Two weeks ago, I read an article that presented an almost incomprehensible objection to QE3—the latest round of “monetary stimulation” by the Federal Reserve. Representatives of “emerging economies” (China, Russia and Brazil) complained that QE3 would: 1) impair their ability to export their products (which is undoubtedly true); and 2) cause an unwonted “inflow” of capital (US dollars) into their national economies.
The second complaint seemed surprising. Why would any country object to having more money in their economy?
This peculiar story begins with a speech by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke to a meeting of the International Monetary Fund held in Tokyo, Japan.
• October 14th, Reuters: “Bernanke defends Fed stimulus as China, Brazil raise concerns”:
“Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Sunday said it was far from clear that the U.S. central bank’s highly stimulative monetary policy hurts emerging economies, defending a policy raising concerns in China, Russia and Brazil.”
Insofar as Bernanke claims it’s “far from clear” that QE3 hurts emerging economies, Bernanke implicitly admits that such damage is possible.
The claim that QE3 will be “highly stimulative” is ambiguous. QEs 1 and 2 may have been “highly stimulative” for Wall Street and big banks, but they haven’t done much for Main Street and the middle class. QE3 will probably follow the same pattern of “selective stimulation”.
“In a blunt call for certain emerging economies to allow their currencies to rise [in value], Bernanke also said, ‘The perceived advantages of undervaluation [inflation] and the problem of unwanted capital inflows must be understood as a package—you can’t have one without the other.’”
First, Bernanke was lying when he claimed that inflation and “unwanted capital inflows” are a “package”. In fact, as you’ll read, monetary inflation is caused by the quantity of currency being printed and injected into the economy. But capital flows from one country to another are caused by interest rates.
Bernanke was admitting that QE3 would be inflationary and will cause the fiat dollar to lose value. As our inflatable dollar’s value falls, American-made goods become relatively cheaper and more affordable for foreign countries. Result? American exports increase and the US economy is thereby “stimulated” to generate more businesses, profits, jobs and wages.
But all of this “stimulation” is dependent on foreign countries’ (which also have intrinsically-worthless fiat currencies) consent to allow their currencies to “rise” in value relative to the falling value of the US dollar.
I.e., since virtually all currencies are fiat, their “values” are all relative to each other. Today, $100 fiat dollars might be worth 130 euros, or 4,060 Russian rubles. But there’s no compelling reason why, tomorrow, that same $100 might not be worth 50 euros or 6,113 rubles. The ratios of dollars to euros to rubles to yuan are largely determined by political policy decisions that have little objective foundation.
Therefore, if the US reduces the value of the dollar by 20%, American exports to Russia should increase dramatically—unless Russia also reduces the value of the ruble by 20%. Same thing is true for China and Brazil. If we inflate by 20% and they inflate by 20%, there will be no increase in American exports to those countries. Thus, the ability of the US gov-co to inflate the dollar to “stimulate” US exports is absolutely dependent on the foreign governments’ consent to allow the US to inflate unilaterally.
By unilateral inflation, the US will export more products. But foreign countries will therefore export less products. So, if any of the foreign countries say, “Screw that—we want to keep our market share of foreign exports,” they can simply inflate their own currencies, become every bit as “competitive” as the US, and deny the US any advantage in exports.
“Critics say the Fed’s unorthodox policies weaken the U.S. dollar and boost the currencies of developing countries, hurting their ability to export.”
Unable to offer an objective explanation to the contrary, Bernanke attempted to sweet-talk the foreign governments into allowing the US to unilaterally inflate the fiat dollar by allowing their own currencies to grow in purchasing power (deflate) and thereby become less competitive in world export markets. Bernanke justified this self-sacrifice by foreign countries:
“In his Tokyo speech, Bernanke addressed critics abroad, saying stronger growth in the United States bolsters global prospects as well.”
Bernanke is arguing “trickle-down economics”—a concept first advanced by humorist Will Rogers during the Great Depression and later popularized by Ronald Reagan. The idea is that, first, we let the rich people make a lot more money, and then (cross my heart and hope to die), the rich people will spend their new riches in a way that enriches all the rest of us peons.
Bernanke argues similarly that if the world’s peons would just cooperate by allowing the US economy to become more prosperous by unilaterally inflating the dollar, inevitably some of that newfound US prosperity would then “trickle down” to remainder of the global economy.
Nice theory, but here’s the way “trickle-down” economics really works: If you and I and foreign nations will just agree to allow major American corporations and major American financial institutions to acquire scads more money (commonly known as QE’s 1, 2 & 3), then the newly-enriched super-wealthy will cause some of their newfound wealth to “trickle down” to Congressmen, Senators, and Presidents. Then, the newly-enriched Congressmen, Senators and Presidents will further “stimulate” the economy by passing more laws which allow the super-rich corporations and financial institutions to “legally” extort even more wealth from the peons of the US and peons of the world.
