Saturday, March 31, 2012

Should Fractional Reserve Banking Be Illegal?

There is widespread thought amongst libertarians/ Austrian school economists that fractional reserve banking (FRB) should be illegal.  It is not very often that libertarians, especially anarchists, say, “There ought to be a law”.  Who am I to take on intellectual giants like Murray Rothbard and Walter Block?  I would like to suggest though that libertarians should not be all that concerned about fractional reserve banking.

People often get worked up over the trade deficit of the United States, when this is really not a problem.  It is really the result of a problem, which is a fiat currency and massive federal debt.  In much the same way, fractional reserve banking is not really what makes the system fraudulent.

Instead of advocating that banks be mandated by law to hold 100% reserves, it should be good enough to simply advocate a free market.  I hate to tell this to other libertarians, but we don’t need another law.  We simply need to repeal the ones we have.  If we get rid of government banking regulations, the FDIC, and the Federal Reserve, the problem of fractional reserve banking will take care of itself.  In short, we simply need a free market in banking.  It is not to say that things will be perfect or that banks will never fail, but you wouldn’t have that guarantee with a law on the books either.

A free market in banking would probably result in gold being the main currency.  Libertarians often advocate a gold standard, but it is really a free market in money that is desired.  The free market chose gold for thousands of years because of its good qualities as money.  Assuming that gold would be the primary money, banks would accept gold as a place for you to store your money.  Perhaps they would be in coin form so that the weight and content is easily identifiable.  The bank could issue certificates that could be redeemed for a certain amount of gold.  If a bank wanted to really show its honesty, it could stamp a serial number on gold coins and issue certificates with that same number.  Any customer could drop by the bank at any time and ask to see the gold coin corresponding to the certificate.  Such a bank would be practicing banking with 100% reserves.

But let’s suppose that a bank did loan out the gold that you gave them.  First of all, if the bank only held 10% reserves, which is the minimum that banks are required to hold today, there would be a run in a short time and the bank would be out of business.  But a bank would be foolish to do this in a free market.  The reason banks only hold 10% reserves now is because the FDIC is there to back them up.  The FDIC is the only reason that people are not running to their banks and withdrawing all of their money right now.  The FDIC is really what makes banking today fraudulent.

Now some libertarians will argue that you can’t have any fractional reserve banking because there would be more than one person that has a claim on the same property.  But what then of insurance companies?  If every single American were to get into a car accident tomorrow, then the car insurance companies would not be able to make good on the claims.  The car insurance companies and their customers are betting on the fact that not everyone will file a claim at the same time.  I have yet to see anyone argue that insurance companies should be illegal (although I’m sure there is someone).

Libertarians are often asked how things would work if left to the free market.  For example, people will ask how roads could be operated by businesses and how people would pay their bills to use the roads.  I cannot answer these questions and nobody else can either.  We can only suggest possible ways that the market might handle this.  The same goes for fractional reserve banking.  I don’t know how things would operate in a world of free banking.  I can only guess.

Perhaps some banking will be like buying a cd at a bank.  You can lock in a rate for a fixed time.  If you want to withdraw the money early, you may have to pay a penalty.  Or perhaps a penalty would depend on how high the reserves were at that time for the bank.  Maybe you could have a cd, but with no guarantee that you will be able to withdraw your money early.  There are any number of financial instruments that could be used in a system of free market banking and money.

So what of fraud?  If you deposit your money into an account and the owner of the bank runs off with your money, you can sue that person for stealing.  We don’t need another law.  We need to let the free market work.  Again, fractional reserve banking is a problem primarily because of the FDIC and fiat money.  Libertarians should not be telling people what kind of contracts they are allowed to enter into.  If a bank openly practices fractional reserve banking and I want to take my business there, that should be up to me.  It is my money and I am taking the risk.

This is really more of a moral issue for me.  Perhaps Murray Rothbard was right and that fractional reserve banking is detrimental to an economy, even in a free market economy.  But regardless of the utilitarian argument, who am I to tell two other parties what they may and may not do?  As long as a bank is being honest about its practices, who am I to interfere with contracts that others are making?  If there were a law preventing fractional reserve banking in a free market, who would we point the gun at? Would we point a gun at the banking customer or the banker himself or both?  Would we threaten them with fines?  Would we lock them up?  Would we shoot them if they disobeyed?  And what kind of law would this be?  Would it be a federal law?  Where is this power granted in the Constitution?

This is a great example of why I consider myself a panarchist ahead of being an anarchist.  If people want to get together and agree on something, who am I to stop them if they are not interfering with someone else's rights?  If a group of people want to get together and have socialized medicine, who am I to stop them?  If they want to get together and have fractional reserve banks, who am I to stop them, as long as I am not being forced to participate?

In conclusion, libertarians should not worry about fractional reserve banking.  It will be used by the Federal Reserve to inflate the currency as long as there is a Federal Reserve.  In a free society, fractional reserve banking will not take place anywhere close to the extent that it currently does, if at all.  We already have laws that allow people to use the courts to sue for fraud.  We don’t need any more laws.  Our main goal should be to eliminate the Fed by repealing legal tender laws and to get back to sound money.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Potential Opportunity for the Libertarian Party in 2012

The Libertarian Party’s 2012 national convention will be held during the first weekend of May in Las Vegas, Nevada.  It is at this convention that the Libertarian Party (LP) will choose its nominee for the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

This could potentially be a huge opportunity for the LP.  The economy is still a mess (despite what some may say) and war has continued under Obama (despite his Nobel Peace Prize).  There are a lot of dissatisfied Americans who are looking for a true change.  Even more, Ron Paul’s run for the presidency has demonstrated that there are millions of Americans who want less government and more liberty.

For the sake of this article, let’s make a few assumptions.  First, let’s assume that Ron Paul does not win the Republican nomination.  Although his delegate count will likely be far higher than what the mainstream media is saying, let’s assume one of the other three candidates gets the Republican nomination (and it doesn’t matter which one).  Second, let’s assume that all of the rumors about Romney and Paul secretly teaming up are false.  This is probably a safe assumption.  Third, let’s assume that Ron Paul does not decide to run as a third-party candidate.  If he were to run on the LP ticket, he would have to decide before the convention.

