Economy USA 2010: From the Scandalous Past to the Uncertain Future

Linked on our blogs with Rodrigue Tremblay – Canada, and with The CODE for Global Ethics.

Published on Global Research.ca, by Prof. Rodrigue Tremblay, January 6, 2010.

… In financial matters, the American central bank (the Fed or the Federal Reserve System) is a curious animal. It is an institution that is entrusted to regulate banks and other financial institutions, but it is partly owned by the large money center banks. It is in a perpetual conflict of interests. In fact, it can be said that the Fed is the banks’ own private government. In good times, large Wall Street banks, bank holding companies and other large integrated financial groups, such as AIG (American International Group), are pretty much left alone and allowed to build profitable but risky and shaky financial pyramids, with scant supervision.

When things go bad, however, the Fed stands ready to bail them out with automatic discounting, zero-interest loans and other goodies, the overall cost being transferred to the general public through an inflation tax and a debased currency. We know since 2008 that the U.S. Treasury also stands ready with public money to bailout the large Wall Street banks when their gambles go sour. The $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) is testimony to that effect.

A central bank can always print new money. But this is hardly a magic recipe for prosperity. If it were so, many Third World countries could claim to have discovered this magic potion. The current Bernanke Fed is tragically wrong in its belief that it can reverse the current over-indebtedness situation in the economy and its mismanagement of the financial crisis by printing money. It is not true that the real economy always respond positively to heavy doses of monetary stimulus. In fact, the contrary is usually the case. If it were true, Zimbabwe, which is an African economic basket case with an uncontrolled bout of hyperinflation, would be prosperous. The U.S. economy is not exempt from fundamental economic laws. A few years down the road, people will see why.

It is my feeling that the U.S. economy is presently in the eye of a powerful financial hurricane of debt liquidation. Such systemic crisis happens no more than twice in a century and it takes at least a decade to work itself out. In this environment, one should be wary of the stock market as a barometer of the real economy. There could be artificially created short-term “liquidity” rallies, when all the while the real economy remains in the doldrums. The 2009 liquidity-driven stock market rally has all the appearances of such a bear market rally destined to fail and trap many unwary investors. In fact, this rally looks like a mirror repeat of the 1930 stock market rally that saw stocks retrace some fifty percent of their initial 1929 losses. We know now that this was only a mirage, and that the worst was still to come.

In my last July 10 blog, I stated that there is likely to be a prolonged 2007-2017 economic stagnation period in the U.S. —I reconfirm this assessment, which is reinforced by my conviction that the Bernanke Fed is making matters worse by its unlimited printing press so-called “solution” of discounting everything but the kitchen sink. It is my contention that this imprudent Fed is paving the way for the mother load of bubble and subsequent crash. This is because, as alluded to above, they seem to have forgotten that the credit cycle and the process of debt build-up, and the subsequent debt liquidation that follows, are the primary driving forces in the underlying economic cycle.

This time the crash will be initiated in the huge bond market, will spread to the commercial loan market and ultimately to the stock market, and then will further crush the real economy in a way that few understand today but will learn the hard way in the coming years.

Let us keep in mind that in the recent past, the Fed and the U.S. Treasury did not see the subprime and housing crises coming. They were completely taken off-guard. In 2005, according to then Fed member Ben Bernanke, “there was no housing bubble”, even though everybody and his uncle could see that the real estate bubble was about to burst.

And now, let us look at the figures. At the end of 2009, reflecting a binge of printing new money by the Fed, the U.S. monetary base, i.e. money circulating through the public and banking reserves on deposit with the Federal Reserve, stood at more than $2,016,136,000,000, after having increased 146 percent in three years. This is unprecedented. —Even if one subtracts the inactive excess bank reserves at the Fed, worth more than $1 trillion (and earning interest!), the U.S.’s monetary base has grown 22 percent in three years, from a starting point of $818 billion in early 2006.

Nevertheless, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said in 2009, that he does not fear inflation and that, in fact, inflation could even go down from then on. He could be right for the next few months, but how about the next few years?

Those who listened to Chairman B. B. in 2005, and kept buying leveraged real estate, lost their shirt. I am of the feeling that those who believed Chairman B.B in 2009, and kept buying long-term U.S. Treasury bonds, are also going to lose their shirt. Because of the huge federal deficits and Fed policy to monetize a big chunk of them, U.S. long-term rates are bound to increase in the coming years, whether the real economy grows or not. That would be the next Fed-created bubble bursting, the bubble of artificially low interest rates, excessive money creation and artificially high asset prices for long-term Treasury bonds.

In the past, the big losers of this policy were the millions of people who lost their homes through mortgage foreclosures, the millions of people who lost their jobs through bankruptcies and the millions of retirees who saw their retirement incomes plummet with near zero interest rates. In the future, the principal losers will still be middle class families who will continue being the victims of a massive spoliation and will still have trouble making ends meet, plus retirees whose retirement capital will be further eroded. Where is AARP when we need it? (full long text).

(Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal and can be reached by e-mail. He is the author of the coming book “The Code for Global Ethics” at The Code For Global Ethics.com. You can reserve a copy of the book (en english) on Amazon. The French version of the book is now available. See le code pour une ethique globale or (in french) on Amazon. Register to be alerted when the English version is available by sending the word “Code” to big picture world. Please visit the book site at www.TheCodeForGlobalEthics.com/. See also his blog.
Rodrigue Tremblay is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Rodrigue Tremblay).

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