A Libertarian Perspective of Michele Bachmann

I have already given my perspective of Herman Cain, a best friend to bankers.  Since Michele Bachmann is moving up in the polls, it is now time to take a look at her from a libertarian point of view.

Bachmann has only been in Congress since January 2007.  She is from Minnesota and is considered a supporter of the Tea Party movement.  Some libertarians are sympathetic towards her and her views.

She may actually be the worst of all worlds for libertarians.  The problem is that she has some libertarian rhetoric and she sounds like she is a supporter of capitalism most of the time.  She even throws in states’ rights on some economic issues.  The problem will come if she is elected to the presidency.  Just like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, I am fairly convinced that her policies would not reflect her rhetoric.

When she favors special interests and big business and she does nothing substantial to help the average American who is being choked by big government, then capitalism will get the blame.  We hear it now with previous presidents.  We can even go back to the 1920’s and 1930’s and people talk about Herbert Hoover as if he was a big supporter of the free market when it is just about the opposite.

Bachmann sounds just good enough to appeal to conservatives (and even some libertarians).  I have heard her say that she wants to get rid of the Department of Education.  I don’t hear her say it often though.  But why should we believe her?  She is part of the Republican establishment.  If she gets the Republican nomination, she will be surrounded by insiders (if she isn’t already).  Just how the Republican revolution in 1994 turned out to be nothing, so will Michele Bachmann.

The Republicans tinkered around the edges after their major victory in 1994.  They were less disastrous than other congressional periods before and after.  But overall, there was no significant change that took place in the direction of liberty.

The last debate on CNN was horrible.  The candidates were only given 30 seconds to answer the questions, which is not a lot of time for someone wanting to become President of the United States.  But all of the candidates talked about cutting taxes and cutting spending.  Other than Ron Paul talking about the military, none of the candidates offered anything specific of substance.

That is the question I want posed to Michele Bachmann.  How will you balance the budget?  Where specifically will you cut $1.5 trillion from the federal budget.  In fact, every candidate should be asked that question.  It is impossible to balance the budget unless you cut military spending and/or so-called entitlement spending.

Of course, when it comes to foreign policy, Bachmann is a nightmare for libertarians.  She is a typical pro-war Christian who wants to bomb the Middle East and spread democracy throughout the world.  She doesn’t quite put it in those terms, but you can certainly tell that she will not be ending any major wars any time soon.  She never seems to explain how she will spend trillions on military spending and yet remain a fiscal conservative.

Libertarians, beware of Michele Bachmann.  With Obama in the Oval Office, it is easy to see what he stands for (bigger government).  It is a little trickier with Bachmann, which makes her more dangerous.  Do not mistake her for a friend of liberty.

Understanding Velocity in Our Economy

The velocity of money is a huge factor in our economy and yet many investors do not understand it or even know what it is.  I find that even many libertarians and followers of Austrian economics do not understand velocity.

The velocity of money is the demand for money.  It is how quickly money is changing hands.  If there is a high demand for money, then velocity is low.  This means that people are not spending as much.  Therefore, money is changing hands less frequently.  This has the same effect as monetary deflation.  With everything else being equal, a reduction in velocity will push prices down.

The opposite is true for high velocity.  There is a low demand for money and money is changing hands quickly.  This pushes prices up.  The most extreme example of high velocity is during a period of hyperinflation.  People get their paycheck and they run to the store and hurry up and spend it before prices are even higher.  When overall prices are rising every day, this is extreme hyperinflation and it means that the money being used will be worth nothing soon.

Velocity is determined by the attitudes of the people.  Right now in the U.S., velocity seems to be quite low.  It is almost impossible to measure, but you can usually take a good guess based on other factors.  With the economy down, unemployment high, and uncertainty high, people are afraid of the future.  They have cut back on their spending and are trying to pay down debt.  They are trying to save for a rainy day, or in this case a rainier day.

The adjusted monetary base has approximately tripled since 2008.  But consumer price inflation has been relatively mild.  I attribute this to two things.  First, the excess reserves held by commercial banks have dramatically increased.  Second, the velocity of money has been low.  The two of these things are even related in a way.  Banks are not lending due to fear and people are not spending due to fear.  This has kept us from having massive price inflation.

