October 15, 2019

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 even liberals should be ‘climate change skeptics’

UCAR-Homepage-slide-indicators-ice-bright_85When you’re several decades older than Greta Thunberg, her impassioned warning of impending doom hits you differently than it may college students or early twentysomethings just a few years older than she. In a word, it sounded “familiar.” I’m not just talking about the climate change movement, nor exclusively about the left side of the political spectrum. I’ve been hearing  about impending doom that can only be averted by massive increases in the size and scope of government my whole life, from both the right and the left.

Fear Mongering By the Right

The earliest example I remember came from the right. During the 1980s, the airwaves were flooded with reports on the military superiority of the Soviet Union. I don’t mean their nuclear weapons capabilities, which were and remain a valid cause for concern, as are those of every nuclear-armed government. No, the American public was saturated with reports of the Soviet Union’s superiority in waging conventional war, with planes, tanks, ground troops, etc.

The only solution, said the Reagan administration, was massive increases in military spending, which not only doubled the size of the federal government overall during Reagan’s two terms, but started a trend of massive military spending that continues to this day. Right wing mythology says it was this spending that caused the Soviet Union to collapse, because they tried to keep up and couldn’t.

It wasn’t. The Soviet Union collapsed because of its communist economic system, which former KGB agent Vladimir Putin admitted in 2009 when he said,

“In the 20th century, the Soviet Union made the state’s role absolute. In the long run, this made the Soviet economy totally uncompetitive. This lesson cost us dearly. I am sure nobody wants to see it repeated.”

The truth is the Soviets were never a military threat, outside their nukes, which Reagan’s spending did nothing to deter. Poor countries generally don’t win conventional wars against much richer ones. Knowing that now, would you like to have those trillions in unnecessary military spending back?

The 1980s also saw a massive increase in the so-called “war on drugs.” Capitalizing on the tragic death of basketball player Len Bias, drug warriors succeeded in convincing the American public that only draconian drug laws and sentencing guidelines could save their children from certain death due to an imminent, nationwide epidemic of drug addiction. The legislation pushed through on the heels of this fear mongering resulted in the mass incarceration of generations of disproportionately black and brown people, many for as little as possessing too much marijuana, which is now legal in over half the states.

Knowing what you know today, would you like to have those millions of destroyed lives and families back?

In 2003, with the American public still shell-shocked from the 9/11 attacks, the George W. Bush administration embarked upon a fear campaign similar to the Reagan administration’s Soviet scare featuring an even less plausible boogeyman: Saddam Hussein. Hussein was a ruthless dictator and a generally bad guy, but we all know now that he was never a threat to U.S. national security. The Bush administration evoked images of massive chemical weapons attacks and even “a mushroom cloud” in a major U.S. city. It was all baloney.

Knowing what you know today, would you like to have the Iraq War back?

Fear Mongering By the Left

So, what does all this have to do with climate change? Environmentalists are using the same tactics, only for different ends. Right wingers worship the military and law enforcement. For all their talk about “small government,” no increase in either would be too much for most of them. They’ve generally got what they’ve wanted in those areas by employing a thus far foolproof tactic that goes something like this:

“Oh my God! I’ve discovered a dire threat to all our lives and civilization as we know it. And believe it or not, the only solution is for you to give me everything I’ve ever wanted politically.”

Shouldn’t any thinking person be suspicious of this? Would it not have benefited Americans, left, right or otherwise, to have been more skeptical of claims like this before the war on drugs or the Iraq War?

I’m not trying to convince liberals there is nothing to the anthropogenic climate change theory. But I am calling attention to the fact that the very same tactic that gave us the Iraq War, the largest prison population in the history of the world, and an out-of-control national debt due largely to unnecessary military spending is now being used to achieve a political result to address climate change.

Let’s not forget that before the fall of the Soviet Union and China’s dramatic turn away from communism and towards a market economy, the hard left’s chief argument against free markets had nothing to do with the environment. For most of the twentieth century, they claimed that full-on communism or socialism was a better economic system. It was only when its failure in so many places became impossible to deny that the focus shifted to the environment. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) didn’t form until 1992, the year after the Soviet Union disappeared and just after China’s market reforms got underway.

