Since September 2007, when the British Government and the Bank of England bungled the Northern Rock affair, one government after another has sent in the boy scouts in an attempt to douse what has become an international economic wildfire. Their efforts haven’t worked. Indeed, they have often made matters worse – much worse – and the fire remains uncontained.
Heads of state continue to rush from one meeting to the next. Worryingly, they (and the army of pundits that follow them) continue to focus most of their rhetoric on whether fiscal austerity or more fiscal stimulus is the right strategy to contain the crisis and turn things around. Instead, they should be focusing on the money supply. As history shows us, money and monetary policy trumps fiscal policy.
When the monetary and fiscal policies move in opposite directions, the economy will follow the direction taken by monetary (not fiscal) policy. For doubters, just consider Japan and the United States in the 1990s. The Japanese government engaged in a massive fiscal stimulus program, while the Bank of Japan embraced a super-tight monetary policy. In consequence, Japan suffered under deflationary pressures and experienced a lost decade of economic growth.
In the U.S., the 1990s were marked by a strong boom. The Fed was accommodative and President Clinton was the most austere president in the post-World War II era. President Clinton chopped 3.9 percentage points off federal government expenditures as a percent of GDP. No other modern U.S. President has even come close to Clinton’s record.
Since the crisis commenced in the early fall of 2007, most countries have applied huge doses of fiscal stimulus, and – with the exceptions of China, Japan, and Germany – taken contractionary “monetary” stances. How could this be? After all, central banks around the world have turned on the money pumps. Isn’t that simulative? Well, yes, it is.
But, central banks only produce what Lord Keynes referred to in 1930 as “state money”. And state money (also known as base or high-powered money) is a rather small portion of the total “money” in an economy. Even after the Fed more than tripled the supply of state money in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, state money in the U.S. still accounts for only 15% of the total money in the economy.
Today’s economic conditions reflect a fiat monetary system held together by many tricks and luck over the past 40 years. The world has been awash in paper money since removal of the last vestige of the gold standard by Richard Nixon when he buried the Bretton Woods agreement — the gold exchange standard — on August 15, 1971.
Since then we’ve been on a worldwide paper dollar standard. Quite possibly we are seeing the beginning of the end of that system. If so, tough times are ahead for the United States and the world economy.
The new Federal Reserve chairman, Janet Yellen, gave a policy speech today at Chicago, where, in a startling gesture, she mentioned three working individuals by name — Jermaine Brownlee, Vicki Lira, and Doreen Poole. They lost their jobs the Great Recession and have been struggling ever since. It was a refreshing, even affecting demarche by Mrs. Yellen, who has made a return to full employment a public priority. She underscored her sincerity by telephoning Mr. Brownlee and Ms. Lira and Ms. Poole before delivering her speech.
Publisher's Note: Originally released in June/July of 1991, this detailed report discusses Jacques Rueff's economic theories and applies them to modern economic events.
By John D. Mueller
Who Was Jacques Rueff?
... Trained in science and mathematics at the Ecole Polytechnique, Rueff devoted his first theoretical work to showing that the same scientific method applies to “moral” or “social” sciences like economics as to the physical sciences (Des Sciences Physiques aux Sciences Morales, 1922). In both cases, he pointed out, individual acts can be “indeterminate,” but the pattern of large numbers of individual acts can be predicted as a matter of probability. And so in economics no less than physics, as he later wrote, “A scientific theory is considered correct only if it makes forecasting possible.”
"Forerunners of man lived upon the planet several million years ago. But the unique, modern, social order of man – civilization – emerged only four to five thousand years ago. Historical and archaeological evidence suggests that the institution of money evolved coterminously with civilization. From the standpoint of the 100,000-year history of Homo sapiens, civilization and money are but young and fragile reeds. Today their very existence is threatened by financial disorder."
There is a lot of bad behavior in the global political and monetary world. Much of it comes in countries that should know better. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) easily won municipal electons in Turkey but the party’s candidates won far short of the nation’s votes.
Hostility toward gold has a long pedigree.
19th century depiction of Pliny the Elder courtesy of the Library of Congress
Gaius Plinius Secundus, commonly known as Pliny the Elder, in his The Natural History, Book 33, section 3, writes:
Would that gold could have been banished for ever from the earth, accursed by...