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Robert Murphy: The Fed Flirted With Insolvency in December

antigovernmentextremist:

I was just made aware that back in December 2013, the Fed in practice came very close to actual insolvency (if it marked its assets to market). Specifically, as of 12/31/2013, the Fed reported equity capital of $55.0bn and unrealized portfolio losses of $53.3bn, meaning there was a net (mark-to-market) equity of $1.7bn supporting $4 trillion of assets. (I have seen an official auditor’s report with these figures, but I can’t find an online source to link you to.) That’s pretty leveraged.

If you want to think through what it “means” if the Fed literally goes bankrupt, read my earlier article. By no means will the government say, “Aww shucks, I guess we’ll get out of the fiat money business.” But it might spook investors and pop what I believe is our massive bubble in dollars and Treasury debt.

What happens when the central bank that issues the world’s reserve (fiat) currency goes bankrupt? What happens to the millions of people whose life savings and meager wages are valued in that currency? If that central bank were to need a bailout, where would the money come from? What happens when the world’s most indebted nation in history can no longer print money to finance its debt?

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posted 7 / 7 / 2014
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The conventional wisdom, whether liberal or conservative, free market or socialist, regards charity or generosity as essentially simple—just giving things away without calculation or continuing concern with their uses. The best giver is the anonymous donor of money or valuable things, while the investor is seen as the image of a Shylock, extorting usurious gains from lending money, or a Scrooge, exploiting workers to make sure profits. By this measure, a welfare system of direct money grants financed by anonymous taxpayers through the choices of their elected representatives can be the epitome of compassion and charity.

This vision captures and important truth. The effort to predetermine results by coercion or exploitation is inimical to the spirit of giving on which capitalist growth depends. The reciprocation must be voluntary to succeed. The grasping or hoarding rich man is the antithesis of capitalism, not its epitome, more a feudal figure than a bourgeois one.

The investor must give his money, offer his goods, freely, depending on the voluntary willingness of others to respond with creative efforts of their own. To the extend that the capitalist allies himself with the government or uses other modes of force in an effort to predetermine outcomes, he is just another kind of socialist, sometimes termed a fascist, rather than an investor who makes his contributions in the hopes that others will want them and willingly work to earn them. Similarly, a society without welfare of any kind—a system like China’s that forces people to work on pain of starvation—is as hostile to the spirit of giving as a society that forces them to work at the point of a gun. Sensible levels of benefits are indeed generous and capitalistic, since they relieve people of coercion and thus permit them freely to join the system of giving.
Nonetheless, welfare beyond a minimal level becomes deeply problematic. The fact is that it is extremely difficult to transfer value to people in a way that actually helps them. Excessive welfare hurts its recipients , demoralizing them or reducing them to an addictive dependency that can ruin their lives. The anonymous private donation may be a good thing in itself. As an example for others, it may foster an outgoing and generous spirit in the community. But as a role of society it is best of the givers are given unto, if the givers seek some form of voluntary reciprocation. Then the spirit of giving spreads, and wealth tends to gravitate toward those who are most likely to give it back, most capable of using it for the benefit of others, toward those whose gifts evoke the greatest returns. Even the most indigent families will do better under a system of free enterprise and investment than under an excessively “compassionate” dole that asks no return. The understanding of the Law of Reciprocity, that one must supply in order to demand, save in order to invest, consider others in order to serve oneself, is crucial to all life in society. (38-39)
— George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty
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posted 7 / 6 / 2014
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Entrepreneurs must be allowed to retain wealth for the practical reason that only they, collectively, can possibly know where it should go, to whom it should be given. Successful capitalism confronts the potential investor, public or private, with millions of small companies (nearly 16 million in the U.S.), scores of thousands of them launched every year with growth rates between 20 and 40 percent and more, and suffering from crises of expansion and cash flow. It offers a vast Babel of business plans and projects presented by every form of fast-shuffling charlatan, stuttering genius, business school tyro, flimflam artists, sleek financier, babbling broker, mumbling non-entity, voluble flack, computer shark, shaggy boffin, statistical booster; every imaginable combination of managerial, marketing, engineering, and huckstering skills; all inscrutably mixed in a teeming marketplace of “investment opportunities”: over and under-the-counter shares, Denver “penny stocks,” Sub-Chapter-S corporations, limited partnerships, proprietorships, franchises, concessions, leveraged buyouts, leasebacks and carry-forwards, spreads and deals of every description. The investor must appraise a vast, traveling bazaar of new products, the overflow of a million garages and laboratories, hobby shops and machinery “skunkworks”; companies on the edge of “new breakthroughs”; takeoff trajectories; unique product niches in the “fast-moving, high-tech semioptical bioconductor floppy tacos field”; firms offering fame and fortune and tax shelter; business providing low-cost fuel, high margin fast food, automatic profits in mail-order marketing, forty-seven magazines the world needs now, the Photonic Chip!, the people’s airline, fourteen plausible cures for asthma, the perfect coffee cup, the new Elvis, all demanding huge infusions of instant capital, all continually bursting beyond the ken even of banks and experts, let alone government planners, regulators, and subsidizers, no matter if they bear such promising titles as Small Business Administration or National Enterprise Board. Governments are entirely and inevitably unable to master the baffling specificity and elusiveness of economic opportunity.

