Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fiat money = funny money => Fed must screw labor

h/t Mish for pointing out an article by Adair Turner, former Chairman of the United Kingdom’s Financial Services Authority, a member of the UK’s Financial Policy Committee and the House of Lords, suggesting that the Fed or any fiat money central bank might accept conversion of assets on its balance sheet, i.e., Treasuries, into zero coupon perpetuities, and so create "helicopter money" and permanent monetization of the sovereign debt.

I suggested just this strategy as a joke some time ago (here).

However, we all knew that the Fed can and does print money. But stating it as baldly as this brings me back to the problem this causes in the labor market.

As I have said repeatedly, inflation (a sustained wage price spiral inflation) is always and everywhere a labor market phenomenon accommodated by monetary policy.

Thus, with the vast overhang of base the Fed must worry about inflation in the long run, even if not so much right now. Why not now? Because prosumers are overburdened with debt and inflation is nowhere raising its ugly head. Looking more deflationary now, it is.

But should actual deleveraging take place by some other means than a few bad debts actually being charged off (imagine that!), such as bad debts being recognized as such (FAS 157 thrown out, good riddance) and debtors finding relief as the (unpaid) debts hit statute of limitation dates with no more recourse--then the Fed would have to worry about a wage-price spiral getting going.

In other words, the Fed is intrinsically anti-labor and always will be. What did Paul Volcker teach us, if not that? You got to recruit some cannon fodder, some inflation fighters to win the war on inflation.

There's an interesting wrinkle in here in that Janet Yellen has allegedly stated her desire to see the labor force participation rate improve, while at the same time worrying that it will adversely impact the unemployment rate (duh!) and hence, confidence. (My readership is small but highly intelligent and knows that if discouraged workers are included the unemployment rate is well above 10 percent by the governement's own questionable figures.)

I do believe the Fed economists are aware of the psychological importance of the unemployment rate that the unknown economist whose work I channel has established, and which the econophysicists seem to appreciate far more than the professional economist (i.e., generally establishment cheerleaders) community does.

Sometime within the next few years the unemployment rate will meet its falling adaptation level and rise above it. That is when we will see the next collapse of confidence. So the model predicts.

In passing I note that MMT does not really offer a way out of the wage price spiral problem. They just seem to be willing to inflate the debt out, disco style. However, the danger of hyperinflation may be greater this time, given the size of the base, and they seem oblivious (to me) to the Austrian distributional implications that those who get new money first can increase their wealth at rates much faster than those depending on increasing real wages can expect.

To bing this discussion full circle, let's ask what comes next for the international monetary system? Does an IMF ADR basket currency make the central banks love labor any more? I think not. Unless they're playing competitive devaluation games, they still can't afford too much inflation ("a little inflation is a good thing, but not too much"--this is the mainstream cant).

Given the plutocratic distribution in the world today, it seems to me that any fiat money system broadly adopted is going to result in labor continually getting screwed, absent really aggressive incomes policies (guaranteed basic income and health care, for example; or even better, enforced limits on wage contours, now being challenged even in Sweden, such is the prevalence of greed in the current historical moment).

History shows that a metal based system achieves stable prices over long periods. Sorry, "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," you're not a genius for investing in real estate. To paraphrase Paul Samuelson, during an inflation every fool is a great financier. It takes no brains to load up on debt when inflation is guaranteed.

Are there financial crises under a metal standard? Yes, just like under fiat banking as it rides into its sunset. The answer to cyclical variations is always to let them happen, to concentrate on stabilizing people and not "the business cycle," to take care of displaced persons during the adjustment. And to keep banks out of the business of speculation with other people's money.


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