Sunday, December 28, 2008

A QUICK FIX (AND NOT THE TYPE OF "FIX" THAT REPAIRS)

I urge you to read this article by Jim Grant (author of Jim Grant's Interest Rate Observer), from last Saturday's Wall St. Journal Online. It's not the standard "pro-business" bullshit you're used to seeing in the WSJ either. In fact, it's closer to a warning -- a well-reasoned, historically-grounded lesson in the dangers of easy money & debt-creation.

An explanation, you might say, of what sort of dangerous waters we're sailing into, and why the "clear" solutions we've been handed are clearly dangerous. A few excerpts:

Wall Street that day [when the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates nearly to zero] did handsprings. Even government securities prices raced higher, as if, somehow, Treasury bonds were not denominated in the currency with which the Fed had announced its intention to paper the face of the earth. Economic commentators praised the central bank's determination to fight deflation -- that is, to reinstate inflation. All hands, including President-elect Obama, seemed to agree that wholesale money-printing was the answer to the nation's prayers.

One market, only, registered a protest. The Fed's declaration of inflationary intent knocked the dollar for a loop against gold and foreign currencies. In many different languages and from many time zones came the question, "Tell me, again, now that the dollar yields so little, why do we own it?"

* * *

Our troubles, over which we will certainly prevail, stem from a basic contradiction. The dollar is the world's currency, yet the Fed is America's central bank. Mr. Bernanke's remit is to promote low inflation, high employment and solvent finance -- in the 50 states. He wishes the Chinese well, of course, and the French and the Singaporeans and all the rest besides, but they don't pay his salary.

They do, however, buy the U.S. Treasury's bonds, which frames the emerging American dilemma. If the Fed is going to create boatloads of depreciating, non-yielding dollar bills, who will absorb them? Who will finance the Obama administration's looming titanic fiscal deficits? Who will finance America's annual surplus of consumption over production (after 25 more or less continuous years, almost a national trait)? Inflation is a kind of governmentally sanctioned white-collar crime. Every crime needs a dupe. Now that the Fed has announced its plan to deceive, where will it find its victims?

* * *

Knowledge of the precepts of classical central banking prepared no one to understand, much less to anticipate, the Fed's conduct in this credit crackup. The central bank is lending freely, all right, but not at the stipulated "high" interest rate. As a matter of fact, it is starting to lend at a rate below which there is no positive rate. The gold standard was objective. Modern monetary management is subjective (under Alan Greenspan, it was intuitive). The gold standard was rules-based. The 21st century Fed goes with what works -- or seems to work. What it hopes is going to work for the fellow who fell off the stepladder is more debt and more dollars. Just how much of each can be found every Thursday evening on the Fed's own Web site. Open up form H4.1 and prepare to be amazed. Since Labor Day, the Fed's assets have zoomed to $2.31 trillion from $905.7 billion. And what is the significance of this stunning rate of asset growth? Simply this: The Fed pays for its assets with freshly made dollars. It conjures them into existence on a computer; "printing" is a figure of speech.

* * *

[T]he seasons of finance are unpredictable. Prescience is rare enough in the private sector. It is almost unheard of in Washington. The credit troubles took the Fed unawares. So, likely, will the outbreak of the next inflation. Already the stars are aligned for a doozy. Not only the Fed, but also the other leading central banks are frantically ramping up money production.

* * *

The public has been slow to anger in this costliest and scariest of post World War II financial crises. Wall Street and the debt ratings agencies have come in for well-deserved castigation. But pointing fingers rarely find the Federal Reserve, whose low, low interest rates helped to set house prices levitating in the first place. (emphasis added)

As always, I urge you to read the whole article. There are troubles brewing that are more serious than many people wish to acknowledge. Those who take the time to understand what's happening and may happen going forward will thank themselves for their effort some day.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Applesaucer said...

Excellent post. Jim Grant is the best financial writer out there, bar none.

Unfortunately, I think you, he and I are pissing in the wind.

Applesaucer

3:24 PM  
Blogger DED said...

Great article. It looks like Ron Paul will be quite busy during the next session of Congress.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

It looks like Ron Paul will be quite busy during the next session of Congress.

Where he'll be labeled as a quack, a loon, and other such nonsense.

9:26 AM  

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