Helicopters Grounded?

Having recently uncovered in its own research that quantitative easing is enriching the richest 5%, and the British economy still mired in the doldrums even in spite of hundreds of billions of easing,  the Bank of England announced last week that it was grounding its fleet of helicopters dropping cash onto the big banks and suspending the quantitative easing program.

Yet, this may not be the end for British monetary activism.

Anatole Kaletsky wrote last month:

This week an even more radical debate burst  into the open in Britain. Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, found himself fighting a rearguard action against a groundswell of support for “dropping money from helicopters” – something proposed by Milton Friedman in 1969 as the ultimate cure for intractable economic depressions and recently described in this column as “Quantitative Easing for the People.”

King had to speak out because the sort of calculations presented here last summer started to catch on in Britain. The BoE has spent £50 billion over the past six months to support bond prices. That could instead have financed a cash handout of £830 for every man, woman and child in Britain, or £3,300 for a typical family of four. In the United States, the $40 billion the Fed has promised to transfer monthly, with no time limit, to banks and bond funds, could instead finance a monthly cash payment of $500 per family – to be continued indefinitely until full employment is restored.

Has the Bank of England stopped one program in anticipation of beginning another? Will be the Bank of England begin to inject cash directly to the public, bypassing the banks?

It is more than possible.

Could this mean some kind of debt jubilee? That is less likely — policymakers seem to remain fixated on demand and consumption, when the greatest obstacle to economic activity is the total level of debt.

About these ads

Does the Bank of England Worry About the Cantillon Effect?

The empirical data is in. And it turns out that as I have been suggesting for a very long time — yes, shock horror — helicopter dropping cash onto the financial sector does disproportionately favour the rich.

The Guardian:

The richest 10% of households in Britain have seen the value of their assets increase by up to £322,000 as a result of the Bank of England‘s attempts to use electronic money creation to lift the economy out of its deepest post-war slump.

Threadneedle Street said that wealthy families had been the biggest beneficiaries of its £375bn quantitative-easing (QE) programme, under which it has been buying government gilts for cash since early 2009.

The Bank of England calculated that the value of shares and bonds had risen by 26% – or £600bn – as a result of the policy, equivalent to £10,000 for each household in the UK. It added, however, that 40% of the gains went to the richest 5% of households.

Although the Bank said it could not come up with precise figures for the gains from QE, estimates can be produced using wealth distribution data from the Office for National Statistics. These show the average boost to the holdings of financial assets and pensions of the richest 10% of households would have been either £128,000 per household or £322,000 depending on the methodology used.

Here are a few questions for Britain’s monetary overlords at the BoE:

  1. Are you concerned about the long-term social and economic implications of a monetary policy that enriches the rich over and above everyone else?
  2. Are you familiar with the concept of the Cantillon Effect whereby the creation and allocation of new money transfers purchasing power to whoever it is allocated to? Did you consider this effect prior to embarking on a program of quantitative easing to the financial sector?
  3. Given the financial sector’s awful track record in terms of blowing up the economy, fabricating LIBOR data for its own enrichment, and neglecting cash-starved small businesses, is the financial sector an appropriate allocator of new money?
  4. Now that the empirical record shows the policy of helicopter-dropping cash directly to the financial sector disproportionately favours the rich, have you considered changing course and adopting a different monetary policy that doesn’t favour any particular group?

Sadly, I expect to see the announcement of more quantitative easing to the financial sector long before I expect to see answers to any of these questions.

The Great LIBOR Bank Heist of 2008?

The LIBOR manipulation revelations ask some interesting questions.

Washington’s Blog notes:

Barclays and other large banks – including Citigroup, HSBC, J.P. Morgan Chase, Lloyds,Bank of AmericaUBS, Royal Bank of Scotland– manipulated the world’s primary interest rate (Libor) which virtually every adjustable-rate investment globally is pegged to.

That means they manipulated a good chunk of the world economy.

They have been manipulating Libor on virtually a daily basis since 2005.

