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Refuting “Economic Suicide”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Refuting “Economic Suicide”

Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. These are the words of Milton Friedman in A Monetary History of the United States. The meaning of those words is that no matter what, inflation is a function of the amount of money available. Inflation occurs when more money is introduced into the supply. When this happens, the real value of the money goes down. This is the reality. The face value perception is that things begin to “cost more.” Physical things actually still hold their same value, it is the money, due to inflation, that has lost its value, meaning that it takes more of that money to buy the same thing. Nowhere was the phenomenon of inflation, and indeed hyperinflation, more evident than in the Weimar Republic, where we find the famous historical incident of it costing a wheelbarrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread.

I bring up a brief discussion on the nature of inflation in response to possibly one of the most foolish articles I have seen lately. At Seeking Alpha, Henry Bee writes that Auditing the Fed is Economic Suicide. In an incredible feat of intellectual gymnastics, Bee lays down the accusation that somehow the public knowing what is happening with the money supply will be the end of the free market:

The free market understands that auditing the fed is a very dangerous line to cross. If crossed, U.S. inflation will likely skyrocket over the next decade to unseen levels. U.S. economy tanks. Bond investors lose money as interest rates rise. Stock investors earn negative real return as equity risk premium rises and aggregate PE ratio tank. The US Dollar erodes due to higher domestic inflation relative to foreign inflation. Gold and commodity prices rise.

Perhaps we can forgive Mr. Bee for being Canadian, and therefore not understanding the history of the Federal Reserve and monetary policy in the United States. Or perhaps we can direct him to the aforementioned Milton Friedman, or maybe Murray Rothbard, or F.A. Hayek, for some simple education on monetary policy. Remember, “gold and commodity prices rise” only in terms of the value of the money itself. They are physical, tangible things. They always retain the same value, and it is the value of the money itself that changes due to inflation. After beginning with the Vault, Bee continues and moves on to the Balance Beam:

How Does Auditing the Fed Cause Inflation?

Inflation is caused by a central bank that loses control of its money supply. There are two ways that a politically compromised central bank can lose control of its money supply.

I’ll interrupt Mr. Bee while he’s still doing some of his simple posing, and before he really gets going with the tumbling. Inflation is caused by a central bank that loses control of its money supply? I think not. Remember, inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. Inflation is caused by the introduction of more money into the supply. Who introduces more money into the supply? The central bank. The Federal Reserve is our central bank. Incidentally, Mr. Bee might be interested to know that since its inception, the Federal Reserve has practiced nothing but inflationary monetary policy and, in about 100 years, has managed thereby to devalue the dollar by approximately 97%. It would seem then, that the Federal Reserve itself has been the cause of inflation all along. But I will allow Mr. Bee to continue:

Road to Inflation #1: Repeating the Political Cycle

When the central bank is not independent, politicians have historically pumped up the money supply (for temporary economic boost) shortly before an election to buy votes with a lower unemployment rate. After the election, the effects wear off, returning the economy to its natural rate of unemployment but at a higher inflation rate than before. Because it is hard to fight off inflation quickly, by the time the next election rolls around the economy has not been squeezed back to its original inflation rate. Politicians pump up the money supply again, this time from a higher base inflation. As this cycle repeats itself, the central bank loses control of the money supply.

Bee makes a good point here in defending the separation of church bank and state. However, akin to a balance beam backflip, Bee here asserts that an audit of Federal Reserve will allow politicians direct control of the money supply. Since the discussion surrounding HR 1207 has been one of simply getting a look at the books, Bee’s arguments, while valid conceptually, are unfounded in reality. Indeed, both Barney Frank and Ron Paul have agreed with Bee’s own argument, and intend to be disciplined in making the audit one that trails real time by enough that exactly what Bee purports to be the danger will not happen.

That said, I would like to ask Mr. Bee a simple question. What makes you suppose, Mr. Bee, that the Federal Reserve is not already unduly influenced by politicians? As I have explained in the past, the Fed is largely a conglomeration of private banking institutions, overseen by a Board of Governors, headed by the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, currently Ben Bernanke. The Board of Governors is a seven-member panel appointed by the President of the United States. This means, Mr. Bee, that seven people who, through their appointment, answer to the President, and the President alone, control all that is our monetary policy, all that is our money supply, and therefore all that is our inflation. If Ben Bernanke and six others answer only to the President, how exactly is the Federal Reserve not influenced by politics in the manner you suggest already?

Bee goes on to discuss a second road to inflation:

Road to Inflation #2: Financing Government Spending

A central bank that lacks independence from politicians makes it tempting for the government to finance an inappropriately large portion of its spending through printing money. A central bank that promises to finance too much government spending also loses control of the money supply.

Now honestly, there is only just so much we can forgive of Mr. Bee for his being Canadian. This really represents a complete lack of attention to current events. Inside of a four month period, the Federal Reserve just financed a $700 billion bailout of the US Financial industry through TARP, an effort, mind you, that resulted in all that money going to the noble purpose of, well, nobody really knows, followed by the $800 billion stimulus package. Based on Barney Frank’s admission in the video found in this post, Ben Bernanke indicated to him when the bailouts began with AIG, that he had $800 billion to play with. Well that covered TARP. The only logical inference then is that the Fed printed the rest to finance the stimulus. Our central bank is already following this road, Mr. Bee. The only question is, how much have they inflated the money supply?

Well the answer from the Fed has been, to this point, simple. Silence.

When seven men who answer to one man control the entire money supply, and hold no accountability, they can do as they please. Adding a check to this highly centralized power by making their actions transparent to the public cannot be a bad thing.

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