For some reason, people still run to the U.S. dollar in times of uncertainty.  I think is beginning to change and will continue to change.  Eventually, people will start running away from the dollar and will run to hard assets like gold and silver.

Because of velocity, it is possible to have rising prices without monetary inflation.  It is not likely, but it is possible.  If everyone became an Austro-libertarian tomorrow and knew that everyone else did too, then people might start dumping their dollars for hard assets.  High velocity alone could kill a currency.  If people no longer have faith in their money, it won’t matter what the government does.  It will quickly become worthless.

Although it is impossible to measure velocity, it is important to keep it in mind when examining the economy and prices in general.  Human behavior plays a big role in our economy.  If velocity turns higher one day, we should watch out for big price inflation.  Then the Fed will have to decide if it wants to save the dollar.

China to Save the Euro?

There is an article (linked via Drudge) that discusses China’s role with Europe.  The Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, is visiting Europe.  With all of the problems with Greece and the other “PIIGS”, the euro is in some trouble, but China is saying that it will support the euro.

The article quotes the Chinese premier as saying, “China is a long term investor in Europe’s sovereign debt market.”  He goes on to say, ” In recent years we have increased by quite a big margin our holdings of government bonds.  We will consistently continue to support Europe and the euro.”

Assuming this did not get translated incorrectly and assuming he means what he is saying, this man is an imbecile.  The Chinese government is still labeled communist.  I’m not sure if that is true anymore when it comes to economics, but it is still mercantilist.

China has made wonderful improvements over the last 3 decades.  When you are starting from just about the lowest point possible, it is not hard.  Economically speaking, China is not really communist anymore.  In some ways, China is more free economically than the U.S. (although still much poorer).  There are less regulations on business in China.

Although China has improved, it is still being centrally planned by a bunch of morons.  They continue to invest in currencies like the euro and the U.S. dollar.  There is little doubt that there will be some form of default with both in the future.  If there is not an outright default, the Chinese will be paid back with money that has been devalued considerably.

Why does the Chinese government have to “invest” all of this money?  Why can’t they allow the citizens of China to have this capital?  It would lower their consumer prices.  It would help their standard of living.  Instead, these complete idiots prefer to subsidize Americans (and apparently Europeans too).  It may help their export sector, but they are hurting themselves far more by making things more expensive within China than they otherwise would have been.  Instead, rich Americans get cheaper products at the expense of the poor Chinese.

The people of China tend to be huge savers.  Even with relatively small incomes, they save a high percentage of their earnings.  The same cannot be said for Americans.  But the Chinese people are not reaping all of the rewards they should be from their frugality.  Their stupid government continues to squander part of their savings.  Of course, the same thing could be said for Americans who don’t save as much (relatively speaking), but still have a government that spends huge amounts.

China will be experiencing huge problems in the near future.  The central bank inflated like crazy.  There is a huge real estate bubble.  There are cities there that are practically empty.  China cannot escape the Austrian business cycle theory.  They will have a bust.  It is too bad.  If the Chinese government would get out of the way and keep a stable monetary system, the Chinese people would become rich very quickly with their high savings rates.

The Relationship Between the Fed Funds Rate and the Rate on Excess Reserves

Last month, I posted a piece on bank excess reserves and the federal funds rate.  I was basically saying that the Fed was not really holding down the fed funds rate.  It makes this announcement after every FOMC meeting that it is keeping the rate at between zero and .25 percent.  This has been going on for a couple of years.  But because the banks have massive amounts of excess reserves, there is very little need for overnight lending.  Therefore, this keeps the federal funds rate low and the Federal Reserve’s monetary expansions or contractions have little to do with their target rate right now.

In my piece, I also cited an article by Kel Kelly.  In his article, he says that the only way that the Fed can raise rates is by paying the banks significantly higher rates on their excess reserves and that this is unlikely because it would lead to a recession.