If the above assumptions hold true, most Ron Paul supporters are not going to support the Republican nominee or Obama.  They will be out in the cold, at least as far as politics go in the national presidential election.  Many, if not most, of Ron Paul’s supporters are just like the man they support.  They will not compromise on their principles.  This means that they will not support someone for political office unless that person is a principled libertarian.

There are several people seeking the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president.  The most famous is Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico.  Gary Johnson also ran as a Republican for the presidential nomination.  Due to his exclusion from most of the debates and his low poll numbers, he made the decision to drop out and seek the LP nomination instead.

Johnson certainly has some libertarian leanings and was the only person in the Republican field who was anywhere close to Ron Paul on some of the issues.  Johnson vetoed hundreds of bills while he was governor.  He is generally fiscally conservative.  He is not as anti-war as Ron Paul, but he is also not as hawkish as the other Republican candidates.  He often approaches issues from a more pragmatic perspective, and less from a moral perspective.

While Johnson seems like a decent guy, he is no Ron Paul.  He is more of a Ron Paul-lite.  He says he wants to legalize marijuana.  He does not say he wants to end the federal war on drugs.  Ron Paul says he wants to end the federal income tax.  Gary Johnson is in favor of the Fair Tax.  While the Fair Tax would eliminate the income tax, it would also replace it with a huge national sales tax.

The bottom line is, many Ron Paul supporters will not trust Gary Johnson enough to support his campaign or vote for him in the general election.  Johnson may have been a good governor when compared to all of the others, but that is not really saying much.  While the growth rate of spending was reduced in New Mexico, actual spending still went up under Governor Johnson.  There will also be hesitation about Johnson and his views on foreign policy.  Again, he would certainly be better than Obama or any of the Republican candidates (excluding Paul), but there will be questions about whether he will order the complete withdrawal of all troops on the day he takes office.

Many LP members have to be questioning the wisdom of nominating Gary Johnson.  The party nominated a former Republican in the last election cycle.  Former Congressman Bob Barr was nominated because it was thought that he would bring some notoriety and respectability to the party’s nominee.  That didn’t work out too well.  If you have any doubt, just look at what Bob Barr has done this year.  It is reported that he announced his support for Newt Gingrich.  While it would be an insult to compare Gary Johnson to Bob Barr, there is still a lesson to learn that the party should not pick its nominee solely based on celebrity status.

When the Republican primaries are done, Ron Paul will have received a couple of million votes.  The LP has never received over one million votes in a presidential race.  If the LP were to get those couple of million votes in November, it would be a huge boost to the party.  It would help tremendously in future elections in many states in achieving ballot access as a major party.

The LP and its members do have other choices.  There is at least one principled libertarian running for the LP nomination.  His name is R. Lee Wrights.  The issue that he stresses the most is war.  He wants to end them immediately.  He believes in a non-interventionist foreign policy.  He is libertarian on all issues, as he believes in the non-aggression principle.

While Wrights is not well known at all, it would not matter.  If Ron Paul is not on the ballot in November, Paul supporters will be looking for someone with principles to support.  While I can’t speak for Ron Paul at all, my guess is that he would be more likely to support someone like Wrights than Johnson.

2012 is potentially a real opportunity for the Libertarian Party.  Will they repeat the mistake of 2008?  Or will they put up a principled libertarian like some previous nominees.  Harry Browne was the nominee in 1996 and 2000.  Ron Paul was the nominee in 1988.  There have also been other principled nominees.  Let’s hope that if Ron Paul is not on the ballot in November, that there will at least be one pro-liberty candidate on there.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Calculating Your ROI in Investment Real Estate

Real estate has been in a major downtrend for the last 5 years.  While all real estate is local, it is safe to say that there was a real estate bubble that burst for the large majority of Americans.  The downtrend may continue for a little while longer, depending on how long it takes for the malinvestment to clear.  Mortgage rates are even harder to predict, as it depends on what happens with interest rates in general, which depends on the Federal Reserve's monetary policy and the overall state of the economy.

I have read and heard people say that now is a terrible time to invest in real estate.  Perhaps that means that we are beginning to see a bottom.  Perhaps not.  But now is not a terrible time to invest in real estate.  It was a terrible time 5 years ago.  In many places, housing prices are half of what they were back in 2006 or 2007.  With the loose monetary policy by the Fed and the potential for it to continue, it is easy to see a scenario where housing prices go up quite a bit from here, at least in nominal terms.

If you are in the right situation and you live in an area where housing prices are a good deal, I think now is an excellent time to start investing in real estate.  If you have some money in the bank and you plan to stay in your current area, then you may have a great opportunity.

So how do you know if you can get a good deal?  One easy way is to calculate the monthly expenses of a place (including mortgage, taxes, insurance, and potential repairs) and compare that to the potential rent.  If you can have a positive cash flow with the rent, then it is probably a good deal.

You should look for a place in a decent neighborhood.  You should look at 3 bedroom - 2 bathroom houses, and not more.  Condos and townhouses may be ok, but keep in mind that they will not appreciate as much and you will also have to include the association fees as a significant cost.

There are different ways to calculate your potential return on investment (ROI).  Here is how I like to do it.  Forget taking a mortgage (even if you may have to).  Let's say you can buy a place for $100,000.  Let's say that the taxes will be $100 per month.  Let's say there are association fees for $100 per month.  Let's say you can estimate repairs of $50 per month (just as an average estimate).  Let's say the insurance will be about $50 per month.  Your total expense are $300 per month.  Let's say you can rent the place out for $1,000 per month.  This will mean a net of $700 per month.  Again, this is without a mortgage.

In that scenario, you take the $700 and multiply it by 12 months.  You get $8,400 per year.  Take that number and divide it by the purchase price of $100,000.  You get 8.4%.  That is your ROI.  Your $100,000 investment will get you a return of 8.4% if your estimates are correct and you keep it rented.

To me, that seems like a decent return.  When you are considering an investment property, don't worry too much about appreciation.  That will be icing on the cake.  Just make sure to buy in a decent neighborhood where it is unlikely to lose nominal value over the long run.  Worry the most about your ROI.  If you are taking out a mortgage, you want to have positive cash flow.

