Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The European Central Bank Catches the Fed Disease

From today's Open Europe news summary:

Huge demand for new ECB long-term bank lending;
The ECB this morning launched its first three-year lending operation with 523 banks requesting €489bn in loans, well above the expectations of between €250bn and €350bn. The previous largest amount requested was €442bn in one year loans back in June 2009. The aim of the long term lending operation is to provide secure long term financing for banks which can no longer gain funds from the usual avenues, in turn hopefully boosting lending in the wider economy and possibly purchases of sovereign debt. It was widely expected that demand above €400bn would prompt a positive market response. Open Europe’s briefing on the role of the ECB and the potential consequences for its long-term lending featured in the Telegraph, on EUobserver and on Zerohedge. The FT reports that US money market funds, formerly a key source of funding for European banks, have now cut their European exposure to record lows.

There is a reason that some banks "can no longer gain funds from the usual avenues.." There is only so much money that they can squander before the market has had its fill of their poor business choices. But our central bankers will not accept the legitimate judgment of those who invest their own money, so they print fiat money and make the taxpayer pay. This will lead only to higher prices and a continuation of the international raid upon capital that goes under the guise of "providing liquidity to the banking sector". It is nothing more than stealing purchase power from existing money holders in order to protect politically connected constituents. But that is not all. The real damage will be done in the years ahead as more capital is squandered in another credit-induced boom that will inevitably lead to a bust. The world need savings, real savings, not fiat money masquerading as savings.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fed Money Expansion Is a Criminal Enterprise

Today we take it for granted that our central bank, the Fed, can print money out of thin air, supposedly for our own good. When I say it "can" print money, I mean that in two ways. One, that it has the technical ability to print money, and two, that it has the legal and moral right to print money. Yes, the Fed can and does create money out of thin air. But I challenge the notion that it has either the legal or moral right to do so.

What Is Theft?

I am confident that all who read this article will agree that theft is a crime. Taking something that belongs to someone else is the definition of theft. If I lift your wallet and steal your money, I have committed a crime. But what if I steal from you S-L-O-W-L-Y so that you barely notice it at the time? I could do this very carefully, so that for some time you do not know what has happened. Perhaps you may not notice that I took only part of your money, believing that you must have spent it. Nevertheless, whether or not you notice that you have been robbed, I have committed the crime of theft.

Is Inflation Theft?

Now, let's examine what happens when the central bank expands the money supply. It is the stated goal of the central bank to create some inflation. By inflation, I am not speaking in Austrian economic terms. For Austrians, inflation means only one thing--expansion of the money supply not redeemable in specie (gold, silver, etc.). For the layman and for the central bankers, inflation means higher prices.

The Fed has engaged in a systematic attempt to keep prices higher than the unhampered market would establish. Since the fall of 2008 the Fed has expanded the money supply tremendously. M1 has increased by fifty-four percent and M2 has increased by twenty-three percent. So, the question remains: does this increase in the money supply represent theft by those running the Fed?

Austrian Monetary Theory Clarifies the Issue

To answer this question, let us examine monetary theory. Money is a medium of exchange and arises spontaneously in the market. It becomes a medium of exchange by the fact that it is the market's most marketable commodity, meaning that it is accepted by most market participants first for consumption and then for exchange for some other good at a later time. Only commodities can arise spontaneously as mediums of exchange, because only commodities have prior intrinsic or industrial value. Pieces of paper with fancy ink engravings do not have intrinsic or industrial value at all. As Murray N. Rothbard has outlined in his wonderful book What Has Government Done to Our Money?,the fiat money that we all use today was gradually and systematically forced upon the public by the coercive police powers of government. Why did it do this?

The answer clearly is that government wanted to be able to expand the money supply. It especially wanted to be able to bail out the big banks when their depositors grew concerned that they would not be able to withdraw their money on demand. But the government had a problem. It could not tax the country to provide for these funds--the public would not support such a blatant act of protecting the rich from their own foolishness. So it had to eliminate the NEED to tax the public. Thusly, over several decades it eliminated gold money, that it could not expand, and replaced it with fiat money that it could expand in infinite amounts.

Ben Bernanke has famously stated that the Fed cannot go bankrupt, because it can produce legal tender in whatever amounts are necessary. His statement is prima facie evidence that the purpose of fiat money expansion is to give purchasing power to some who have done nothing to earn it. This, of course, is theft.

