Category Archives: Jerome Powell

Memo to The Donald: Cut Tariffs NOT Rates

trump tariff

So far, President Trump’s economic response to a potential coronavirus outbreak and a further stock market sell off has been expected – calls for more interest rate cuts and an additional round of monetary stimulus.  For the stock market, economy, and the virus itself, neither measure will have their desired effect and, in fact, may exacerbate things.

Further rate cuts and more money printing will not alleviate the situation since it has been the Federal Reserve’s recent “repo operations” which has pushed the market to its unsustainable highs.  For President Trump’s re-election hopes, the current “correction” better be short lived since he has repeatedly boasted about the stock market and has tied its success with the supposed health of the economy.  He will pay a political price if the market continues to tank and brings the economy down with it.

While President Trump and economic nationalists have bashed China for its trade practices, they are now going to see first hand how dependent the US and the West are on Chinese exports, as supply chains are disrupted over the coronavirus.

A Bloomberg article describes China’s weakest factory activity ever recorded:

The manufacturing purchasing managers’ index plunged to 35.7 in

February form 50 the previous month, according to data received by the

National bureau Statistics on Saturday, much lower than the median

estimate of economists.  Both were well below 50, which denotes

contraction.*

The expected reduction of Chinese goods will mean higher US domestic prices, however, the increase in prices can be offset somewhat not by rate cuts, but by tariff reductions, or, better still, elimination of duties on imports.  Increasing the money supply or cutting interest rates, which is what Trump, the market, and 95% of economists favor, will only mean higher prices for dwindling imports as greater amounts of money will chase fewer goods.

In the President’s comments on the coronavirus and the stock market plunge, he has repeatedly cited other nations’ (Japan, Germany) – lower interest rates as a policy that the Fed should pursue.  Apparently, the President is not aware that recent data out of Japan has shown that the economy shrank at an annualized rate of 6.3% for the fourth quarter of 2019 while the German economy only grew at 0.6% last year.**  Low rates have not helped either economy or anywhere else where they have been foolishly tried.

What President Trump, world policy makers, and central bankers do not understand, whether deliberately or from willful ignorance, is that the artificial suppression of interest rates and money printing does not lead to economic growth. Instead, prosperity can only come about by the arduous process of saving (abstention from consumption), which provides the means for capital formation, which leads to production.  Employment, wage growth, and income are also ultimately tied to savings.  For the creation of wealth, there is no way around this elementary economic principle – one that few profession economists comprehend.

For saving and investment to have their most efficacious impact and for individuals to engage in such sacrificial behavior, a sound monetary order must be in place.  Unfortunately, ever since the US went off the gold standard internationally in 1971, its monetary system has grown increasingly unstable.

If the Trump Administration would eliminate, or at least reduce significantly, tariffs, it would more than likely induce China to do the same.  The benefits of lower import prices for the millions of out of work Chinese due to the coronavirus shut downs would be a tremendous help and would also boost America’s export industries.  Such action would show to those who elected him that Donald Trump was not a typical politician, but one who thought outside the box.

While it did not cause the Great Depression, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 contributed to its severity.  If the recent sell-off is indeed the beginning of the long anticipated bust, following a supposed decade long expansion, then policy makers should do all in their power to alleviate the coming suffering.  The reduction of tariffs not only on Chinese goods, but those the world over would be a step in the right direction.

Let us hope that someone will convince Donald Trump that tariff reduction and not rate cuts will help Americans better deal with the troublesome and potentially economic and socially devastating coronavirus.