Many Americans have been financially devastated from the housing bubble crash.  Many feel defeated.  Now is a great time for investors to take advantage of great deals.  You can be choosy and take your time.  If you see something you like and the numbers look good, you can build real wealth over time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Republicans Are Wrong on Obamacare

Most of the Republicans have it wrong on Obamacare.  In fact, they are probably more inconsistent with their proposals than Obama.  Since I am a libertarian, I am obviously in favor of a complete repeal of Obamacare, but I think the Republican plan may be worse.  Since the Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the new health care legislation (also known as Obamacare), I figured now would be a good time to discuss the merits of the Republican "plan".

First, a few side notes on this whole thing.  On Monday, the court heard arguments about whether they could even hear the case based on some 19th century law that says a tax hike cannot be challenged in court until the tax actually takes effect.  I find this strange because some taxes from the legislation have already taken effect.  The tanning tax (is Obama against white people getting a tan and getting some vitamin D?) has already taken effect.  In addition, you can no longer use money from a health savings account to buy over-the-counter medicine without a prescription.  This is basically a tax hike.

I suppose this whole tax debate is centered around the mandate to buy health insurance.  The tax penalty for not buying insurance has not yet taken effect, but there certainly have been new taxes that have already taken effect from Obamacare.

Next, from a constitutional standpoint, this whole piece of legislation is unconstitutional.  The 10th Amendment clearly says that those powers not delegated by the Consitution are to be left to the states or the people.  Since managing health care is not mentioned in Article I, Section 8, the federal government has no constitutional authority to pass legislation regarding health insurance or health care.  Of course, this would also mean that the federal government should not be doing anything like Medicare, Medicaid, HMOs, and the thousands of other things it does in health care.

The ironic thing is that if there is one thing the federal government does have the power to do based on the Constitution, it is regulating interstate commerce.  That means the federal government could strike down state laws which prohibit people from buying health insurance from another state.  This would actually create more competition and reduce costs.  Therefore, the one constitutional thing that could be done by the federal government is not done and it is one of the few things that would make health care and health insurance cheaper (aside from repealing all of the federal laws).

So why are the Republicans actually worse than Obama and the Democrats on this?  Most Republicans that I listen to say they support certain aspects of Obamacare, but they don't support the insurance mandate.  Of course, this does not include Ron Paul and a few others.  But most of the Republicans I hear, even the supposedly conservative ones, say they support a law that requires insurance companies to not discriminate based on pre-existing conditions.

This is completely ridiculous.  Not discriminating based on pre-existing conditions defeats the whole point of insurance.  It would no longer be insurance.  If I can just buy insurance after my house burns down or after I get in a car accident, why would I ever get it in the first place?  If the Republicans have their way, people would wait until they get sick before they buy insurance.  That means that the healthy people would be less likely to get insurance and insurance companies would get stuck covering mostly sick people.  This would drive insurance rates sky high.

The ultimate result of the Republican plan would drive health insurance companies out of business or make insurance completely unaffordable.  It would be a sure path to fully nationalized healthcare.  So based on the plan being spouted by many Republicans, we would surely have socialized medicine.

Obamacare, while fascist and a boom to insurance companies, actually makes more sense.  People would be required to buy health insurance or face a penalty (tax).  Therefore, people would not be allowed to just wait until they get sick and then buy health insurance, unless they chose to pay the penalty.  Obamacare is actually less of a disaster than the plan being proposed by many Republicans.

The Republicans are saying that nobody should be forced by the government to buy anything.  I agree.  But most of the people saying this are completely hypocritical.  We are forced to buy nearly 4 trillion dollars worth of things every year by the federal government, along with an almost equal amount by state and local governments.  For every tax that I pay, I am being forced to buy something I don't want to.  I am being forced to buy wars, food stamps for others, education for other people's children, etc.  At least with Obamacare I am being forced to buy something that I can actually use for myself and my family.

This is not a defense of Obamacare.  I just wanted to point out the absurdity of the Republican "plan" and the absurdity of the arguments being made by many Republicans.

In conclusion, I hope that Obamacare is repealed.  However, if the Supreme Court strikes down the insurance mandate while leaving the rest of the legislation in place, it could be a total disaster for health care in the future.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Avoiding Fraud When Purchasing Precious Metals

There was an article on, by Robert Wenzel of the Economic Policy Journal, discussing a gold bar that had been filled with tungsten.  Tungsten can be used to make fraudulent gold bars.  Gold is a very dense metal and tungsten is the only substance that comes close to gold in density.  Since tungsten is much cheaper than gold, a gold bar filled partially with tungsten would be worth a lot less than what is supposedly being sold.

One of the points of this article was to point out the potential fraud in Fort Knox.  Perhaps the U.S. government owns a lot less gold than what is thought.  If this was discovered, it wouldn't mean all that much to you as an individual.  It would be interesting to know.  It would make people realize that their government is dishonest (as if you need anything else to realize that).  It would mean that the government is a few days closer to bankruptcy than we thought.

As an individual investor, I think it is good to own a small amount of actual gold and silver.  You should not get carried away with buying the actual metal due to the risk of theft or fire or some other accidental loss.  Even keeping it in a bank safe deposit box is not a guarantee.  Even there it could be subject to an accidental loss or a government seizure.  At some point, you should put a little bit of faith in the whole system and buy gold and gold related investments in other forms, even if it is through a warehouse.

But to start out, it is a good idea to own some actual physical gold and silver.  In regards to the referenced article, I would not worry too much about being defrauded.  First, I would stay away from any large quantities of gold (or silver) in one piece.  The largest piece of gold you should buy is one ounce.  The article referenced a 1 kilo bar, which is over 32 troy ounces.  It is much harder to fill a one ounce gold piece with tungsten.

Second, I would stay away from bars.  It is better to stick with common coins such as the American Gold Eagle.  This coin is easily recognized and hard to counterfeit.  The eagle comes in four sizes: one ounce, half ounce, quarter ounce, and one-tenth ounce.

Third and finally, I would buy from a reputable company or dealer, especially if you are unsure.  You can shop around and find the best prices from companies that are established.  You can also try to find a local gold dealer who you trust and who has decent prices.

So remember, stay small and stay in coins.  Then you don't have to worry about being defrauded.  If there are gold bars in Fort Knox filled with tungsten, then that is someone else's problem.  The U.S. government is almost insolvent anyway, unless it resorts to mass inflation.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Taxation, Regulation, Spending, Monetary Policy - What Matters Most?

