Throwing Good Money After Bad

If you were hoping the economy was due for a turnaround soon, prepare to batten down the hatches instead. The money supply is shrinking at a rate not seen since the Great Depression — and the White House seems intent on repeating history:

The M3 figures – which include broad range of bank accounts and are tracked by British and European monetarists for warning signals about the direction of the US economy a year or so in advance – began shrinking last summer. The pace has since quickened….

It’s frightening,” said Professor Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research. “The plunge in M3 has no precedent since the Great Depression. The dominant reason for this is that regulators across the world are pressing banks to raise capital asset ratios and to shrink their risk assets. This is why the US is not recovering properly,” he said.

The US authorities have an entirely different explanation for the failure of stimulus measures to gain full traction. They are opting instead for yet further doses of Keynesian spending, despite warnings from the IMF that the gross public debt of the US will reach 97pc of GDP next year and 110pc by 2015.

Having spent almost $1 trillion to no effect, Larry Summers has apparently convinced President Obama that another $200 billion will “keep growth on track.”

Last year, Democrats ignored those who criticized the “stimulus” bill for not actually being designed to stimulate the economy and foisted a massive boondoggle on us that seemed intended more to ensure Democratic Party dominance of electoral politics than to address our economic woes. Now they appear more concerned about the short-term political consequences of a double-dip than the long-term catastrophe that will come from repeating the same mistakes. They’ve already announced they intend to run against George Bush again. Presumably they believe they can keep blaming everything on him. But the sell-by date for that excuse has long since passed; they took a serious mess and turned it into a genuine fiasco.

“Fiscal policy does not work. The US has just tried the biggest fiscal experiment in history and it has failed. What matters is the quantity of money and in extremis that can be increased easily by quantititave easing. If the Fed doesn’t act, a double-dip recession is a virtual certainty,” he said.

Mr Congdon said the dominant voices in US policy-making – Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz, as well as Mr Summers and Fed chair Ben Bernanke – are all Keynesians of different stripes who “despise traditional monetary theory and have a religious aversion to any mention of the quantity of money”. The great opus by Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz – The Monetary History of the United States – has been left to gather dust.

Mr Bernanke no longer pays attention to the M3 data. The bank stopped publishing the data five years ago, deeming it too erratic to be of much use. This may have been a serious error since double-digit growth of M3 during the US housing bubble gave clear warnings that the boom was out of control. The sudden slowdown in M3 in early to mid-2008 – just as the Fed raised rates – gave a second warning that the economy was about to go into a nosedive.

As Prof. Reynolds is so fond of saying, “The country’s in the best of hands.”

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, Economics and Business, US Politics
Dodd Harris
About Dodd Harris
Dodd, who used to run a blog named ipse dixit, is an attorney, a veteran of the United States Navy, and a fairly good poker player. He contributed over 650 pieces to OTB between May 2007 and September 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Amuk3.

Comments

  1. AllenS says:

    They will never stop blaming Bush. The MSM agrees with the Democrats, it’s all Bush’s fault.

  2. Pete says:

    When an administration is made up of predominantly academics, lawyers and community activists, why would one expect it to make good business decisions?

  3. Andy says:

    Dodd,

    “Having spent almost $1 trillion to no effect”

    Didn’t the CBO report just a few days ago that around 2 million jobs have been created because of the stimulus? Claiming “no effect” requires assuming a very, very tenuous counterfactual. The economy might not be as good as you’d like it to be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an improvement over what it would have been otherwise.

    In fact, the way that some people wail and gnash their teeth over the allegedly growth-killing effects of a very modest tax hike on the very richest, it’s hard to see how dumping a trillion dollars into the economy *couldn’t* have at least some effect. A trillion dollars of demand is a trillion dollars of demand since there’s hardly any crowding out in a shaky economy.

    “But the sell-by date for that excuse has long since passed”

    Oh really? Based on what? I wonder what authority has decreed that sixteen months is the maximum allowable time to turn around a financial crisis before the caretakers must be incompetent. Paul Krugman made a case recently that, given the gravity of the situation in late 2008, recovery is actually ahead of schedule.

    There’s a very self-serving meme in conservative circles that Obama has/had x months to get y growth before the economy is “his fault”, where x is usually one month from now (or some time ago) and y is about double what it’s been recently. x and y, of course, are based on nothing but the fevered imagination of the commentators.

    The truth of the matter is that Obama inherited some very exceptional circumstances and there’s no evidence that he’s been anything other than responsible in addressing them. In fact we appear to be in recovery right now, and the government is borrowing money as cheaply (that is, with as much confidence from the markets) as ever. I say kudos.

  4. john personna says:

    They will never stop blaming Bush.

