December 9, 2019

Trump Winning the Trade War Would Make China Stronger, Not Weaker

trump chinaWe don’t win anymore,” said candidate Donald Trump numerous times during his 2016 presidential campaign, referring to America’s trade relationship with other countries. Trump and tens of millions of his supporters hold the protectionist view that trade, like all human relationships, is a war that must be “won.” Rather than exchanges that leave both parties better off, protectionists see trade as a zero-sum game in which one side benefits at the other’s expense.

Fair Trade Over Free Trade

The president has said on more than one occasion that he supports free trade, but he insists it must be fair, meaning that China or other partners reciprocate any relief from tariffs and other burdens placed on their exports. And it is true that China has not treated American exports to China the way America has treated Chinese exports to America.

China has been more protectionist and is likely engaging in some subsidization and/or other government assistance to its exporters, even if it and its effect on America’s trade deficit with China are greatly exaggerated. Americans would be better off with zero tariffs and completely free trade regarding its imports.

Regardless, Trump and his supporters draw completely the wrong conclusion. Persuading Xi Jinping to adopt free trade policies would make China’s economy stronger, not weaker.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

The Federal Reserve has crossed the balance sheet Rubicon

Fed balance sheet (2)Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell tried once more to tell U.S. markets what they wanted to hear, saying the Fed would ‘soon announce measures to add to the supply of reserves over time.”

A little history lesson for my younger readers:

Back in January 2008, the Fed’s balance sheet was approximately $880 billion in assets.Those were mostly securities (exclusively or mostly U.S. Treasury bonds) purchased in the past during monetary expansions (when the Fed buys a security from a member bank, it takes in the security and gives the member bank U.S. dollars, meaning there are more dollars available to lend out into the economy).

During its various rounds of “quantitative easing” and other inflationary programs in the years after the 2008 crisis, the Fed’s balance sheet increased to over $4.4 trillion. This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, said the Fed at the time, and the balance sheet would quickly be “normalized” when the once-in-a-lifetime crisis was past.

Well, the Fed began normalizing its balance sheet in late 2017 (with the president screaming bloody murder the whole time) and got down to about $3.7 trillion – still over four times what it was in January 2008.

The normalization effort didn’t last long. Despite Powell’s comments, the Fed actually began adding to its balance sheet again in August. It’s now back to $3.945 trillion – a $200 billion increase in just two months. In other words, the Fed just added to its balance sheet in those two months 1/4 of what it added during its first 95 years of existence (1913 – 2008). This in an economy the Fed says is strong.

The Rubicon is in the rear view mirror. Where this monetary mayhem will take us is anyone’s guess.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

China becoming the largest economy would be great for Americans

trump-xi-wall-street-1069240Here’s another little piece of evidence that whatever made the American psyche one inclined towards freedom is long dead: the irrational fear China may surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy.

So what?

China’s population is five times larger than the U.S. population. It should be the largest economy in the world. If both countries had laissez faire free market systems, China would have the largest economy in the world and that would be great for the Chinese, for Americans, and for the rest of the world. It would mean an enormous increase in the world supply of goods and services, making the average inhabitant of this planet richer, just as the industrial revolution made richer the inhabitants of the countries in which it occurred.

Anxiety about China’s economy being larger than ours is born out of statist, collectivist thinking, in which the individual is subordinate to the glory of the state collective. In a word, it’s dronethink.

The only reason the U.S. economy has ever been larger than China’s is because it was relatively freer than China’s – by orders of magnitude during China’s communist era. The reason that gap is closing is because China, while still by no means a laissez faire free market, is becoming relatively freer, while the US is becoming relatively less free.

The only way for China to become the largest economy is by continuing to make its markets and, eventually, its entire society freer. Whether it will do so or not remains to be seen. The freedom momentum there has slowed somewhat recently, although the momentum here is in entirely the other direction.

Anyone who wants to live in a freer, richer, and safer world should hope both Americans and Chinese have the good sense to clean house in their respective governments and establish a laissez faire system in both countries, resulting in both becoming far more productive. Yes, China’s economy would then  become the largest economy in the world and that would be just fine.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Why Aren’t Automation and Baby Boomer Retirements Driving Consumer Prices Down?

thinkingkid“When I was your age, I used to go to the movies for a dime. I’d get a big bag of candy for a nickel.”

I still remember my father saying those words as I headed off to the movies in the 1970s when the afternoon matinees cost $1.75 per ticket, more than 10 times what my father had paid 35 years earlier. I remember because my father said that every time I went to the movies for my entire childhood and all my teenage years. I doubt I’m alone on this.