Taxation, regulation, spending, and monetary policy all have a big impact on a nation's economy.  But what matters most?  Of course, it depends on the degree of each one.  If there were a regulation that said you are not permitted to start a business unless you first hire 100 employees, then this would almost completely stifle a nation's economy if enforced.  If you have a lot of regulations and yet they do not really impose any significant cost to businesses and individuals, then it will not harm the economy much.

The same goes for all of these.  And really, all of these things are inter-related in different ways.  Taxation can affect spending and spending can affect taxation.  The same can be said with monetary policy.  The size of government affects all of these areas.

But if you could fix one thing first, what would it be?  It is difficult to say.  If you didn't have a central bank and the government did not have a monopoly on the money supply, then it would not be able to spend as much.  It would also not be able to run up massive debt.  The federal government would be more like state governments are today.  It could still spend quite a bit and do a lot of damage, but it would be forced to scale back in hard times.

On the other hand, if you dramatically cut spending, then it would not be necessary for the central bank to create money out of thin air.  The debt monetization would not be needed.  You don't need a central bank to buy government debt if there is no government debt to begin with.

Regulations are quite difficult to measure.  Just by being aware of the many thousands of pages of regulations put out by Washington DC, you have to know that they are a significant cost to Americans.  Even here, if there were very low spending and taxation, many of these regulations would not be enforceable.

I used to think that taxation was the biggest issue in driving an economy.  While I still think it is very important, I'm not sure that it is the number one thing to look at.  The 1950's in America were a relatively prosperous time.  Think of Leave It To Beaver.  The husband went to work.  The wife stayed home.  Times were pretty good for most Americans.  Medicine was cheap.  That part we can thank the low regulations in healthcare at the time.

However, the 1950's also had one of the highest marginal tax rates in history.  You can see the history here.  The top tax rate was over 90% at some points in the 50's.  This was draconian.  Luckily, taxes for the average American were much lower.  Overall spending was much lower.  Deficits were low.  Monetary inflation was relatively low.

I think the biggest drivers of a nation's economy are monetary policy and overall spending.  They are related.  If the government didn't spend so much, we would have lower taxes and more stable money due to less debt.  But again, the government wouldn't spend so much without the Fed there to create new money out of thin air.

Monetary policy is huge.  Debasing the money is really degrading to a civilization.  It redistributes wealth.  It misallocates resources.  It rewards debtors at the expense of savers.  It causes bubbles, booms, and busts.  It allows government to continue to grow.  It allows government to run up the debt.  It allows government to start wars without new taxation.  It allows banks to take bigger risks.

In conclusion, all four of these areas are important to an economy.  While tax reform and tax relief are important,  I believe the government and central bank's control over the money supply is the biggest factor, along with the overall spending.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Miracle of Compounding Interest, Part 2

Yesterday, I discussed the wonders of compounding interest and the benefits to an individual investor.  For this post, I want to talk about compounding interest applied to an entire society or civilization.

Just as an individual can accumulate great wealth over time with compounding interest, a society can also accumulate great wealth.  It is the same concept.  If the economic growth of a particular area averages around 4% per year, then that area will be twice as wealthy about every 18 years.  But you have to realize that after another doubling after the next 18 years, then the people will actually be 4 times better off than 36 years ago.  After another doubling, they will be 8 times better off.

Despite the economic growth of the 20th century, the 19th century was actually more prosperous for America, in a sense.  There was great economic growth through most of the 1800's.  We saw the great results in the 1900's, even though growth was lower (as an average) during that time.  The 1900's were so great (at least some of the time) because the wealth was being built off of what was already accomplished in the 1800's.

While technology certainly plays a big role, it is actually capital investment that is the main thing that makes this happen.  People save money and invest their excess capital.  This enables people to be more productive.  This allows them to save even more and invest even more, which leads to even more production with less labor necessary.

If America had the massive government spending, regulation, and bureaucracy in the 19th century that we have today, the people then would have been really poor.  The people of the 20th century also would have been really poor.  And we would be far worse off today.

We are a quite wealthy society now, especially compared to anything a hundred years ago.  This is in spite of the massive government we have.  If we didn't have the massive government, then we would be that much more prosperous.  But most of what we have today is due to the previous capital investment that took place previously over hundreds of years, or more.

It has been said that the American Founders would have had more in common with the people living in the era of Jesus than with us today.  In other words, there was not that much advancement for a couple of thousand years.  Something happened in the late 1700's and early 1800's where the economy got going.  Much of this is due to freedom in Britain and America (at least economically speaking).  The economy was like a car that needed an initial push to get it going.  Once it got going, then it could accelerate.

Even a small 2% growth can add up significantly over time.  People don't notice it unless they look back several years and compare the living standards.

With the tough economic times (due to the massive government and central bank), it is still important to have some economic growth.  It can give us hope that we can get beyond the government interference enough to continue to prosper.  If we ever did get government off of our backs, we could see real growth at 5%, 10%, or more.  Our standard of living would increase at a staggering pace.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Miracle of Compounding Interest

It is often surprising how few people understand the power of compounding interest.  It is a powerful thing.  A lot of investment companies will sell their products by giving you examples of compounding interest.  For example, if you invest $10,000, just one time, at the age of 20 and earn a return of 6% every year, you will have over $137,000 by the time you reach age 65.

It is called compounding interest, but "interest" just refers to the rate of return.  You can make your return by earning dividends or capital gains and it doesn't have to be with stocks.

While it is a lot harder these days to get a decent and consistent return on your money, compounding interest is still important, especially if you are relatively young.  You don't need a lot of money to start building a portfolio.  It may seem small at the start, but if you stay with your plan and you keep contributing money, even in small amounts, it can add up to a big sum later on in life.

I think one of the best things to look at right now is real estate.  In many places in the U.S., houses have fallen 50% or more in price.  In many places, you can buy a house with 20% down and actually get positive cash flow.  You will get a return on your money every month (assuming no major repairs).  Plus, you will be slowly paying down the mortgage.  Plus, you might even get capital gains one day on the price if the housing market recovers.  While houses may or may not go up in real terms, monetary inflation is likely to eventually drive the nominal prices higher.  Meanwhile, you can pay off (or your tenants can pay off) your fixed-rate mortgage with depreciating money.