    He served us very poorly, going into debt to produce a very weak jobless recovery. His (Greenspan’s) 0% policy was like running the economy on coke and tequila for ten years and then when it crashed as a wreck … blame Dr. Drew (I mean Obama) for not getting it on its feet right away.

    Americas debt problem (public and private) was 30 years in the making, but the last 10 years of denial made it so, so, much worse. Not just denial. The last 10 years doubled-down.

    Now we are really arguing about what to do with the wreck of a patient., and I think you are missing that we could be in an actual deflationary environment. You’ve got a weird idea that a double dip is only a political risk? Really?

    You don’t think there is a chance of a Japan-style deflationary cycle, not with an M3 crash like that?

  5. john personna says:

    Shorter Dodd: “I don’t understand this economy, so it’s easy to think that any actions are the empty politics of my enemies.”

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    I wouldn’t say that nothing was accomplished with the stimulus package. I’m pretty confident that when you spend as much money as we’ve spent so far it will have some economic effect.

    The better questions are did we spend the money in the best way and, given what we now know based on the experience with the last stimulus package, are we likely to improve on that, and is the cost worth the benefit?

  7. john personna says:

    The better questions are did we spend the money in the best way and, given what we now know based on the experience with the last stimulus package, are we likely to improve on that, and is the cost worth the benefit?

    A) Of course our congress didn’t choose “the best way”. When did they ever?

    B) As has become my meme recently, do people really understand that the two options are either effective stimulus, or acceptance and austerity?

    I actually worry that austerity may be in our future, but it’s a bit frustrating that the Dodds of the world (if I may use him as my straw man for a moment) can criticize the pain of the stimulus path without naming or recognizing the pain of the alternative.

  8. Alex Knapp says:

    Dodd,

    Two things:

    1) If the money supply is shrinking at a harmful rate, the solution is inflation, no?

    2) The single biggest “expenditure” in the stimulus package was tax cuts. If the stimulus is a “failure”, doesn’t that mean the theory of tax cuts as economic stimulus is also a failure?

  9. john personna says:

    (The picture shows how much we’ve changed. First, our bread-lines now come by mail, with food stamps. Second, we don’t wear straw boaters as much as we should.)

  10. Dodd says:

    I apologize for the confusion I unwittingly caused. I subconsciously presumed that if I said “to no effect” immediately after quoting the article on the IMF’s warning about stimulus that it would be apparent it was a rhetorical flourish not intended to be taken literally.

    Presidents get way too much credit and blame for the economy, as I’ve always said. Nevertheless, I distinctly recall Bush being blamed for a recession that began six weeks after he took office. Moreover, a year earlier when the market tanked (and before he had even secured the GOP nomination to run for President), he was blamed for “talking down the economy.”

    Compared to that, when one spends almost a trillion dollars on the promise that it will prevent a disaster — and over the objections of people who say the bill wouldn’t do what it was purportedly intended to do because it spent that money too slowly and for political rather than economic reasons — one takes ownership of the resulting meltdown.

    “There’s no evidence that he’s been anything other than responsible in addressing them”? This crew took a bad recession and is on the brink of turning it into a depression. And rather than admit their critics were right and change course, they want to double down. Last year when we said the stimulus was a bad bill and wouldn’t work, we were accused of wanting to spend money rebuilding Iraq but not America, as if that bill or no bill were the only options. Now, apparently, when we say “I told you so, let’s try something different,” we’re just told we don’t know anything about the economy.

  11. john personna says:

    As far as I’m concerned, Dodd just dug deeper.

    So, what did Bush do in his 8 years to fix the economy? Do you think record post-war debt and anemic economy were the best set-up for a crash arguably caused by his FED and leading to our ZIRP?

    Note the date on that ZIRP article: “since December 16, 2008, the United States.”

  12. Dodd says:

    Alex

    According to the WSJ, tax cuts totaled $288.5 billion out of $787.2 billion (initially projected) “expended.” So, yes, that collection of provisions does come out to be the biggest line item if one bundles them all together. But the fact that the economy didn’t respond to $288 billion in tax cuts amidst the orgy of political pump priming the other 2/3 of the package represents hardly overcomes decades of success for supply side tax cuts.

  13. john personna says:

    BTW, the converse of “Presidents get way too much credit and blame for the economy” is not “Presidents get a free pass on destructive policies.”

  14. john personna says:

    Heck, let’s quote that ZIRP article for folks new to the concept:

    Under ZIRP, the central bank maintains a 0% nominal interest rate. The ZIRP is an important milestone in monetary policy because the central bank is no longer able to reduce nominal interest rates. Many economists believe that monetary policy becomes ineffective under ZIRP, because the central bank has no more tools left to stimulate borrowing. ZIRP is very closely related to the problem of a liquidity trap, where nominal interest rates cannot adjust downward at a time when the loanable funds market has not cleared.

