” or more GDP really makes people better off. It might consider how you can get real demand by handing out printing-press money. And it might pause to wonder why Zimbabwe is not now the richest country on earth.

But the FT does none of that. Over on page 24, columnist John Plender calls corporations on the carpet for having too much money. You’d think corporations could do with their money whatever they damned well pleased.

But not in the central planning dreams of the FT. Corporations should use their resources in ways that the newspaper’s economists deem appropriate. And since the world suffers from a lack of demand, “corporate cash hoarding must end in order to drive recovery.”

But corporations aren’t the only ones at fault. Plender spares no one – except the economists most responsible for the crisis and slowdown. “At root,” he says of Japan’s slump (which could apply almost anywhere these days), the problem “results from underconsumption.” Aha! Consumers are not doing their part either.

Summers, Wolf, Plender and the “pink paper” have a solution for everything. Unfortunately, it’s always the same solution and it always doesn’t work.

 

Economist John Maynard KeynesThe FT has resurrected the “underconsumption” nonsense famously supported by Keynes. He was not the inventor of these theories as many people erroneously believe. He has largely produced a rehash of the hoary inflationist theories held by a long line of predecessors. One especially popular one proposed by Foster and Catchings was thoroughly refuted by F. A. Hayek in 1928 already, a few years before Keynes’ major tome was published. He may not have been aware of the refutation, and it is actually doubtful whether he would have understood it, as he didn’t have the foggiest idea about capital theory.

(Photo credit: Corbis)

The above article is from Diary of a Rogue Economist originally written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.

 

 

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