There isn’t an American alive for whom steadily rising prices haven’t been a fact of life for all his or her life. Most employed Americans risk their savings in the stock market, through 401ks or other tax-deferred investments, because everyone knows merely stockpiling cash is useless. It will lose all its value because of inflation.

Just imagine if it were the other way around. Imagine if you could simply put your cash savings in the bank, and without even considering any interest it would earn, see it gain value over time. Imagine if your father or grandfather repeatedly told you that something you were purchasing today used to cost him a lot more when he was your age.

Well, for America’s first full century, that was exactly how it was. Prices fluctuated year to year, but over the course of the 19th century, prices fell dramatically. A basket of goods that cost $100 in 1800 cost less than $50 in 1900. That means one could buy twice as much with the same amount of dollars. Average Americans could simply stockpile dollars over the course of their working lives and realize a return on their investment in the form of dollar appreciation.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Here Comes Another Recession Wrongly Blamed on Capitalism

recession-comingThe stock markets sold off on Friday, and financial media headlines were dominated by an inverted yield curve, a key recession indicator for the past several decades. Was the selloff just a pullback as equity prices consolidate before heading for new highs? Or is this the top of a dead cat bounce after the December market meltdown?

Economic indicators are somewhat mixed. Unemployment remains low at 3.8 percent, although it is always important to consider what kinds of jobs people are doing, what they are producing, and why. Unemployment is always low just before a bubble pops, as monetary inflation leads to unsustainable expansion.

Meanwhile, February saw a nearly subterranean jobs report, and December’s much-ballyhooed number was revised downward from 312,000 jobs to just 227,000. Holiday retail sales, reported as “heating up” during December, ended up declining by 1.2 percent, the biggest drop since 2009.

That a recession is coming is a certainty. The question is when. And whether it hits in 2019 or 2020, you can bet it will take center stage in the political arena, with Democratic presidential hopefuls climbing over each other to blame President Trump and the Republicans. The GOP will find it hard to fight back after taking full ownership of the tail end of this ten-year, inflation-fueled bubble.

As ridiculous as we free-market types always find it, a recession during a Republican presidential administration is always characterized by our opponents as an indictment of capitalism, even though the business cycle is driven much more by monetary policy than anything presidents of either party do. And the Federal Reserve is not a capitalist institution. It’s an economic central planner Karl Marx considered a vital part of moving society towards communism.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Freedom…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Amazon’s NYC Pullout Shows Economy Is Rigged, Just Not the Way Most People Think

cuomoandbezos4Amazon announced Thursday it will not build a new headquarters in New York City, citing the backlash from union leaders and some lawmakers over the nearly $3 billion in government incentives included in a deal to bring the company to NYC. Those leaders treat Amazon’s decision as a victory. For Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, it’s a defeat, as they led the effort to lure the company to New York.

No matter how it’s spun, the facts don’t change. This decision represents billions in lost tax revenues for the city and state, over and above the $3 billion in incentives. Amazon won’t be employing an estimated 25,000 additional New Yorkers. And many millions more in business with local vendors will not occur.

To opponents of the deal, a principle has been defended: Giant corporations like Amazon shouldn’t be offered tax “subsidies” to come in and “exploit” local workers and the community. But this theory raises several questions.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

I, Interest Rate

interestIt is often said, “Don’t kill the messenger,” but that is precisely what everyone seems to want to do in my case. I’m not sure why because the news I bring is neither good nor bad. It is simply the truth; and it is a very sad day when telling the truth can foster such ill will. There are some who go so far as to declare my very existence wicked simply for providing information people use to engage in a specific type of voluntary exchange that, although of immense benefit to society, has somehow acquired an unsavory reputation.

As you may have surmised, I am the rate of interest, the price difference between present goods and future goods. Now, many economists mistakenly identify me merely as the price of borrowing money over time, but that is only one of the many messages I carry. I also represent the price spread in the various stages of production, where capitalists purchase present goods in the form of factors of production in the hopes of selling what is produced by those factors for a higher price than what they spent. I am also this difference in price.

Nobody but me can gather the information I gather, for my message is determined by billions of individual transactions occurring simultaneously all over the economy. I consider the individual supply and demand schedules of hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of individual consumers and producers, along with the uncertainty involved in every time transaction, to determine the current price levels for transactions that involve time at any given moment.