While the implications of this to the $1200 trillion derivatives market would seem to be profound, one question I have not seen asked much yet are the implications of the manipulation to the reality of the 2008 financial crisis.

Here’s a really wild hypothesis: if the LIBOR rate was under manipulation in 2008, is it not possible that the inter-bank lending rate spike (and resultant credit freeze) was at least partly a product of manipulation by the banking cartel?

Could the manipulators have purposely exacerbated the freeze, to get a bigger and quicker bailout? After all, the banking system sucked $29 trillion out of the taxpayer following 2008. That’s a pretty big payoff. LIBOR profoundly affects credit availability — and the bailouts were directly designed to combat a freeze in credit availability. If market participants were manipulating or rigging LIBOR, they were manipulating a variable directly tied to the bailouts.

That means that every single tick must be under scrutiny; we know that rates have been manipulated for profit. I am no conspiracy theorist; it may just be a coincidence that a massive spike in a variable we now know to have been manipulated contributed to a credit freeze that led to historically-unprecedented bailouts. Yet it is no great leap of the imagination to say that the crisis may have been deliberately worsened for profit.

Investigators should investigate.

(H/T to Saifedean Ammous)

Fiat Money Kills Productivity?

I have long suspected that a money supply based on nothing other than faith in government could be a productivity killer.

Last November I wrote:

During 1947-73 (for all but two of those years America had a gold standard where the unit of exchange was tied to gold at a fixed rate) average family income increased at a greater rate than that of the top 1%. From 1979-2007 (years without a gold standard) the top 1% did much, much better than the average family.

As we have seen with the quantitative easing program, the newly-printed money is directed to the rich. The Keynesian response to that might be that income growth inequality can be solved (or at least remedied) by making sure that helicopter drops of new money are done over the entire economy rather than directed solely to Wall Street megabanks.

But I think there is a deeper problem here. My hypothesis is that leaving the gold exchange standard was a free lunch: GDP growth could be achieved without any real gains in productivity, or efficiency, or in infrastructure, but instead by just pumping money into the system.

And now I have empirical evidence that my hypothesis may possibly have been true — total factor productivity.

In 2009 the Economist explained TFP as follows:

Productivity growth is perhaps the single most important gauge of an economy’s health. Nothing matters more for long-term living standards than improvements in the efficiency with which an economy combines capital and labour. Unfortunately, productivity growth is itself often inefficiently measured. Most analysts focus on labour productivity, which is usually calculated by dividing total output by the number of workers, or the number of hours worked.

A better gauge of an economy’s use of resources is “total factor productivity” (TFP), which tries to assess the efficiency with which both capital and labour are used.

Total factor productivity is calculated as the percentage increase in output that is not accounted for by changes in the volume of inputs of capital and labour. So if the capital stock and the workforce both rise by 2% and output rises by 3%, TFP goes up by 1%.

Here’s US total factor productivity:

As soon as the USA left the gold exchange standard,  total factor productivity began to dramatically stagnate. 

Random coincidence? I don’t think so — a fundamental change in the nature of the money supply coincided almost exactly with a fundamental change to the shape of the nation’s economy. Is the simultaneous outgrowth in income inequality a coincidence too?

Doubters may respond that correlation does not necessarily imply causation, and though we do not know the exact causation, there are a couple of strong possibilities that may have strangled productivity:

  1. Leaving the gold exchange standard was a free lunch for policymakers: GDP growth could be achieved without any real gains in productivity, or efficiency, or in infrastructure, but instead by just pumping money into the system.
  2. Leaving the gold exchange standard was a free lunch for businesses: revenue growth could be achieved without any real gains in productivity, or efficiency.
And it’s not just total factor productivity that has been lower than in the years when America was on the gold exchange standard — as a Bank of England report recently found, GDP growth has averaged lower in the pure fiat money era (2.8% vs 1.8%), and financial crises have been more frequent in the non-gold-standard years.

The authors of the report noted:

Overall the gold standard appeared to perform reasonably well against its financial stability and allocative efficiency objectives.

Still think it’s a barbarous relic?