Coincidence? Maybe, but shouldn’t it at least raise an eyebrow? How can anyone be blamed for skepticism when the very same people who wanted a centrally planned economy based on its economic merits suddenly discover it’s the only way to “save the planet?” Shouldn’t that give pause to even a true believer in climate change?

This is before even asking the question whether giving the government these sweeping new powers (not to mention trillions more of our dollars) would actually solve the stated problem. Past experience should make us skeptical of this, too. Did the War on Drugs result in less drugs on the street? Did the Iraq War result in less terrorism? Believing the government is suddenly going to be wildly successful based purely on its doing the bidding of the other political tribe seems more like religious faith than reason.

The Poor Will Suffer Most

One thing Thornberg’s speech is honest about, at least indirectly, is that adopting the drastic environmental measures called for by the hard left will make us poorer. She derisively asks how any of us can even talk about “economic growth.” That’s easy for Thornberg and other First Worlders to say, given what this will cost them vs. what it will cost truly poor people, of which there are very few in the United States or Sweden.

The truth is eliminating fossil fuels at the rate the hard left suggests could cost billions of poor people their lives, not merely their hamburgers. Given that grim reality and the poor track record of drastic government solutions adopted in an atmosphere of fear, a healthy skepticism towards the hard left’s claims and demands related to climate change should not only be tolerated but encouraged.

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.

Yes, the climate commies are lying about the polar bears, too

polar-bear-2199534_1280It would be silly to believe that humans do not affect the environment they live in (as does every living thing on this planet) and it is a good thing to try to pollute it as little as possible. We ought to try strict enforcement of property rights for a change – it would do wonders for a myriad of problems, including pollution.

But the anthropogenic global warming, sorry, “climate change” theory posited by statists of all varieties, in and out of government “service,” is a hoax, promoted both by people with bad intentions and millions of useful idiots.

“OMG, I’ve discovered this terrible threat to the planet and the only solution seems to be for everyone who disagrees with my political and economic positions to give me everything I’ve ever wanted.”

No reason to be suspicious. Nope.

Well, the supposedly declining polar bear population is just one more narrative these maniacs have foisted on the public that, like the beepocalypse (remember that?), turns out to be 100% bullshit.

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.

What We Should Remember on Memorial Day

Old-City-of-Mosul-Iraq-reduced-to-rubble-by-Iraq-U.S.bombing-and-shelling-of-ISIS-forces-in-spring-and-summer-2017-photo-by-ReutersMonday will be a sad day for far too many people who have lost sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and friends to war. Unfortunately, the takeaway from this day – that they died for freedom or some other bromide – only helps ensure future parents, husbands, wives, siblings and friends will share their pain.

Here is the harsh reality we should be confronting every Memorial Day:

War is always a tragedy. It is humanity failing to keep the promise of civil society and abandoning reason to destroy vast amounts of life and property.

It turns responsible adult men back into children, with all accountability removed and license to do what male children love to do: smash and destroy things.

It releases young adult men (and now women) from all the pressures of real life, where one has to produce something someone else buys voluntarily to keep a roof over one’s head and food on the table, while room, board and other expenses are provided by taxpayers,  just like mommy and daddy provide them for children.

Yes, there is a risk of death, although far less risk than an oil rig worker or a logger takes, but that is something late teen or early twenties men are eager to embrace while they are in their wildest stage and before they have experienced enough of life to realize they’ve been had.

Let’s remember this weekend that everyone who ever died in a war died for nothing except the profits of a few connected financial interests and the expansion of government power.

War is government doing what it does best: destroying the natural inclination of people to trade with each other and replacing it with annihilation of peace and prosperity on a scale only a government could achieve. War is government freed from all restraint.

Extreme poverty has been cut in half over the past 29 years. That’s the market and free trade at work.

Cities reduced to rubble, families wandering homeless and graveyards full of people who died before their time – that’s government at work. What more proof does one need that government is the scourge of humanity?