By lowering the interest rate or engaging in quantitative easing, the Fed allows some economic units to purchase real goods and services that they would not have been able to purchase in the absence of fiat money expansion. These are goods and services that will be denied to current money holders at the price that would have pertained in the absence of fiat money expansion. It is irrelevant to the question of whether or not the Fed has committed the crime of theft to ask if prices are higher. It is irrefutable that prices are higher than they would have been in the absence of fiat money expansion. Paying this higher price means that the public has been robbed of something real. The lowered purchasing power of the public's money means that people can buy fewer units of goods and services.

The Founding Fathers on the Crime of Money Debasement

Our Founding Fathers understood the evil of money expansion much better than our so-called sophisticated modern central bankers. The 1792 Coinage Act made it a capital crime--i.e., death penalty--for debasing money! They understood that money debasement was a crime against all the nation's citizens, not just picking one or two pockets. They were unconcerned about the price level; the crime was tied directly to money debasement, a crime against property. Notice this: money IS property.

It is no exaggeration to claim that fiat money expansion is a criminal act, conducted purposefully in order to give purchasing power to some at the expense of all others. If anyone other than the Fed prints money out of thin air, he is prosecuted for the crime of counterfeiting. So why is the same act legal when perpetrated by the Fed?

I addressed this very question to a panel of Fed representatives touring the country on a public relations campaign in the summer of 2009. My question was "If it is beneficial for the economy, as you say, for the Fed to expand the money supply, why does the government prosecute counterfeiters?" To my astonishment and delight, my question was greeted with cheers from the audience. The Fed panelists squirmed in their seats and quickly called an end to the meeting!

For the Fed to claim that it acts legally according to an act of Congress does not eliminate the crime. During the Nazi era the Germans legally and democratically passed the infamous Nuremberg Laws that persecuted the Jews. Frederic Bastiat would not have been impressed with either the acts establishing the Fed or the Nuremberg Laws. He understood that "...the law may be diverted from its true mission, that it may violate property rather than securing it,..." Such is the case with the acts establishing the Federal Reserve Bank and expanding its power to debase money.

Expanding fiat money is a criminal act and should be prosecuted as such, just as the infamous Nuremberg Laws gave no legal cover to those who persecuted the Jews. We may be reluctant to admit that our government has committed, and continues to commit, acts that our Founding Fathers would punish with the death penalty. But such is the case.

All those who have participated and continue to participate in the criminal act of robbing hundreds of millions of Americans of their rightfully earned wealth that is held in the form of dollar assets must be brought to justice.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Euro as a Tool for Socialism

From today's Open Europe news summary:

Van Rompuy proposes fiscal integration through limited Treaty change;
Eurozone working on three-pronged financial backstop for eurozone
Council President Herman van Rompuy has drawn up plans for fiscal integration in the eurozone which would not require only unanimous consent in the Council rather than ratification at the national level – thereby avoiding an Irish referendum or tricky parliamentary negotiations in all 27 member states. Under the plan eurozone states would enshrine debt and deficit limits in their constitutions, as well as a balanced budget commitment, and the European Court of Justice would judge whether they had been properly enforced. These changes could be made by amending protocol 12 of the EU Treaties, which relates to excessive deficits, rather than a full revision. Under this method the European Commission would not have the power to discipline countries which continually breach the fiscal limits, something which Germany is keen on. Van Rompuy therefore also sets out a plan for wider treaty change which gives the Commission greater power. Lastly, the proposal calls for the ESM, the eurozone’s permanent bailout fund, to have access to ECB funding.

One only has to ask why Van Rompuy demands that any member of the EU should have any say over the budgets of its fellow members to begin to understand the problem. The answer is simple--the structure of the euro socializes irresponsible behavior. Ludwig von Mises explained very clearly the social consequences of capitalism and socialism. Under capitalism the acting party itself enjoys all the benefits and suffers all the losses of his actions. Under socialism the acting party must share his benefits with all others and force all others to share his losses. So capitalist countries go from strength to strength as those who incur losses are forced from the market and are replaced by those who succeed. The exact opposite happens under socialism--those who succeed are fleeced in order to subsidize those who fail until the capital stock of the nation is consumed. Van Rompuy admits as much when he demands that the EU have control over the budgets of irresponsible members. This undemocratic interference into the affairs of a sovereign nation is required by the fact that the euro is a socialist project. As Philipp Bagus explains in his excellent book The Tragedy of the Euro, irresponsible nations export their losses to all the other members of the EU via their ability to print euros, and the responsible nations automatically bear the costs. The misconstruction of the euro (Philipp Bagus' term) means that the entire continent of Europe will be socialized to a greater and greater extent until its capital stock is consumed. We see it happening now with Greek pensioners retiring in their early fifties, thereby consuming capital, and forcing their German neighbors to work into their late sixties to pay the bill. Merkel is taking the wrong approach by demanding that Germany control Greek's budget. No self respecting, patriotic Greek could ever agree to such interference. And such interference is unnecessary. Scrap the euro and the consequences, for good or ill, of each country's internal policies will be borne by that country alone. Capitalism, with all its social benefits of rewarding success and punishing failure, will return to the international financial markets. Instead of constant bickering and threats of foreign intervention, each country will have an incentive to live within its means because it will not be able to live at the expense of its neighbors.

