It’s Time to Create a Grown-Up Economy
Liberal economist Dean Baker writes:
Just as little kids have to come to grips with the fact that there is no Santa Claus, it is necessary for millions of liberals, including many who think of themselves as highly knowledgeable about economic matters, to realize that President Clinton’s policies sent the economy seriously off course.
The Clinton economy was driven by a stock bubble. This is not a debatable point. The ratio of market-wide stock prices to corporate earnings was well over 30 to 1 at the peak of the bubble in 2000. This is more than twice the historic average.
Since any good huckster could make millions selling shares in dot.whatever, we had many hucksters starting nutball businesses that never had a prayer of making a profit. This is not much of a long-run economic strategy, but in the short-term it led to an increase in investment.
This was the economy that President Clinton handed to President Bush in January of 2001. It was an economy that was being carried by an unsustainable bubble that, in fact, already was in the process of deflating at the time Bush took office.
Rubin and his allies control the Democratic Party with their money at the moment. Their financial power will not be easily overcome. However, it is important that people understand that the Rubin-Clinton team is every bit as much about redistributing money from the rest of us to the very rich as the Republicans.
Even Clinton has since slammed Rubin.
This isn’t a partisan issue: Bush was at least as bad, and Obama is a train wreck as well.
Indeed, the “central banks’ central bank” shredded the Federal Reserve and other central banks for blowing bubbles and then using “gimmicks and palliatives” to try to hide the damage.
Quantitative easing – the ultimate “free money” printing press scheme – helps the super-elite, and hurts the real economy and the little guy.
Unchecked fraud and excessive leverage both blow bubbles which lead to economic disaster … but the government is still encouraging both. The government is also encouraging the use of phony accounting by the banks so they can pretend that they’ve got money.
Out-of-control derivatives helped cause the 2008 crash, and yet the government is encouraging and backstopping derivatives gambling … and the size of the derivatives market now dwarfs the real economy (and any real collateral).
But the problem is even bigger than that.
We pointed out in 2010:
[Highly-regarded economist Michael] Hudson noted in 2004:
Mesopotamian economic thought c. 2000 BC rested on a more realistic mathematical foundation than does today’s orthodoxy. At least the Babylonians appear to have recognized that over time the debt overhead became more and more intrusive as it tended to exceed the ability to pay, culminating in a concentration of property ownership in the hands of creditors.
Babylonians recognized that while debts grew exponentially, the rest of the economy (what today is called the “real” economy) grows less rapidly. Today’s economists have not come to terms with this problem with such clarity. Instead of a conceptual view that calls for a strong ruler or state to maintain equity and to restore economic balance when it is disturbed, today’s general equilibrium models reflect the play of supply and demand in debt-free economies that do not tend to polarize or to generate other structural problems.
And Hudson wrote last year:
Every economist who has looked at the mathematics of compound interest has pointed out that in the end, debts cannot be paid. Every rate of interest can be viewed in terms of the time that it takes for a debt to double. At 5%, a debt doubles in 14½ years; at 7 percent, in 10 years; at 10 percent, in 7 years. As early as 2000 BC in Babylonia, scribal accountants were trained to calculate how loans principal doubled in five years at the then-current equivalent of 20% annually (1/60th per month for 60 months). “How long does it take a debt to multiply 64 times?” a student exercise asked. The answer is, 30 years – 6 doubling times.
No economy ever has been able to keep on doubling on a steady basis. Debts grow by purely mathematical principles, but “real” economies taper off in S-curves. This too was known in Babylonia, whose economic models calculated the growth of herds, which normally taper off. A major reason why national economic growth slows in today’s economies is that more and more income must be paid to carry the debt burden that mounts up. By leaving less revenue available for direct investment in capital formation and to fuel rising living standards, interest payments end up plunging economies into recession. For the past century or so, it usually has taken 18 years for the typical real estate cycle to run its course.
And as I have previously pointed out, our modern fractional reserve banking system is really a debt-creation system, which is guaranteed to create more and more debts. As then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve (Mariner S. Eccles) told the House Committee on Banking and Currency on September 30, 1941:
That is what our money system is. If there were no debts in our money system, there wouldn’t be any money.
The modern banking system is therefore really a debt-creation system. See this for details.
One thing is for sure. The exponential growth of debt is a structural problem which – unless directly addressed – will swallow all economies which try to ignore it.
No wonder Bill Gross, Nouriel Roubini, Laurence Kotlikoff, Steve Keen, Michel Chossudovsky, the Wall Street Journal and many others say that our entire economy is a Ponzi scheme.
In fact – as we’ve noted for 4 years (and here and here) – the banking system is entirely insolvent. And so are most countries. The whole notion of one country bailing out another country is a farce at this point. The whole system is insolvent.
As we noted in June:
Nobel economist Joe Stiglitz pointed out the Ponzi scheme nature of the whole bailout discussion:
Europe’s plan to lend money to Spain to heal some of its banks may not work because the government and the country’s lenders will in effect be propping each other up, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said.
“The system … is the Spanish government bails out Spanish banks, and Spanish banks bail out the Spanish government,” Stiglitz said in an interview.
“It’s voodoo economics,” Stiglitz said in an interview on Friday, before the weekend deal to help Spain and its banks was sealed. “It is not going to work and it’s not working.”
[The same is true of every other nation.]
Credit Suisse’s William Porter writes:
“Portugal cannot rescue Greece, Spain cannot rescue Portugal, Italy cannot rescue Spain (as is surely about to become all too abundantly clear), France cannot rescue Italy, but Germany can rescue France.” Or, the credit of the EFSF/ESM, if called upon to provide funds in large size, either calls upon the credit of Germany, or fails; i.e, it seems to us that it probably cannot fund to the extent needed to save the credit of one (and probably imminently two) countries that had hitherto been considered “too big so save” without joint and several guarantees.***
As Nouriel Roubini wrote in February:
[For] problems of that magnitude, there simply are not enough resources—governmental or super-sovereign—to go around.
As Roubini wrote in February:
“We have decided to socialize the private losses of the banking system.
Roubini believes that further attempts at intervention have only increased the magnitude of the problems with sovereign debt. He says, “Now you have a bunch of super sovereigns— the IMF, the EU, the eurozone—bailing out these sovereigns.”
Essentially, the super-sovereigns underwrite sovereign debt—increasing the scale and concentrating the problems.
Roubini characterizes super-sovereign intervention as merely kicking the can down the road.
But, despite the paper shuffling of debt at the national level—and at the level of supranational entities—reality ultimately intervenes: “So at some point you need restructuring. At some point you need the creditors of the banks to take a hit —otherwise you put all this debt on the balance sheet of government. And then you break the back of government—and then government is insolvent.”
While those who believe in Santa think we should ignore fraud, sober adults say we have to throw white collar criminals in jail.
While the naive belief that banks only loan out money they’ve taken in through deposits is cute, it is time to adopt a grown-up view of money.
There’s no Santa Claus … and there is no such thing as “free money”. It’s time to create a grown up economy.