Outside of real estate, I advocate that you invest in something like the permanent portfolio as described in Harry Browne's book Fail Safe Investing.  It is the best thing I know of that will allow you to sleep at night.  It has been quite consistent in providing good solid returns above the inflation rate.

Tomorrow, I am going to continue on this subject of compounding interest, but instead of applying it to individual investors, I am going to apply it to civilizations.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Republican Responsibility for Spending

Obama has been a complete disaster.  The only good thing I can say about him is that, while he has expanded wars and started new ones, at least he hasn't started an all-out world war, at least yet.  I don't know if we would be able to say the same thing if McCain were president.

Obama has been a disaster for civil liberties and, of course, a disaster on the economic front.  The debt has grown a staggering amount on his watch.

I hear Sean Hannity and other conservatives talk about the Obama debt.  While Obama certainly is partially responsible, these conservatives are also letting the Republican politicians in DC off the hook.  Being apologists for Bush for eight years wasn't enough for them.

It is true that Obama has been president for over 3 years now and the Democrats controlled both the House and Senate for the first two years.  But what about the last 14 months, when the Republicans have controlled the majority in the House?

According to the Constitution, all spending bills have to go through the House.  The House of Representatives actually holds more power than the president when it comes to spending.  The president can only sign or veto a spending bill.  The congress can actually override a presidential veto.

If the Republicans in the House really wanted to cut spending, they could do it.  If they really wanted a balanced budget, they could do it.  If they really wanted smaller government, they could make it happen. The conservative apologist will say, "but then the media would make them look bad".  My response is, "so what?"  The conservative media, like Sean Hannity, wouldn't attack them for cutting spending (or would he?).  If the Republicans are never going to cut any government because they are afraid of what the media will say, then what is the point in electing them?

The Republicans in the House could shrink government simply by refusing to pass any spending bills that would cause a budget deficit.  The Republicans could have refused to raise the debt ceiling.  If they didn't want to be that drastic, they could have raised the debt ceiling by a much smaller amount.

Do these establishment Republican voters never learn?  They think the Republicans are the lesser of evils because they talk about smaller government.  If you'll notice, most of these Republican politicians never actually offer any specific cuts of any substance.

I say all of this for a couple of reasons.  First, don't be fooled again into voting for Republicans, unless it is someone like Ron Paul who offers specific and drastic cuts (which is rare to find).  Second, don't count on anything significant changing if Mitt Romney beats Obama in November.

Regardless of who is president next year and what party controls the House and Senate, it will probably not make much of a difference.  There will be short-term pain even if Ron Paul becomes president, simply because of all of the previous malinvestment.

If Romney (or Santorum or Gingrich) were to beat Obama, you probably shouldn't change your economic outlook.  They will continue to spend other people's money and they will continue to drive the train over a cliff.  Things will only change due to a collapse or a major change in people's thinking, or maybe both.  Technology will also play a role in changing things.

When enough people realize that government is not the solution, but the problem, then things will take care of themselves.  It will not be necessary to vote for the right person.

Monday, March 19, 2012

16 Afghans Murdered

Last week, there was a well-publicized story about 16 Afghan civilians who were murdered in their homes in the middle of the night.  Most reports have said that it was done by one American soldier.  However, there have been some conflicting reports saying that several American soldiers took part.  Regardless, it is an important story and one that deserves attention.

If nothing else, this story points to the extreme hypocrisy of the U.S. government and even many Americans who continually promote war.  Almost all Americans condemn the 9/11 terrorists who murdered about 3,000 Americans, and rightly so.  But didn't this American soldier just do the same thing that the terrorists of 9/11 did.  Perhaps the motives were different, but the results were the same (except for the number of dead).

These were Afghanis who were completely innocent.  Many of them were children.  This American soldier (or soldiers) murdered these innocent people.  So should the Afghan government now have the right to start bombing America because of this act of murder?  In the eyes of Americans who want to continually bomb Afghanistan because of 9/11, wouldn't this be the consistent thinking?  The terrorists on 9/11 were supposedly linked to the Taliban, but even that is sketchy.  However, there is no question that this American soldier was connected to the U.S. government.  In fact, he was trained to kill by the U.S. government.

The other point to be made with this whole story is that this is only one incident.  This particular incident is more newsworthy because it was a deliberate act.  But there are many times when innocent Afghanis are killed "accidentally".  If a plane drops a bomb on an Afghan village that "accidentally" hits a wedding party and kills innocent people, it is labeled as regrettable, but there are rarely charges brought against those who dropped the bombs or those who ordered that the bombs be dropped.  But why should this be any different?  Even if the pilots dropping those bombs were not trying to deliberately kill innocent people, they still knew that there was a good chance that innocents would be killed.

If someone deliberately shoots someone, while another person randomly fires a gun in the air in a crowded area and kills someone, is there really much of a difference?

This whole incident never should have happened.  The U.S. military is occupying Afghanistan (along with many other countries).  These soldiers should not be there in the first place.  The people that were directly responsible for 9/11 are dead.  Osama bin Laden is also supposedly dead.  There is absolutely no reason for the U.S. government to be in Afghanistan and definitely no reason for bombing or shooting anyone there.

All U.S. military personnel and government contractors should be brought home to the U.S. at once.  The innocent people of Afghanistan do not deserve to be terrorized by Americans.  Americans must take the moral high ground and withdraw immediately.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Charts as Predictors

I am not big on using charts, graphs, etc.  They are useful in telling us what has happened in the past, but I am not particularly fond of charts and patterns for predicting the future.

There are a lot of people out there who use charts and trends to make predictions on investments.  They will talk about head and shoulder patterns or breaking above a 200-day moving average or some other jargon.  They base their analysis of an investment primarily using these charts and trends.  While I often find it fascinating, I also think it is mostly bogus.

If there is one thing you should learn from Austrian school economics, it is that economics is really a study of human action.  Everything in economics depends on human action.  And that is really the problem with charts and graphs.

You could read some analyst who says that gold is about to break out because of a particular trend line on his gold chart.  But why should this mean anything for the future?  What happens if Bernanke comes out tomorrow and announces that the Fed will not engage in any more quantitative easing (money creation) for as long as he is Fed chairman?  The gold chart can't possibly know any of this.  If it did, then the chart would already reflect this and the price would have gone way down, assuming that people believed what he said.  How can the chart know what millions of individuals are going to do the next day and whether they are going to buy or sell or hold or do nothing?