“Trickle-down” economics works exclusively in a closed loop that includes only the super-rich and the super-powerful (politicians). The great unwashed of the world will not get a taste or even a whiff of all the money that’s trickling around. (Think not? Then tell me, how much benefit has the American middle-class received from QE1 and QE2? The super-rich have profited, the Washington politicians have profited. The vast majority of Americans have received nothing but the promise of a bill that’ll come due in the future.)
In any case, I doubt that the “emerging nations” will accede to Bernanke’s sweet-talk. I doubt that they’ll agree to accept their own austerity now so the US can prosper now in return for a promise that someday in the future, US prosperity will “trickle down” into their countries.
More, I can’t imagine that Bernanke was actually dumb enough to suppose that other nations would allow the US to unilaterally inflate the dollar. The fact that he tried to persuade foreign nations to sacrifice themselves so the US could prosper strikes me as evidence that Bernanke’s attempts to hold the US economy together have become desperate. He seems to grasp at straws.
“Restating a theme that he has addressed in the past, the Fed chief also said that if emerging economies stopped intervening and allowed their currencies to rise, this would help insulate their financial systems from external pressure.”
Bernanke encouraged the emerging economies to do as he said, but not as he did. In other words, while the Federal Reserve actively “intervenes” in the value of the US dollar by printing an extra $40 billion every month, Bernanke advises the “emerging economies” to “not intervene” in artificially reducing the value of their own currencies.
Bernanke’s “do as I say” argument seems so childish, so transparent, that I can’t imagine any foreign government accepting it. Thus, again, Bernanke’s speech leaves me to wonder if he’s doing standup comedy, doing drugs, or if he’s just so damn desperate that he’s willing to advance arguments that are patently absurd.
I think he’s desperate.
“The Fed last month announced a new program of open-ended bond purchases [QE3] that will be continued until there is substantial improvement in labor market conditions, barring a sustained and unexpected spike in inflation. To start off, the central bank will buy $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities per month.”
Translation: The Fed will give $40 billion per month to the banks, which, under the “trickle down” theory of economics will allow a significant portion of that $40 billion to “trickle down” to American politicians, who, in turn, will pass more laws to allow the banks to “legally” rob more Americans.
“This policy not only helps strengthen the U.S. economic recovery, but by boosting U.S. spending and growth, it has the effect of helping support the global economy as well,” he said.
Bernanke’s upbeat description presumes that, under the trickle-down theory, the bankers are spending each month’s $40 billion allotment here in the US. But are they?
The answer to that question is implied in comments by Brazil’s minister of finance, Guido Mantega:
“Brazil’s Mantega told the IMF’s 188 member countries in Tokyo on Friday that the US policy was “selfish” and harming emerging markets both by stealing their share of exports and by spurring destabilizing capital flows and currency movements. . . . Brazil, for one, will take whatever measures it deems necessary to avoid the detrimental effects of these spillovers.”
Mr. Mantega’s remark was a little confusing since he complained of “stealing exports” and also of “destabilizing capital flows”.
Nevertheless, IMF chief Christine Lagarde validated and helped clarify Mr. Mantega’s concerns when she said,
“Accommodative monetary policies in many advanced economies are likely to entail large and volatile capital flows to emerging economies. This could … lead to (economic) overheating, asset price bubbles and the buildup of financial imbalances.”
Mantega’s concern was with unwonted capital inflows from the US to Brazil (and other “emerging economies”). But why would a nation object to an inflow of currency?
In the context of Bernanke’s speech (a plea to be allowed to unilaterally inflate the US dollar), it’s easy to see how unilateral inflation would make American products cheaper, more competitive, and thereby “steal exports” from countries like Brazil. But it’s much harder to discern how unilateral dollar inflation would also cause an unwonted “capital flow” into Brazil.
I suspect that the answer to alleged unwonted capital inflow problem may found in the fact that Mr. Mantega did not expressly complain about “unilateral inflation,” but instead complained about “US policy”. US policy includes elements other than QE3 and the inflation rate. US policy also includes elements such as the national debt ceiling, tax rates and interest rates.
According to Trading Economics,
“The benchmark interest rate in the United States was last reported at 0.25 percent. Historically, from 1971 until 2012, the United States Interest Rate averaged 6.2 Percent reaching an all time high of 20.0 Percent in March of 1980 and a record low of 0.3 Percent in January of 2011.”
According to FedPrimeRate.com,
“September 13, 2012: The FOMC has voted to keep the target range for the fed funds rate at 0% – 0.25%. Therefore, the U.S. Prime Rate will remain at 3.25%.”