In the case of individual borrowers, the uncertainty I mentioned includes that borrower’s previous behavior, which is generally called a “credit rating.”

While it is only one of the many prices I make available to the market, an inordinate amount of attention is paid to the price of borrowing money. That is likely for two reasons. One, as I said, is that most people erroneously believe it is the only information I impart. Two, people seem to be borrowing a lot more than they did previously in history for reasons I will explain shortly. As a result, it is regarding the price of borrowing money where I am most slandered and abused.

Because this price of borrowing is above zero, there are some who consider my existence alone as evil. They say I’m a party to a crime they call “usury,” which is a very strange concept. When everyone is acting honestly, money is a scarce commodity, so any loan by Person A to Person B requires a sacrifice on the part of A. Person A must forego consumption in the present in order to lend to B.

It is no different than if A were saving for a new car or some other expensive item for himself. He must forego eating out as much, or buying new clothes, or going on vacation this year in order to put aside money to buy the expensive item next year.

By loaning money to B, A is allowing B to skip this sacrifice and purchase the expensive item now. It seems a very peculiar notion that A should forego spending his own money on himself only to let B use it for free when needed. How did this obligation to serve B free of charge come about? Aren’t all men created equal?

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Should Social Security Be Means Tested?

383px-Ponzi1920Ken Langone told CNBC on Wednesday Congress “has to have the courage” to make Social Security means tested, arguing a billionaire like him shouldn’t be getting $4,000 a month (he and his wife) from the government when entitlements are 71% of spending.

In a way, means testing would be a good thing, as it would finally cure the delusion that Social Security is anything other than a welfare program, although I’m not sure the public wouldn’t make peace with that rather quickly, rather than consider turning off the spigot.

What it wouldn’t do, unless the benefit cutoff threshold were very low, is make a difference in the program’s basic insolvency. The problem with Social Security isn’t just that it’s welfare, but that it’s welfare for everyone – “Everybody plunders everybody,” as Frederic Bastiat would say. There are currently 62 million currently receiving checks. For 60% of them, Social Security makes up half or more of all their income. Millions more have come to depend upon the benefits, even if they make up a smaller percentage.

It might make people feel good to know millionaires and billionaires will no longer receive Social Security checks, but it won’t make much of a fiscal difference. There aren’t enough of them to significantly lower the payouts. To affect Social Security’s bottom line, people who would miss the money are going to have to take a hit.

There are only two ways out: default or bankruptcy. Either way, it’s going to be ugly. Social Security really is an evil mess that can’t but end badly. Ditto for Medicare, times ten.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

But without government, who will plow the snow?

web-GMCSierraSnowPlow03Many of my southern friends who have never lived in the north may not know how snow removal works up here. What if you’re elderly or disabled and can’t shovel/snowblow your driveway? Or what if you just don’t want to?

As usual, capitalism saves the day. There is a vibrant market of snow plow contractors who will guarantee your driveway is always plowed for an extremely reasonable rate – usually $300-$350 for the entire winter for the average suburban driveway. If it snows too many times, they lose money. If their projections are accurate, they make a profit.

They take 100% of the risk to do something most people don’t want to do, in the hope of making some extra money during winter slow periods for their regular businesses (many own lawn service/landscaping businesses).

Purchasing their service is 100% voluntary. No one but you votes on how much they are paid or whether you buy their services at all.

To every guy or gal out in a truck right now, likely up and working long before dawn, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE AND MAY YOUR MARGINS BE HIGH!

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

The Best Argument Against Minimum Wage Laws: You Don’t Own Other People

min wage article picWith Democrats about to take control of the House, it is likely we will see an increase in the federal minimum wage pass the lower chamber, even if it has no chance of becoming a law. We will just as surely hear opponents making completely sound economic arguments against minimum wage laws.

Minimum wage laws cause unemployment, these opponents say, because they price those workers whose skills don’t justify the minimum wage out of the market completely. If a worker only has the skills to produce $14/hour worth of benefits to an employer, the employer is better off not employing that person rather than losing $1 dollar/hour doing so, if the minimum wage is $15/hour. And regardless of where the minimum wage is presently, any increase in the price of labor will result in less demand for labor, all other things being equal.

That’s basic economic reasoning and wasn’t even controversial until recently when, for political reasons, economists like Paul Krugman began contradicting their own earlier writing on the same subject. But as economically sound as the unemployment argument against minimum wages may be, it ignores a previous and much more important one: you don’t own other people.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.