Again, charts and graphs can give us a good overview of what has happened in the past.  Perhaps this can contribute to our decision on whether or not to invest in that particular thing.  But charts can't predict the future any more than a Magic 8 Ball.

When I read some analyst who says something along the lines of, "this stock's 6-month chart shows that it is about to break out and will probably double in price over the next few months", I wonder many things.  First, if this is such a great tip with a high, practically-guaranteed, rate of return, why is this person sharing the information with everyone else?  Second, if this person is so good at doubling his money every few months, why doesn't he have wealth in the neighborhood of Warren Buffett or Bill Gates?  Third, why doesn't he list all of his previous calls and tell us what the results were of his recommendations?

Charts can be somewhat useful and informative, but they can't predict the future.  They can't predict human action.  If anyone is selling you an investment solely based on the use of a chart or graph, my recommendation is to walk away from that person.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Is This The Beginning For Higher Rates?

The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, talked this week and markets moved.  There was nothing really significant that Bernanke said though.  The Dow surged passed 13,000.  Gold tumbled this week.  However, I think the most significant news is in the bond market.

Bonds got hammered this week.  The 10-year yield has been around 2% or a little lower for quite some time now.  While it was hovering just above the 2% mark earlier this week, the yield is now 2.28% as of this writing.  While a few days don't necessarily make a trend, a rise in interest rates has to start somewhere.

The 10-year yield and mortgage rates tend to be highly correlated.  That means that when the 10-year yield goes up (as it has this week), then mortgage rates are also likely to rise.  If the rate were to keep going up, even to just 3%, this could be devastating for the housing market.

Many libertarians/ Austrian school followers have been predicting higher rates in the U.S. for quite some time now.  It hasn't happened yet, like it did in the 1970's.  It never ceases to amaze me how long things can take to unfold.  It seems that the interest rates in Japan should have gone way up, yet the rates there continue to be close to zero.

The Japanese government has a debt-to-GDP ratio that is well over 200%.  This makes the U.S. government look fiscally responsible in comparison.  The Bank of Japan has not inflated much in comparison to other central banks.  But how could a government with such high debt manage to keep rates so low?  You would expect at some point that investors would stop buying government debt, which would either force the government to cut spending or force the central bank to monetize the debt (inflate).  Yet this hasn't happened.  The only explanation is that these investors are naive and do not understand what is going to happen.

This just goes to show that markets are unpredictable.  You may think it is a rational response for investors to stop buying Japanese government debt because the debt has reached such a high point.  Yet, others do not see it this way.  They may not be smart, but it also wouldn't have been smart to bet against Japanese bonds at this point.

I don't think the U.S. government and the Fed will be able to stop higher interest rates for decades like has happened in Japan.  Higher interest rates and higher price inflation are the two main things to look out for.  These two things will determine Fed policy.  I believe the Fed will stop inflating when the U.S. dollar is severely threatened.  At that point, the government will finally be forced to make real cuts.

Higher interest rates will be bad for the elitists in Washington DC.  In many ways, higher interest rates would be a blessing for the long run, as it might slow down the train and lessen the impact of the coming wreck.

We will keep an eye on the 10-year yield and see if the higher rates become a trend.  This could change Fed policy and encourage a start to QE3 (more money creation), but it will eventually bring on the day of reckoning.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Harry Browne on Exporting Jobs

Eight years ago, Harry Browne wrote an article called "The 'Exporting Jobs' Scam".  He pointed out that American wages have always been much higher than wages in many other countries, yet American companies weren't exporting jobs 30 or 40 years ago to the same extent.

He blames the exporting of jobs on U.S. regulators who "won't quit heaping more and more demands on American corporations".  I think this is a major point that is still lost today.  While China is still considered a communist country, there actually are a lot less bureaucratic regulations for businesses to follow.  Property rights are still not as strong there as in America, so it makes sense for an American company to stay in America while exporting jobs to China.

I think wage differentials do matter, but only to the extent that it benefits a company.  If a company can have something done cheaper overseas, everything else being equal, then it is likely to "export" the job.

It is also important to remember the consumer in all of this.  People talk about jobs being exported overseas, but they are simply focusing on the American worker.  Besides benefiting someone in another country, it is also benefiting the American company and, most of all, the American consumer.

Let's use a ridiculous example and say that workers in China and India are willing to work for just one cent per hour.  If Chinese workers are willing to work for virtually free, this will benefit American consumers.  You would pay that much less for an iPad or a television.

American companies hire foreign workers because it is cost effective.  A big factor in this is probably U.S. government regulations as Harry Browne said.  But regardless of the reason, it is a benefit to the American consumer (which is virtually everyone living in the U.S.) to have less expensive products and services.

People were complaining about jobs being "exported" eight years ago when Harry Browne wrote that article and they are still complaining about it today.  Some things never change.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Giving Financial Advice to Others

Yesterday I wrote about debating others and trying to convince them that libertarianism is the way to go.  Today, I want to discuss the topic of offering financial advice to others, particularly family and friends.

My general advice here is to not give advice, unless you are asked.  I give out some financial advice on this blog, but it is not meant specifically for family and friends.  It is for the general public.  Most people reading this blog are doing so because they were searching for something on the topic.  It may or may not be what they were looking for, but if they found it through a simple Google search, then it must be related to what they were inquiring about.

For family and friends, it is usually better to avoid giving too much advice.  If someone wants help, they will find a way to ask you.  You can make it known in a subtle way that you are available.

The only success I've had in influencing people's financial decisions is by discussing something and stimulating their thoughts enough so that they go out and do their own research.  But you have to realize that this will not happen with most people.  Most people are living the daily grind and are probably not interested in economics and financial markets the way you are.  They are probably not interested in libertarianism and Austrian school economics (although the number has grown quite significantly).

I have also had a few people come to me and ask for help in setting up a portfolio.  They are not usually looking to understand anything.  They just want to make sure that their money is in a good place.  While I certainly try not to steer anyone the wrong way, it makes me nervous that they are willing to practically hand over control to me.  It makes me nervous because that means that a lot of other people are doing the same thing, but they may be going to people who are steering them the wrong way.  I am not saying it is intentional, but just that there is a lot of bad advice being given and taken.