I received a comment in response to my post.  The comment says, “The Fed can [lower] rates only by paying banks interest on reserves.  In your article, you addressed it as ‘raising’ rates, which is not the case.”

I understand this comment, but I maintain what I said in my post and that Kel Kelly is correct in his article.  It is a bit counter intuitive, so let’s go through it.

If the banks had virtually no excess reserves, as was common before 2008, then the Fed could more easily control its target rate.  Therefore, the commenter is right in one sense that if the Fed put a negative interest rate on excess reserves (charged banks for holding money instead of lending it), then this would force down the excess reserves.

But it does go the other way too.  The reason that the Fed started paying interest on excess reserves was so that it had more manipulation power.  It is no coincidence that the rate paid on excess reserves right now is a paltry .25%.  Let’s say that the Fed raised this to 5% tomorrow morning.  What would happen?  The banks would tie up their money in excess reserves and there would be very little money there for banks to lend overnight.  This would actually increase the Fed’s target rate.

Ben Bernanke himself is quoted as saying, “In principle, the interest rate the Fed pays on bank reserves should set a floor on the overnight interest rate, as banks should be unwilling to lend reserves at a rate lower than they can receive from the Fed.  In practice, the federal funds rate has fallen somewhat below the interest rate on reserves in recent months, reflecting the very high volume of excess reserves, the inexperience of banks with the new regime, and other factors.  However, as excess reserves decline, financial conditions normalize, and banks adapt to the new regime, we expect the interest rate paid on reserves to become an effective instrument for controlling the federal funds rate.”

The rate paid on excess reserves actually puts a floor on the federal funds rate.  It is not an exact science as even Bernanke struggled with this when the tool became available.  The Fed did not know exactly where to set the rate on excess reserves and it was throwing off their target rate.  So if the Fed announced a significant increase in the rate paid on excess reserves, this would in fact raise the fed funds rate.

So the Fed can control the federal funds rate, but it is unlikely to do so right now.  If it raises the rate on excess reserves, this would really hamper lending and it would likely lead to a quick and sharp recession.  If the Fed puts a negative interest rate on excess reserves (charges a fee), then banks will start to lend out their reserves and we will see massive price inflation very quickly.

The Fed will keep walking a tight rope between recession and inflation.  It will eventually run out of room and we will probably get both at the same time, if we don’t already.

An Economy Grows on Production

With all of the economic problems we face today, there are a lot of myths out there.  These myths are promoted by the media and politicians and even some so-called economists.  They are Keynesians.  One of the biggest myths of all is that spending drives our economy.  When you think about it, this is really childish and yet many people believe this nonsense.  It is a mix up of cause and effect.

An economy grows because of production.  We get increased production from savings, capital investment, and increased technology.  An economy is not more productive because of consumer demand.  We can have all of the consumer demand we want, but it doesn’t make things appear out of thin air.  I’m sure that people living in third world countries would like to have ipods, flat screen televisions, and be able to dine out at fancy restaurants.  But they simply don’t have the wealth accumulation to have these things.  They can demand these things all they want, but they won’t appear until there is production.

There is more consumption in a place like America as opposed to a place like Ethiopia because there is more to consume.  There is more to consume because America is wealthier.  There is more wealth because of the prior savings and investment that has taken place.  This is because of stronger property rights and freer markets.

Remember that you can’t consume that which isn’t produced.  The excessive consumption of Americans in the last decade does not exactly mean that people consumed future goods.  It means that they consumed more in place of saving.  Due to the lack of savings, it will hurt future production.  We are beginning to pay for that now as we can see with the economy.  Unfortunately, the government continues to exacerbate the problem.

Look at this from an individual standpoint.  Let’s say that you have saved up $100,000 over the last several years.  You earned more than you spent each year and the difference was put into savings.  Now you decide to take an extravagant vacation.  You rent out your own private island for a month and get the best service available.  You have a great vacation, but you squander all of your savings of $100,000. Now you are left with nothing, except for your job.

This doesn’t mean that you will starve.  You still have the income from your job.  But your lifestyle will have to take a hit from your one month vacation.  You will have to go back to work and live within your means again.  If you want to save money again for the future, you will have to live below your means.