    Some economists argue that, when monetary policy hits the lower bound of the ZIRP, governments must use fiscal policy. The fiscal multiplier of government spending is expected to be larger when nominal interest rates are zero than they would be when nominal interest rates are above zero. Keynesian economics hold that the multiplier is above one, meaning government spending effectively boosts output. In his paper on this topic, Michael Woodford finds that, in a ZIRP situation, the optimal policy for government is to spend enough in stimulus to cover the entire output gap.[1]

    Get that? We passed the “lower bound of the ZIRP” under Bush and before Obama’s inauguration.

  15. Dodd says:

    No, but it does look a lot like “spend a trillion dollars even though you’ve been warned it won’t work and you get to own the results.” Which is what I actually said.

  16. john personna says:

    Not sure what your detached “no” means there Dodd, but note the quoted text:

    “Some economists argue that, when monetary policy hits the lower bound of the ZIRP, governments must use fiscal policy.”

    Look up “fiscal policy.

    (There are reasonable arguments about the risk/rewards in fiscal policy, but to pretend it is not a mainstream economic strategy … not so much.)

  17. john personna says:

    What really gets me about weak-willed deficit hawks is that they won’t admit that the alternative to fiscal policy (spending) was to accept the contraction. You don’t see them saying “we just have to accept this recession, adopt austerity programs, and wait for long term recovery. if that means a loss of standard of living, people falling out of the middle class, so be it.”

    What they do instead is a gutless argument, it’s “Obama shouldn’t spend, and we can ignore or pretend about the alternative.

  18. tfr says:

    B) As has become my meme recently, do people really understand that the two options are either effective stimulus, or acceptance and austerity?

    You left some stuff out:
    Do people really understand that the two options are either effective stimulus, artificially propping up our standard of living with borrowed and/or printed money, followed by eventual collapse of the world economy, or acceptance and austerity now?
    It sounds good as long as you don’t think too far ahead.

  19. john personna says:

    I said, tfr, that “I actually worry that austerity may be in our future, …”

    That’s the thing. I try to listen to the deficit hawks and doves. The doves, spenders, plan is only good if it works.

    Stepping back a bit, did you notice that Summers is “only” asking for “$200bn to keep growth on track”

    In the big picture, that might be more hawk than dove. It sure ain’t a Krugman style “need another trillion.”

  20. john personna says:

    BTW, do you notice that I’m actually the only one floating the idea of austerity in the US around here?

  21. Andy says:

    According to the CBO (as I pointed out earlier) the results- to the tune of 2 million jobs, give or take a few- are such that Obama would likely jump to own them. Again, taking the current state of the economy as some sort of rebuke of Keynesian stimulus requires making a leap into very far-fetched counterfactuals. Even the article you cite blames new capital requirements for the upcoming slowdown, not some sort of blowback from the stimulus package.

  22. Dodd says:

    do people really understand that the two options are either effective stimulus, or acceptance and austerity

    To repeat: “Last year when we said the stimulus was a bad bill and wouldn’t work, we were accused of wanting to spend money rebuilding Iraq but not America, as if that bill or no bill were the only options.”

    Even assuming, arguendo, that such a thing would work, there’s no reason to believe this crew can or will implement “effective stimulus.” Perhaps had they listened to the (now proven correct) criticisms and tried to get it right the first time we’d be in a better position. As it stands, we get the worst of both worlds.

  23. john personna says:

    I can repeat too:

    What they do instead is a gutless argument, it’s “Obama shouldn’t spend, and we can ignore or pretend about the alternative.

    Tell you what, if you want to be real, tell me what a Republican President would have done. He was up against the ZIRP, could not lower interest rates further, and could not politically say “suck it”

    What would he have “realistically” done?

  24. john personna says:

    LOL, maybe he would just have “listened to criticisms” and that would have made it all better

  25. Andy says:

    jp,

    Good luck getting concrete ideas. If I recall, quite a few of the “criticisms” in the wake of the crisis involved how this was all Jimmy Carter’s fault because waves of poor urban minorities buying exurban McMansions had ruined our economy. Needless to say, coherent governing strategies are not the forte of the death panel crowd.

  26. Gerry W. says:

    Your normal stimulus is to lower interest rates and to have tax cuts. Both have been done and to the point that they maybe less effective. Like the boy who cried wolf. So I would like an answer also.

  27. steve says:

    LOL, the answer is always tax cuts.. They always bring in more revenue and they never cause deficits. See 1980-2008.

    Steve

  28. Pug says:

    Having spent almost $1 trillion to no effect…

    After reading that I would have thought you were an economist and not an attorney. After all, I thought it was only economists who just assumed away the real world.

  29. Gerry W. says:

    Well, where I live, we had the tax cuts but we lost the jobs. Some progress……