I have also had casual discussions with people when there is a lot of news in the financial markets.  For instance, after the huge stock market decline in late 2008 and early 2009, I would say to people that I wasn't really that surprised by the whole thing.  I thought a severe recession was coming, but I just couldn't predict when.  Then I have people tell me that I should have told them what was coming and told them to change their investments.  First, it is not like I could have predicted everything perfectly and timed everything right.  And second, and more importantly, these people would not have taken my advice at that time anyway.

You can try to give financial advice to others who don't ask, but most friends and family will simply not listen.  They will blow you off.  It doesn't matter if you tell them to get out of credit card debt or if you tell them they should own some gold.  They are probably not going to listen.  They may even resent you later on because they didn't listen, even though they should be looking in the mirror.

If someone ever does come to you for advice on investments, I would not recommend that you try to speculate on the latest hot thing.  I would simply tell them to set up something similar to the permanent portfolio as described by Harry Browne in his book Fail Safe Investing.  This way, you are minimizing the speculation and the person can continue to use this strategy in the future, even if the economic environment changes and you are not around to offer more advice.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Convincing Others of Your Libertarian Convictions

It can be frustrating to be a libertarian.  It might be a little less frustrating than it was a few years ago, because more people have been exposed to libertarianism, particularly through Ron Paul and the internet.  However, there are still a lot of misconceptions out there.  The essence of libertarianism is that you don't believe in the initiation of force for political or social change (just as the Libertarian Party's pledge says).  You can hold this view regardless of your personality and characteristics.

Many libertarians find themselves in debates with others, particularly because they are so passionate about their views.  It is hard to "convert" someone.  Libertarians who are well-versed on all of the major issues have trouble convincing others.  Imagine how hard that makes it for libertarians who are not as knowledgeable.

You will probably not win someone over by debating them.  Debates tend to drive people the other way.  They become more stubborn in their position.  They do not want to be wrong, just as you don't want to be wrong.  With that said, there are legitimate reasons to engage others in (hopefully friendly) debates.

If you have an audience, a debate with someone can be useful in swaying the observers.  They may not be that opinionated one way or the other.  If you lay out good reasons for your philosophy, it might help the people listening move closer to your point of view.

Another reason to debate someone is to sharpen your own skills.  The other person may have some arguments that you have never heard before.  They may challenge you on some of your beliefs.  They may try to point out inconsistencies.  This is good for your own knowledge.  It can help sharpen your own ideas, even if you have to think about it later, after the debate.

Of course, one last reason to debate someone is just for your own satisfaction of "winning the argument" and getting some jabs in at the other person.  If you are doing this though, you are highly unlikely to change the other person's mind.

The hardest thing for a libertarian to do is to convince close friends and family members, particularly the latter.  Family members know you well.  They know your faults.  They probably do not think you are a genius and you probably aren't.  They will have trouble seeing the merits and consistency of your libertarian philosophy, especially if they are already far away from it.  If you want to engage in a little friendly debate with family members, make it minimal.  Just try to explain your point of view without attacking theirs.  You will probably not change any minds.  You can lead the horse to water, but you can't force it to drink.

If you are going to discuss libertarianism with others, it is actually best to do it with others who are already sympathetic to your ideas.  Your goal is to strengthen their understanding.  You are not going to change a statist into a libertarian overnight.  You can help someone who is quasi-libertarian become slightly more libertarian and slightly more skeptical of the state.  There are usually no home runs.  You have to advance one base at a time, and even this can be difficult.

If you really want to help the cause of liberty, make sure that you are virtually an expert yourself.  I see so many people trying to change the world, when they need to change themselves first.  They are putting the cart before the horse.  If there are libertarians who have been studying the subject for 20 years and speaking in front of audiences who can't convince others, why would you think you can if you have just been reading a couple of articles a day for the last 6 months?

Be sure that you have a great grasp of the issues and that you are consistent in your philosophy.  Then you can talk to others and convey the right information.  There is nothing I hate to hear more than listening to someone trying to convince another person of libertarianism and conveying the message in a poor way.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Random World Thoughts and Other Things

1)When people say "the world" (me included), do they really mean the planet or the earth.  If the world means the universe, then this is a completely different thing.  If I say that there are 7 billion people in the world, then "world" must be planet.  It can't mean the universe in that sentence because there could be more people in a galaxy far, far away.

2)Why would anyone ever predict an end to the world?  If they are wrong, then they just look like fools.  If they are right, then there will be nobody around to give them credit for it anyway.

3)Did some people actually think the earth was flat several hundreds of years ago?  When they looked all around them, did they think they were right in the center?  Why wouldn't you just start walking and realize that you were not getting any closer to the edge?  And if there were an edge, like a big cliff, wouldn't you be curious and want to see it?

4)If there is less than one ounce of gold for every person on earth and many central banks hold gold, then that doesn't leave very much for everyone else.  Imagine if a large portion of Americans actually started buying gold as an investment.

5)Is popularity a self-fulfilling prophecy?  I sometimes listen to Sean Hannity on the radio in the car.  I can't really stand him most of the time, yet I still listen.  Part of me wants to hear the latest political news.  But part of me just wants to hear what he is saying so that I know what a lot of other people are hearing. What if those other people are listening for the same reason?  We are making him popular for no good reason.

6)Judge Napolitano's show has been cancelled on Fox Business.  While he is a libertarian in most respects, his show wasn't completely libertarian.  He had on a lot of guests who were not libertarian.  Do you think a true libertarian show could thrive on television?  It is hard to say because it has never been tried.  None of the main networks will allow it to happen.  I'd like to see a show by Tom Woods and Robert Murphy.

7)If technology is growing exponentially, and so fast that computers are becoming smarter than humans, then when are computers going to start telling humans to support libertarianism?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ron Paul, Moving Forward, and Foreign Policy

Super Tuesday was a little bit of a disappointment for Ron Paul supporters.  Even the campaign is admitting frustration and saying that he is highly unlikely to win the Republican nomination.  The most they can hope for is some attention at the convention.  Of course, aside from politics, Ron Paul can keep expressing the message of liberty and changing hearts and minds.  Here are my thoughts on what the campaign should do going forward.