There is nothing wrong with consumption from an individual perspective.  We need some consumption on a daily basis just to survive.  But most people realize that we can’t always live for just today.  We do have to plan for the future.  This means saving money.  This allows capital investment, which increases future production.  It means we can have a higher standard of living in the future than what is possible today.

Government spending does not stimulate an economy any more than the person taking an extravagant vacation.  It might appear that your standard of living has increased, but in reality you are substituting savings for consumption.  You are simply living for today and not worrying about tomorrow.  The problem is, tomorrow is here now for Americans and for governments here and around the world.

The Latest From Bernanke and the Fed

The Federal Reserve met yesterday and today and Ben Bernanke held a press conference, which is a new gig designed to fight off Fed critics.  The FOMC said that it is keeping rates the same.  Of course, this is in reference to the Fed funds rate, which is almost at zero.  But the Fed is not really controlling that rate right now anyway because most of the banks do not need to borrow overnight money because they have a massive pile of excess reserves from all of the quantitative easing.

Other than some little changes in their forecasts for growth and inflation, there was not much new coming from the Fed.  Bernanke is saying that the Fed will continue to reinvest expiring bonds.  This means that the money supply should remain stable with the ending of QE2.  He did not make any promises for a QE3 and that is probably the reason that the stock market pulled back today.

It should not matter what one man says or does.  It should not matter what one small committee does.  Unfortunately, because they control the money supply of the money that is used in the largest economy on the planet, every little word by Bernanke has an effect.  It shouldn’t be this way, but it is.  Therefore, as investors, even if we don’t like the central bank, we still have to pay close attention to what it is doing.

It is impossible to predict what the Fed will do next.  If I had to guess, I think the most likely scenario is that they keep the monetary base steady for the next few months.  When the stock market does poorly, the economy continues to struggle, and unemployment doesn’t get any better, then the Fed will have an excuse to go forward with QE3.

Meanwhile, we have to continue to monitor all of the variables in our world.  There is continuing war, there are revolutions going on in the Middle East, there is a disaster still going on in Japan, there is the good possibility of default by Greece and other European countries, and there is the health of the economy in the U.S.  There are a lot of things that could go wrong right now and any one thing could trigger a financial panic.  Continue to play it safe with your money.  Playing it safe means putting a good chunk of money in the permanent portfolio and the rest in cash, gold, and silver (or equivalents).

We will also continue to monitor the adjusted monetary base and the excess reserves held by banks.  This will clue us in if we should expect serious price inflation in the next several months.

The Gold Standard vs. Free Banking and Money

We often hear that libertarians advocate the gold standard.  This is certainly true, but it is important to understand why and what the true position is for a radical free market advocate.

As a libertarian and a follower of Austrian free market economics, I am in favor of a completely free market in money and banking.  Would we be better off under a government run gold standard?  Probably yes.  Would we be even better off if the government didn’t involve itself in money at all?  Yes.

For someone who holds radical free market beliefs, then the maximum role, if any, that the government should play in the money business is to protect people from force and fraud.  Anything beyond this and the government will use this power for evil purposes.

The reason that you will hear so many libertarians advocate a gold standard is because gold would most likely be the money of choice in a free market.  Gold and silver have been used as money for thousands of years.  Paper money is a recent thing in a long history of money.

Gold was chosen by the market to serve as money because of its properties.  It has a high value (this is why bricks or iron are not used as money).  It is divisible without ruining the value (this is why diamonds aren’t used as money).  It is durable.  It has longevity (this is why milk is not used as money).  For these and other reasons, gold (and to a lesser extent silver) have great qualities to be used as money.

The most important quality of gold and silver to distinguish them from paper currencies is that they cannot be created on a computer or on a printing press.  The government can simply create fiat money out of thin air.  To obtain gold and silver, it usually involves intense labor and the supply tends to be very limited.  So while you can have inflation of gold or silver (an increase in the supply), it is not controlled by politicians.