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.

The Culture of Entitlement in Medicine II: Your Invoice is Rejected

billI previously wrote about the culture of entitlement in medicine back in 2017. This is to be expected in an industry in which half of all gross revenue is tax revenue. That’s not to say doctors, nurses, etc. are bad people. Quite the contrary. But it’s human nature to overestimate the value of one’s own services – who doesn’t think he or she is underpaid?

The market provides discipline for this childish impulse. In a vibrant free market, we find out precisely what the goods or services we offer are worth to other people, because each customer decides precisely how much money they are willing to pay for our products, not to mention whether to buy them at all. Government regulations and subsidies have largely removed these market forces from the medical industry.

In addition to skyrocketing prices, this has fostered a culture of entitlement among medical providers. They feel entitled to an arbitrary amount of compensation for their goods or services, regardless of whether their customers are willing or able to pay.

This is reflected in their invoices. Rather than bill you for the amount both parties previously agreed to for a given service, as is customary in every other industry, they send you a bill for what they believe they “should” be paid and then represent the difference between that arbitrary amount and their contracted reimbursement (usually established via your health insurance provider) as an “adjustment.”

This passive-aggressive tactic attempts to portray  medical providers both as victims of “greedy” insurance companies (and moochers like you) and as altruists who have foregone most of what they believe owed to them out of the goodness of their hearts. It is important we disabuse them of these delusions.

I suggest we consumers, who not only pay for our own medical care but for the care of millions of strangers, process medical bills the way invoices are processed in any other industry. If you receive a bill priced any way other than what you and your provider have previously agreed to, simply reject the invoice with an explanation and invite the provider to resubmit. Repeat the process until you are billed accurately. Feel free to use the example below as a template:

Dear Accounts Receivable Manager,

Your invoice #XXXXX (copy enclosed) has been rejected for the following reasons:

*Pricing Errors

Your invoice contains five procedure codes for which you have a contracted rate with us through our health insurance provider. It is clear you are aware of this contract as you would not even agree to an appointment until eligibility with our health insurance provider was confirmed.

However, the billed charges on your invoice exceed the amount you agreed to in that contract. For example, your contract stipulates a charge of $38.14 for CPT code 99214. You have billed $175.00 for this service and then represented the difference as an “Adjustment” down to our contracted rate.

It is standard business practice for any going concern to bill its customers at the price(s) the customer agreed to pay via purchase order or contract, not the price the vendor wishes it could get paid.

In no other industry do vendors enter a contract to provide goods or services at one price and then bill for a higher one, representing the difference as an adjustment, as if the vendor were doing the client a favor. Rather, they bill for the agreed upon price and thank the customer for the business.

Please resubmit your invoice within 30 days with billed amounts matching our contracted rate for each service. We will waive the invoice rejection fee on this occasion as a courtesy. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you.

Best regards,

Tom Mullen

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.

Words and Phrases to Avoid on April 15

ap18177610394663.0

 

 

 

 

 

We hear a lot about words and phrases we should or shouldn’t use these days, politics having crept into virtually every area of our lives. At the risk of promoting even more “political correctness,” here are some terms that can legitimately be considered “microaggressions” when used in the presence of net taxpayers on April 15:

fair share

not paying their fair share

common good

common sense (when used as an adjective)

public goods

the public interest

public servant

public spirit

public education

social contract

general will

will of the people

national conversation

“our” seniors

“our” roads

“our” schools

“our” infrastructure

“our” veterans

rebuild the military

support the troops

thank the troops

freedom isn’t free

keeping us safe

fighting for our freedom

national interest

the poor

the rich

the children

the troops

working Americans

work of the American people

sustainable

green energy

Green New Deal

(the old) New Deal

green anything

income inequality

the gender gap

the wealth gap

healthcare is a right

Medicare for all

single payer

These are just a few things to avoid saying on this somber day for freedom. If you find yourself about to parrot any of these talking points, then at least for today, please say the following instead:

TAXATION IS THEFT.

