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Jim Cook

 

RUNAWAY SOCIAL SYMPATHY

Every once in a while I switch the TV channel from Fox to CNBC to see what the liberals are saying.  After listening awhile I get a deep sense of hopelessness and foreboding for our country.  The most important thing for the left is giving money to people.  They are happy to see the growth of food stamps, disability payments, housing subsidies, free healthcare and all the other welfare benefits.  They utterly fail to see the damage it is doing to the recipients.  Whole cities that once flourished have deteriorated into rotting eyesores populated with shambling hulks of chemically dependent drones.  These people are no longer employable.  They have become incompetent and helpless and the liberals can’t see that it’s their doing.

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The Best of Jim Cook Archive

 
Best of Doug Noland
June 9, 2009
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Doug Noland

We’re witnessing the same analytical errors today that were made in the post-tech Bubble analysis: the willingness to inflate an even greater Bubble for the cause of mitigating the pain from the so-called deflationary risks associated with a bursting of THE Bubble. And with each reflation comes a heightened governmental role in both the markets and real economy – to the point where Washington is essentially backstopping the financial and economic systems.

I used to find it rather perplexing that our nation’s largest bond fund managers were among inflationism’s most vocal proponents. I was naïve; it now seems all so obvious. Of course, market operators prefer to have the Fed and Washington there reliably backstopping the markets. An activist central bank pegging interest rates and manipulating the cost (hence, the flow) of finance creates wonderful opportunities for the savviest traders playing the money game most adeptly. The expansion of Bubbles creates great opportunities and then, for the enlightened, the bursting of these Bubbles provides only greater profits. Mr. McCulley is fond of blaming the "shadow banking system" for our acute financial and economic fragility. Yet the responsibility lies more generally with a deeply flawed monetary policy regime – a regime hopelessly locked in interest-rate manipulation and inflationism.

To this day I find it perplexing that leading "free market" proponents have been so happy to have the Federal Reserve setting and manipulating the cost of finance throughout the real economy. By now, it should be crystal clear that such a regime cultivates a financial apparatus that systematically misprices risk, over-expands Credit, fosters over-leveraging, emboldens speculation, and massively misallocates and misdirects both financial and real resources throughout. After awhile, so much of the financial apparatus is focused primarily on seeking central bank-induced financial profits. Economic profits and real economy price signals become further marginalized. And with each bursting Bubble and resulting reflation, the government’s role in the system’s pricing mechanism becomes more ingrained, intrusive and destabilizing. The Bubbles change, while the price distortions and imbalances become deeply embedded in the underlying economic structure.

I see no reason to back away from the view that the fundamental dilemma today lies not so much in finance but with our deeply impaired economic structure. This structure is a manifestation of years of mispriced finance, Credit and speculative excess, and resource misallocation. From this perspective, it should be obvious that greater Fed-induced market price distortions and Treasury/Fed-induced Credit expansion will only exacerbate structural impairment and delay readjustment. If I had to point to a significant weakness in Minsky’s work, it would be the lack of analytical attention paid to the underlying economic structure (and why it is imperative to incorporate Austrian analysis into our analytical frameworks!).

The inflationists today believe that massive ("counter-cyclical") government market and economic intervention will help the system revive and repair itself. I see current policies as simply a desperate attempt to perpetuate unsustainable financial and economic structures. And system impairment will not have run its course until some semblance of a market-based cost of finance emerges to more effectively allocate financial and real resources throughout the economy. The wholesale socialization of risk may be "counter cyclical" but it is also terribly counterproductive.

After the 9/11 catastrophe, I expressed the view that - if our government was compelled to stimulate - it would be preferable to run temporary fiscal deficits instead of manipulating interest rates and the financial markets. Yet the manipulation of the quantity and cost of Credit is much easier for policymakers to implement, and the results (heightened liquidity, risk-taking, and inflating asset prices) can be rather immediate and heartening. Meanwhile, the associated costs are not evident let alone quantifiable. Yet such interventions – and resulting changes in the quantity and flow of finance - seductively take on a life of their own as they breed excesses, future crises and the inevitable call for only greater interventions and inflations.