So as libertarians, we really shouldn’t advocate a gold standard as it might imply that we think the government should manage it.  For a truly free market, it is the marketplace that should decide on what will be used as money.  Most likely, I would bet my fiat money that the market would choose gold again.

Libertarian Reading List

Below is my libertarian reading list.  I am only mentioning some of my favorite libertarian books.  There are now thousands of libertarian books to choose from.  I am just listing some of my favorites that have had an influence on me in the past.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
This is my favorite fiction book and maybe my favorite overall.  I am not a big fan of Rand’s writing style.  I don’t completely agree with her philosophy.  I don’t think the book is that realistic and I think it gives a little too much credit to businessmen.  With all of that said, it really is a must-read for any libertarian. It will take you a while, but it really is a great journey.

Fail Safe Investing by Harry Browne
For anyone who follows this blog should know, I am a big advocate of putting some of your money in a permanent portfolio as outlined in this book.  I’m not sure if the book is libertarian, but it is written by a great libertarian.

Why Government Doesn’t Work by Harry Browne
It’s Harry Browne.  Enough said.

The Great Libertarian Offer by Harry Browne
This book is more important than ever.  As libertarians, we need to offer radical solutions to today’s problems.  We need to make Americans an offer they can’t refuse.  Would you be willing to give up your favorite federal programs if you never had to pay income taxes again?

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne
This is a self-help book that may be a great benefit to some people who feel trapped in their life.

How You Can Profit From the Coming Devaluation by Harry Browne
The fist 70 pages of this book was published again under the title of “99% of All You Need to Know about Money“.  If everyone read and understood this book, then we wouldn’t have the monetary problems that we have today.  It is very basic and very informative.  Don’t worry that this book was written so long ago.  Just add a few zeros to the numbers and it’s like it was written today.

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
A good primer on economic thinking.

The Law by Frederic Bastiat
Although this book was written over 160 years ago, it is a good short book on economics and liberty.

The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo
It is important for all libertarians to be educated in the War Between the States (more commonly known as the Civil War).

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy by Richard Maybury
This is a great basic book on economics.  Although it is appropriate for high school students, most adults would benefit tremendously from reading it.

Meltdown by Thomas Woods
This is a good explanation of why the economy crashed in 2008.

Rollback by Thomas Woods
I will admit that I haven’t read this yet.  However, Tom Woods is great.  I have read excerpts and all of the libertarian reviews I have read have been complimentary to say the least.  I don’t think you can go wrong with Tom Woods.

End the Fed by Ron Paul
I can’t complete a libertarian book list without including Ron Paul.

This list is by no means complete.  It is just a few of my favorites that I thought I would pass along.  Overall, I would recommend most everything by Harry Browne, Richard Maybury, Tom Woods, Robert Murphy (who I didn’t mention above), and Ron Paul.

The Economy Under President Ron Paul

Ron Paul’s chances of becoming president are not great.  He could beat Obama, but he will have difficulty getting the Republican nomination because of the pro-war mentality of a majority of Republicans.  However, Paul’s chances are a lot better than they were the last two times he ran for president.

I was having a discussion with a libertarian friend of mine the other day.  He is fairly radical, like I am.  Our topic of discussion was the economy and a Ron Paul presidency.  Hypothetically speaking, if Ron Paul were elected president and served for 4 years, what would happen?

My friend is afraid that the Republican establishment would immediately surround him and try to influence his cabinet picks and his policy.  I have no doubt they would try, but that is one of the reasons that I support Ron Paul and almost never support anyone else.  He has proven himself time and time again to ignore lobbyists and the establishment.  He has kept his principles.  Reagan could not do this.  You can see this by his pick for vice president and his cabinet picks.

If Ron Paul were to get the Republican nomination, it is imperative that he pick a vice presidential candidate who is at least as radical as he is.  If the CIA knocked Kennedy off, then I cannot imagine they would be happy about a true anti-establishment candidate.

My first thoughts were, that we might not actually want Ron Paul elected.  Perhaps it would be better if he came really close, but lost.  This way, when the depression hits, he would not get blamed for it.