To all those who grant this humble request, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!

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.

Conservatism is More Harmful to Liberty Than Progressive Liberalism

Publication1Following the horrors of the Wilson and FDR presidencies, conservatives made nice with classical liberals and later libertarians as the only way to maintain any relevancy. This was a rather odd fellowship, conservatism being a fundamentally authoritarian philosophy. And because people seem unable to think in terms of anything outside the conservative-liberal spectrum, this has caused many people genuinely interested in a freer society to conflate authoritarian, conservative positions with classical liberal or libertarian ones. Examples:

  • Conflating conservative “pro-business” mercantilism/crony capitalism with free markets
  • Worshiping the enormous standing army rather than being suspicious of and reluctant to pay for it, as any liberty-minded person should be
  • Ditto for the ubiquitous domestic standing army, the police
  • Blaming corporations acting in their best interests in a corrupted business environment, rather than the government that created that environment and made it a business necessity to exploit it, lest their competitors do so first (Amazon, Walmart, etc.). This is how Tucker Carlson finds himself agreeing with Bernie Sanders

The foundation of conservatism, the reason it seeks to “conserve” what is already established by any forceful means necessary, individual rights be damned, is its belief that man’s nature is so fallen, dark, or inherently violent that it must be kept at bay. Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk all agreed that the primary purpose of government was to override men’s natural inclinations by force. For all of them, any freedom man has in society is a privilege granted by the government, not an inalienable right carried into society which the government is charged to defend.

In American history, Hamilton was a true conservative, seeking to conserve mercantilism and empire, the status quo of his day, albeit under American control. Lincoln was a true conservative, seeking to preserve the status quo of the union despite the expressed wishes of the states attempting to leave it peacefully. Today, Trump and the majority of the Republican Party are the true conservatives, pursuing an explicitly Hamiltonian platform, even borrowing Hamilton’s “national greatness” slogan.

Ironically, what attracts well-meaning people to the conservative brand is the libertarian-sounding rhetoric it often employs, despite libertarian ideas being fundamentally antithetical to conservatism. Once they’ve adopted that brand, and seeing that virtually no conservative politicians ever propose anything resembling a move towards laissez faire markets, a less powerful police state or a more peaceful foreign policy, they resort to suggesting the people who run for office under the conservative or Republican banners are not “true conservatives,” or in the case of the Republican Party, are “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only).

When pressed to name some “true conservatives” or “true Republicans,” the only answer one will ever get is Hamiltonian Calvin Coolidge, a conservative who genuinely seemed to hold some classical liberal positions, along with some conservative ones. We’re supposed to believe that in all American history, Coolidge and a few Republicans today like Rand Paul, Justin Amash and Thomas Massie are the true conservatives and/or true Republicans, and virtually everyone else were the “RINOs.”

That should sound ludicrous to any dispassionate observer. Why wouldn’t Coolidge, Paul, Massie and Amash be the RINOs, i.e., the ones who don’t think or act like 99% of the Republican Party throughout its history?

For these reasons, I believe there is a good argument that conservatism is more harmful to the cause of liberty than progressive liberalism. At least proponents of the latter come right out and tell us they’re going to trample our personal and economic liberty “for our own good.” Anyone seeking freedom knows not to vote for them. Not so the conservatives, who occasionally talk like Jefferson but always govern like FDR and Catherine the Great had a love child who won a U.S. election.

The conservative movement’s success in absorbing people with libertarian impulses keeps American politics from breaking out of a narrow range of positions, all statist to the core. This ultimately makes us poorer and less free than we would be if those interested in free markets, peaceful trade and a non-interventionist foreign policy would let go of their emotional attachment to the conservative label and let the Republican Party take its place on the junk heap with its predecessors, the Whig and Federalist parties.

A new movement and party, devoid of authoritarian conservative baggage, may attract a lot of people who currently hold their nose and vote Democrat, but don’t necessarily like the awful far left any more than libertarians do. In other words, what is needed is a radical change in the political landscape, meaning conservatism has to go.

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.