*China Posts Weakest Factory Activity on Record,” Bloomberg News, 29 February 2020.  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-29/china-feb-manufacturing-pmi-at-35-7-est-45-0

**Megumi Fujikawa, “Japan’s Economy Shrinks Faster Than Expected.”  Market Watch.  16 February 2020.  https://www.marketwatch.com/story/japans-economy-shrinks-faster-than-expected-2020-02-16;  “German Economy Stagnates as Eurozone Growth Hits Seven-Year-Low,”  The Guardian,  14 February 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/business/live/2020/feb/14/german-economy-stagnates-growth-eurozone-gdp-business-live

Antonius Aquinas@AntoniusAquinas

https://antoniusaquinas.com

The Fed’s “Inflation Target” is Impoverishing American Workers

Powell   Fed Chair Jerome Powell apparently doesn’t see the pernicious effects of inflation

At one time, the Federal Reserve’s sole mandate was to maintain stable prices and to “fight inflation.”  To the Fed, the financial press, and most everyone else “inflation” means rising prices instead of its original and true definition as an increase in the money supply.  Rising prices are a consequence – a very painful consequence – of money printing.

Naturally, the Fed and all other central bankers prefer the definition of inflation as a rise in prices which insidiously hides the fact that they, being the issuers of currency, are the real culprit for increased prices.

Be that as it may, the common understanding of inflation as rising prices has always been seen as pernicious and destructive to an economy and living standards.  In the perverted world of modern economics, however, the idea of inflation as an intrinsic evil has been turned on its head and monetary authorities the world over now have “inflation targets” which they hope to attain.

America’s central bank is right in line with this lunacy, as it has been reported that at the Fed’s “May minutes” it wants “a temporary period of inflation modestly above 2 percent [which] would be consistent with the Committee’s symmetric inflation objective.”* Translated into understandable verbiage, the Fed wants everyone to pay at least 2% higher prices for the goods they buy.

Yes, by some crazed thinking US monetary officials believe that consumers paying higher prices is somehow good for economic activity and standards of living!  Of course, anyone with a modicum of sense can see that this is absurd and that those who espouse such policy should be laughed at and summarily locked up in an asylum!  Yet, this is now standard policy, not just with the Fed, but with the ECU and other central banks.

The baneful consequence of this economic quackery is being felt by American workers as admitted by the Labor Department.  Instead of spurring expansion, inflation is eating into and depressing wages:

For workers in ‘production and

nonsupervisory” positions, the value

of the average paycheck has actually

declined in the past year.  For those

workers, average ‘real wages’ – a

measure of pay that takes inflation

into account fell – from $22.62 in

May 2017 to $22.59 in May of 2018.*

While the decline in nominal wages is not significant, the manner in which the government now calculates inflation has been skewed to understate its impact.  Under the previous calculation, the current US inflation rate is probably closer to 5%.

Wage stagnation is not new.  Average real wages peaked more than 40 years ago and have fallen in real terms ever since.  Not surprisingly, the drop in wages in real terms began soon after the US went off the last vestiges of the gold standard in 1971.

As sound theory has long ago demonstrated, the idea of economic growth through money printing is absurd.  Increases in living standards and real wages can only come about through savings, investment, and capital accumulation.  Workers who have superior tools and equipment are obviously more productive than those that do not. Yet, capital goods have to be produced and production takes place over time.  Savings allow for the production process.

The level of wages are also closely linked to savings.  The greater savings an economy has enables entrepreneurs to bid for workers and increase wage rates.  This is how wages rise – competition for labor among businessmen pushes up wage rates.  The more savings entrepreneurs have, the higher they can bid for employees.

How and why wage rates rise and how employment is created had been understood by economists of yesteryear.  Today, however, the profession is dominated by “inflationists” and monetary cranks who believe that nearly every economic problem can be solved by the printing press.  Anyone who holds such ideas cannot be taken seriously.

While the Federal Reserve may think an inflation target will create prosperity, the reality for real wages is quite the opposite.  The laws of economic science have not been repealed.  An inflation target will lead to the impoverishment of not just workers, but lower living standards for all.

inflation target.jpg

*Jeff Stein and Andrew van Dam, “For the Biggest Group of American Workers, Wages Aren’t Just Flat.  They’re Falling.”  The Washington Post.  16 June 2018 A10.

Antonius Aquinas@AntoniusAquinas

https://antoniusaquinas.com