But I was talking and thinking through this with my friend.  If we have a President Paul, it would mean that public opinion had changed significantly.  It means that the economic depression was probably already in full force.  It means that, for those who supported him, they would be forgiving of an economic depression because they would realize that he didn’t cause it.

Ronald Reagan took office in 1981.  The country went through deep recessions in his first couple of years in office.  Then the economy started to recover.  Reagan won re-election by a landslide.  The situation we are in now is a lot worse than when Reagan took office.  Price inflation is not as bad yet, but the level of malinvestment is probably worse and the debt and so-called obligations are much worse.  Regardless of what the government does, there will have to be a severe correction to flush out all of the previous malinvestment.

In my discussion with my libertarian friend, he pointed out that the economy could recover in 6 months if dramatic changes were made.  He is usually a pessimist.  I am not sure I agree with 6 months.  It could be longer because of the huge debt and the huge misallocation of resources that has already taken place because of the government and Fed policy.

So let’s say that Ron Paul becomes president.  If he governs like Reagan, then the economy will continue to struggle.  But what happens if a President Paul makes significant changes?  Some things he can do just because he is president.  He can stop the wars.  He can pardon all non-violent drug offenders convicted in federal courts.  Essentially, he could end the federal war on drugs, at least while he’s president.

The president is not a dictator, even though the last several presidents have acted like it at times.  A President Paul could not simply eliminate all unnecessary spending.  Congress could override his vetoes. But if Paul were elected president, we have to believe that there had been a major shift in popular opinion.  He would have a mandate to cut government.  He could use his platform to influence Americans, who would in turn influence their congressman and senators.

If a President Paul could make significant cuts, the economy really would recover fairly quickly, even with all of the debt and malinvestment.  Let’s say that he ended all of the wars and ended all foreign aid.  Let’s say he ends several departments that are unconstitutional.  Let’s say he can get rid of the departments of education, labor, energy, housing, and agriculture.  Let’s say that he can balance the budget and still reduce taxes.

The economy is starving.  The economy needs savings and investment.  This is how an economy grows.  The government is sucking up resources with its huge spending and borrowing.  Since the fall of 2008, Americans have saved more and paid down debt.  Unfortunately, the federal government has done the opposite, which has negated the benefits of what a lot of Americans have done.  The government is using resources that should be used as savings and investment to increase our future standard of living.

If a President Paul, or any other president, were able to get spending way down, the economy would recover.  If the budget were cut from $4 trillion to $2 trillion, this extra $2 trillion a year would be used to increase capital investment.  It would lead to an increase in our standard of living.

I like to use the example of Germany and Japan after World War II.  These countries were devastated by the war.  After the war, the two countries adopted relatively free market policies.  Miraculously, because the governments did not interfere with their economies, the two countries saw tremendous growth and eventually became two of the richest countries on earth.

This whole discussion is not a prediction of any kind.  I am simply pointing out that, given a dramatic decrease in the size and scope of government, the economy could recover quite quickly and we could once again see a strong rise in our standard of living.

The End of QE2

Here is a chart of the adjusted monetary base:

Here is a chart of the monetary base with a longer time frame.  It shows the picture even clearer:

With the ending of QE2, we should expect the monetary base to stabilize.  There will still be mild fluctuations.  As of right now, there has been no announcement for QE3, even though some analysts are calling for it.

Bernanke really is in a box.  What will he do when the economy visibly turns down again?  Why will QE3 accomplish what QE2 didn’t?  What happens if price inflation goes higher while the economy continues to struggle and unemployment stays high?

Ron Paul asked him this question one time.  He essentially asked Bernanke what he would do if we have 10% (price) inflation along with bad economic growth.  Bernanke responded that that scenario would be unlikely.  Of course, Bernanke has been wrong with just about everything else, so why stop being wrong?

The federal government and the Federal Reserve continue to make things worse.  They not only do not do the right things, but they do the opposite.  The policies coming out of DC will continue to make things worse.  The only way we will see a robust recovery is if the government dramatically cuts spending and the Fed stops buying huge amounts of government debt.  The two go hand in hand.  We need private investment and savings, not more government spending and money creation.