Thus, if you were a bankster who’d received an extra $40 billion from Uncle Sam, and you invested that windfall in the US, you might be able to gross 6% to 8% a year in interest.
That’s not so bad if the inflation rate is (as claimed by the gov-co) a little less than 2% per year. Then, you lucky banksters might make an after-inflation return of 4% to 6% on your $40 billion. Of course, if the true inflation rate were (as Shadowstats.com calculates) about 5.5% a year, your after-inflation return on your $40 billion might be only 0.5% to 3.5%. Not so good.
But if a bankster did a little comparison shopping before he invested his new $40 billion, he might learn that according to Trading Economics,
“The benchmark interest rate in Brazil was last reported at 7.25 percent.”
The “benchmark interest rate” in Brazil is 7% higher than the 0.25% benchmark interest rate in the US. It follows that a diligent American bankster might make at least 7% more by investing his $40 billion in Brazil than he could investing the same $40 billion in the US.
If our American bankster kept searching, he might find that according to Index Omundi, the “commercial bank lending rate” is defined as “a simple average of annualized interest rates commercial banks charge on new loans, denominated in the national currency, to their most credit-worthy customers.” Quoting the CIA World Factbook, the current “commercial bank lending rate” in Brazil is 45.6%.
Lessee, if I were a bankster with an extra $40 billion to invest, would I rather invest it in the US (where I might make a 5% Return On Investment (ROI))? Or should I invest in Brazil, where I might make a 50% ROI? (This is a tuffy. I’m gonna need some help. Is there a bean-counter in the house?)
This difference in interest rates explains the emerging nations’ complaint about the unwonted “capital inflow”. The Federal Reserve is holding US interest rates so low that it’s literally forcing those Americans and American institutions that have significant savings to invest those savings in foreign countries where the ROI is so much greater.
Why should emerging economies complain about some of each month’s $40 billion gift to American banksters flowing into Brazil (or China or Russia)? Because some or all of that capital inflow will be used to buy domestic assets such as natural resources, buildings, factories, etc. within those emerging economies. That will mean that some significant part of each emerging economy’s assets will be owned by American bankers or their cronies.
The Brazilians want Brazil for Brazilians (or at least Brazilian crooks)—not for foreign bankers. The Russians want Russia for Russians, not foreign investors. The Chinese want China for the Chinese. Thus, while you might suppose they’d be eager for foreign investment, they are apparently coming to see the capital inflow caused by low US interest rates to be undesirable or even dangerous. From their perspective, taking money from American banksters may be a little like you or me borrowing money from the Mafia—such loans will probably work out badly.
It appears that some significant part of the $40 billion given to US bankers is being used to buy up assets in emerging economies. The emerging economies object to the sales because they don’t want their countries carved up like a Christmas goose.
The emerging economies’ complaint about “capital inflow” is evidence that US banks that receive the $40 billion each month are investing that money in foreign countries rather than the US. To the extent that’s true, QE3 will not stimulate the US economy, but may help to pirate some foreign economies.
This isn’t news. Under the guise of QE1 and QE2, large sums of money were given to US bankers and financial institutions in apparent hope that the bankers would lend or spend that money into the US economy. Instead, the bankers sat on the money in case they had a banking emergency. The pattern is fairly clear: US bankers will take all the money they can get from US taxpayers, but they feel little compulsion to return that money to its source. The banksters are in it for their own benefit and no one else’s.
Thus, it appears that the only way to actually “stimulate” the US economy may be to give the monthly $40 billion directly to the American people. I guarantee they’ll spend in this country. They won’t save it. They won’t invest it in “emerging economies”.
When the government and/or Federal Reserve gives billions to any private entity (such as banks or corporations and financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”) in an environment where the base interest rate has been cut to nearly zero, the institutions receiving those billions won’t spend or invest them in this economy since they can’t make a buck doing so. Instead, they’ll seek to invest “their” newfound billions in foreign, and especially “emerging” economies where the interest rates are high and significant profits can be generated.
So, instead of giving $40 billion to bankers who may spend most of it in foreign countries, why not take a chance and give that money directly to the American people? $40 billion divided by 310 million Americans = $130 per month per American. A family of four could expect an extra $520 a month. Every month. For as long as QE3 lasted. Y’know what an extra $500 a month could mean to most families of four? It would mean dinner out a couple times a month. It would mean new shoes and clothes for the kids. I would mean being able make the mortgage payment and keep the house.
It would do some real good.
But instead, the $40 billion is being handed to bankers who—if we can believe the emerging nations—are buying up foreign assets rather than investing here in the US where it might to some good for the American people.
Of course, not all of the $40 billion is going overseas.
Some of it is “trickling down” to American politicians.
But maybe it’s time to try trickle-up economics. Give the money to the ordinary Americans and let it “trickle up” to the corporations, banksters and super-rich.