The flood of protean growth can be comprehended and sustained only by millions of individuals with access to disposable savings and deep involvement in the companies themselves—that is, by investors who have money of their own and who can share in and pass on the profits as they gain new knowledge and investment skills. Although the desire to consume is ubiquitous and plays a significant role in motivating all men, far more important in capitalism is the purposeful drive to understand the world and to create things: to generate wealth (value defined by others) and reinvest it in the continuing drama of human invention and progress. (36-37)
— George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty
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posted 7 / 6 / 2014
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Are [capitalists] greedier than doctors or writers or professors of sociology or assistant secretaries of energy of commissars of wheat? Yes, their goals seem more mercenary. But this is only because money is their very means of production. Just as the sociologist requires books and free time and the bureaucrat needs arbitrary power, the capitalist needs capital. It is no more sensible to begrudge the entrepreneur his profits—of ascribe them to overweening avarice—than to begrudge the writer or professor his free time and access to libraries and research aides, or the scientist his laboratory and assistants, or the doctor his power to prescribe medicines and perform surgery. Capitalists need capital to fulfill their role in launching and financing enterprise. Are they self-interested? Presumably. But the crucial fact about them is their deep interest and engagement in the world beyond themselves, impelled by their imagination, optimism, and faith. (36)
— George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty
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posted 7 / 6 / 2014
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No surprise that, with tuition debt reaching $1 trillion, one of the complaints of the younger Occupy Wall Street protestors was the student loan crisis. They have a point here too. The moral devastation of loose money extends beyond market truth telling. What kind of society sells a lifelong burden of indebtedness to people inexperienced with money who are at the beginning of their working lives? Loan sharks and drug dealers who create debt and dependence get put in prison. But government gets to call its enabling of debt “financial aid.”
— Steve Forbes in Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy
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posted 6 / 23 / 2014
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When interest rates are kept arbitrarily low by government policy, the effect must be inflationary. In the first place, interest rates cannot be kept artificially low, except by inflation. The real or natural rate of interest is the rate that would be established if the supply and demand for real capital were in equilibrium. The actual money interest rate can only be kept below the natural rate by pumping new money into the economic system. This new money and new credit add to the apparent supply of new capital just as the judicious addition of water add to the apparent supply of real milk.
Henry Hazlitt
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posted 6 / 11 / 2014
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Keynes and Hayek - Round 2

Quality. It’s so impressive how much genuine academic content they can coherently cram into this.

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posted 5 / 5 / 2014
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Peter Schiff - Bailing Out Banks Put Homeowners Underwater

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posted 4 / 7 / 2014
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We keep hearing about the Federal Reserve “tapering” its quantitative easing exercise in money creation. But a tweet from the St. Louis Fed says: “adjusted monetary base rises by more than $65 billion over the past two weeks to $3.963 trillion.” The sum of currency in circulation plus deposits held by banks at the Federal Reserve, this measure of money supply stood at less than $900 billion before the financial crisis. What will happen to prices in the economy once banks start lending this money out to customers?

WSJ

Did you get that? Our money supply increased from around $900 billion to almost $4 trillion in the last few years. This goes beyond tinkering—it has been and will continue to be hugely disruptive to our economy and standard of living.

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posted 3 / 26 / 2014
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9 Reasons Why Raising the Minimum Wage Is a Terrible Idea
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posted 3 / 5 / 2014
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Public Sector Cuts Part-Time Shifts to Bypass Insurance Law

Well, golly gee.

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posted 3 / 3 / 2014
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Economists Debate the Minimum Wage

In this article, I explain why, even if the revisionist empirical studies are accurate, it still does not follow that the proposed hike in the minimum wage will be a boon for low-skilled workers. I also argue that, because critics have raised many troubling concerns about these studies, we should not accept them at face value. I conclude that economists should maintain the standard view that employers have a downward-sloping demand for low-skilled labor and that raising the minimum wage will tend to destroy job opportunities for many of those whom advocates of the higher minimum wage wish to help.

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posted 2 / 24 / 2014
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Bizarre Financial Innovation "Paper Cash" Insecure, Criminal, Frankly Nuts

"What if government and media looked at paper money the way they do at Bitcoin?"

Hilarious:

World governments announced a plan today to allow citizens to anonymously carry parts of their wealth on their person and exchange it with others using small pieces of colorful paper printed with nationalistic and Masonic imagery along with numbers that purportedly represent the amount of wealth each piece of paper represents (if the paper is not a counterfeit). These pieces of paper are formally a “note” from each nation’s central bank, but they are also called “cash” by many - this is a technical matter that is too complex to cover in our basic primer; Suffice it to say, that it is representative of the complexity and user-unfriendliness of this new system….

In what will come as a surprise to generations who have grown up with calculators and computers, ‘bills’ only come in fixed denominations, requiring users to maintain a large number of these pieces of paper that must be aggregated to execute a transaction and then re-aggregated to ‘make change,’ a complex process of returning to the payee the excess of the payment using yet other bills.  (Don’t worry if this sounds complex, we had trouble understanding it ourselves at first and it is certainly not ready for the average consumer in its current form.) …

The whole thing is worth a read.

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posted 2 / 19 / 2014
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The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable—and fundamentally flawed.
— The New York Times…. in 1987.
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posted 2 / 19 / 2014
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To undertake the direction of the economic life of people with widely divergent ideals and values is to assume responsibilities which commit one to the use of force; it is to assume a position where the best intentions cannot prevent one from being forced to act in a way which to some of those affected must appear highly immoral. (244-5)
— F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom
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posted 2 / 18 / 2014
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