Monday, December 5, 2011

When Did We Change the NATO Treaty?

From today's Air Force Magazine online:

NATO 3.0: NATO demonstrated that it is now an "operational alliance" via its successful air campaign in Libya, rather than just the collective defense construct of its Cold War founding, said the US permanent ambassador to the transatlantic alliance, Ivo Daalder. Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., last week, Daalder called today's alliance "NATO 3.0," building upon the original Cold War model and the alliance's later "export-of-security" model through its enlargement over the past 20 years. He noted that, at the height of the Libya operation, NATO had 177,000 military personnel under its command on three continents. While non-US aircraft flew most of the strike missions, US assets provided the majority of intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance and aerial refueling capabilities. Only 10 percent of the precision-guided munitions dropped in Libya came from US aircraft, said Daalder. In comparison, US aircraft dropped some 90 percent of the PGMs during the 1999 Kosovo operation, he said. Belgian, Danish, and Norwegian aircraft together destroyed as many targets during the Libya operation as the French, he said during his Dec. 2 roundtable. Many allies were able to contribute beyond expectations, he said.

I don't recall any debate about expanding NATO's charter to become an "exporter-of-security" or a NATO 3.0. As much as all of us detested Kaddafi, Libya did NOT attack a NATO country, which would have triggered NATO's mutual defense mechanism. NATO's mission ceased to exist when the Soviet Union collapsed. Now it is just a useful mechanism for international adventures and bureaucratic advancement of people like Mr. Daalder. But he is sending real people in harm's way without a democratic mandate.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sarkozy's Great Lie

From today's Open Europe news summary:

Sarkozy: “Europe’s re-foundation is not a march towards more supra-nationality”;
Calls for greater use of qualified majority voting in the eurozone
In a keynote speech on the state of French economy and the future of Europe yesterday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that he will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday to finalise Franco-German proposals for EU Treaty change, to be discussed at the next meeting of eurozone and EU leaders on 8-9 December. In contrast to Merkel’s plans to give the European Commission and the ECJ more power to enforce budgetary discipline on eurozone countries, Sarkozy said, “A more democratic Europe is a Europe where it’s [national] political leaders who decide…Europe’s re-foundation is not a march towards more supra-nationality…The crisis pushed heads of state and government to take on growing responsibilities, because, at the end of the day, they were the ones who had the democratic legitimacy that allowed them to decide. European integration will go the inter-governmental way because Europe will have to make strategic choices, political choices.”
Outlining his ideas for reform of economic governance in the eurozone, Sarkozy said that “every eurozone country must adopt a 'golden rule' enshrining the balanced budget target in its juridical order,” adding that in future eurozone countries should take more decisions by qualified majority. He also said that the ECB “has obviously a decisive role to play. There is debate over what it is allowed to do under its statute. I don't want to weigh into that debate. The ECB is independent. It will stay independent. I'm convinced that, in light of the deflationary risk which threatens Europe, the ECB will act. It's up to the ECB to decide when and with what means.”
An editorial in Le Figaro argues that Sarkozy “has promised [Merkel] the budgetary golden rule, the sanctions against countries that violate the rules, the respect for the independence of the ECB. It’s now up to the [German] Chancellor to decide if she also wants to accept a compromise to save the euro, through the mutualisation of national debts.” On his Le Monde blog, Arnaud Leparmentier stresses Sarkozy’s “intellectual incoherence”, adding, “The President imagines a French veto in Europe, but considers that smaller countries must accept the majority principle.”

Notice that Sarkozy says that "smaller countries must accept the majority principle". He means that they must accede to being run by French and German bureaucrats. (Hitler and Napoleon would be proud.) This crisis was caused by the misconstruction (as Professor Philipp Bagus calls it) of the euro and the abandonment of the immediate post-WWII vision of a truly liberal Europe of free trade and free people. Sarkozy's vision is of a protectionist European bloc against the rest of the world and a highly regulated, socialist government internally. If Europe does in fact go this route, it will stagnate and fail. It is the time for Europe's true statesmen to oppose this socialist march to totalitarianism.