In the last debate, Ron Paul was discussing war and foreign policy.  He said that he had already tried the moral argument and the constitutional argument, so now he would try the economic argument.  He is certainly correct that these wars will eventually come to an end anyway, due to economics.

While he and his campaign team have certainly tried different tactics in explaining his non-interventionist foreign policy, there is more that can be done and should be done in regards to the moral arguments against war.

There is no doubt that appealing to people’s self-interest is an effective tactic in persuasion.  However, while most people who support Ron Paul know that they would be better off as individuals in an environment of liberty, they also support Paul and his philosophy for moral reasons.

Ron Paul is the only candidate who thinks we should end the federal income tax.  Ron Paul’s biggest supporters are younger people with lower incomes.  Many of his supporters pay absolutely no federal income taxes, yet they support him and the policies he advocates, even though they will not directly benefit from an elimination of federal income taxes (even though there would be huge indirect benefits).

The whole point is that, while some people will support a candidate purely out of perceived self-interest, many people support certain candidates for other reasons.

In regards to the issue of war, the immorality of war is the strongest reason to be against it.  Most Americans believe it is wrong to kill another human being, unless it is purely in self-defense.  When the U.S. government wages war on another country, innocent people are being killed through no fault of their own.

One might say that if the people of Iraq or Afghanistan had not allowed crazy leaders to run their countries, then it wouldn’t have happened.  But this is a collectivist argument.  No innocent individual should be held accountable for the actions of their government.  After all, that is the reason that the attacks on September 11, 2001 were so wrong.  The terrorists were attacking innocent people for the actions of their government.

Right now, the war drums are getting louder with respect to Iran and Syria.  The people in these countries do not deserve to die at the hands of U.S. bombs.  Even if the so-called leaders of those countries were a threat (even though they aren’t), it should then be those individuals who are targeted.  No innocent people should have to die.

If someone in America were to commit a crime and then run into a crowded building, would it be appropriate for the police and military to start bombing the building?  Of course not, because you don’t want to take innocent life.  The same rules should apply to any innocent life, including foreigners.

Ron Paul has made significant strides, just in the past four years.  There are still many Republicans who call themselves fiscal conservatives, but they cannot support Ron Paul because of his foreign policy views.

As Tom Woods has previously pointed out, you aren’t going to trick anyone into voting for Ron Paul.  The only way to win these people over is by changing their minds.  Not only would this garner more votes for Paul, but it would also help liberty in the future.  It might even be the difference between the U.S. going to war with Iran or not.

In my humble opinion, if I were in charge of the Ron Paul campaign, I would spend the rest of the advertising money for the campaign on advocating a non-interventionist foreign policy and using morality as the primary argument.

Imagine a commercial that shows the streets of Iran.  It shows the buildings and infrastructure.  It shows the beautiful mountains and ski slopes.  It shows people in the streets doing business with each other.  It shows teenagers sitting and laughing at a cafe.  It shows people skiing and playing soccer.  It shows little kids going to school and playing in parks.  It shows some of these faces up close.  At the end of the commercial, it says, “Why would anyone want to kill any of these people?  They do not want to kill us.”

Most Americans are good and decent people.  They will understand this message.  They will see those innocent faces the next time some politician suggests that we need to start bombing Iran.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Roller Coaster Financial Markets

The markets continue to be a roller coaster, although not as much as we have seen in the past and not as much as we are likely to see in the future.  Yesterday, the stock market was down significantly.  Today, it rebounded.

There were actually a lot of things that went down yesterday.  Aside from the stock market, gold, silver, and oil were all down.  The U.S. dollar was up.  This was attributed to news that there are still problems in Greece.  No kidding.  I have already written on this topic several times, saying that a full Greek default is inevitable, along with a departure from the European Union.

Tuesday was a good test on the Greece news.  While it hasn't seemed to affect the U.S. economy much, the latest news indicated that more announcements of major problems in Greece may lead to a strengthening dollar.  This means that the stock market and precious metals are likely to go down.

The U.S. economy is quite unpredictable at this point.  We may be in a mini-boom cycle, courtesy of the Fed.  This mini-boom is not a good thing because it is not based on real savings.  It is because of a loose monetary policy from the Fed.

However, there are a lot of variables out there that could drive velocity down further and cause another deep recession.  There is Iran and Syria.  There is the price of gasoline.  There is Greece, as was just discussed.  There is also the rest of Europe.  Any big event could easily cause a sharp downturn in the U.S. economy.  The downturn is inevitable because of all of the previous malinvestment, but a big event might speed up the downturn.

I continue to recommend that you put the majority of your investments in a setup like the permanent portfolio as described by Harry Browne in his little book Fail Safe Investing.  For your speculation money (if you want to speculate), I recommend that you buy gold related investments and a much smaller position in shorting the stock market.  Of course, aside from this, I am also a fan of investment real estate (single family homes) if you live in the right area and it is something you have the means and will to do.

Expect a continuing roller coaster ride with the U.S. economy and invest accordingly.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Libertarian Analysis of Super Tuesday

As I write this, Super Tuesday is not done yet.  But here are some preliminary thoughts on the results so far and what they mean going forward.

The big story is that Mitt Romney has not clinched the nomination.  I know he wasn't going to formally clinch anything from Super Tuesday, but it could have put him at 99% or better of winning the nomination.  While Romney didn't do horrible, he didn't do exceptionally well either.  He won the states he was supposed to win.  Gingrich won Georgia.  Rick Santorum has won several states.

The big contest was Ohio because it is a swing state in the general election and it was close in the polls.  While it is still too close to call as I write this, Romney did not get a convincing win there.

So while Romney is still the front runner, it is mostly by default.  He has the establishment backing and he has the money.  He comes across too polished though.  Conservatives understand that he says what people want to hear and he doesn't have strong principles.  For some reason, many conservatives can't see through Santorum and Gingrich, even though I think they are bigger fakes than Romney.

While I dislike Romney slightly less than the other two, I am happy that he is still not able to become the clear winner.  It drags things out longer.  It gives Ron Paul more of a chance to deliver his message.

Speaking of Ron Paul, it looks like he will fall short of a win in North Dakota or Idaho.  We will have to see if he can pull something out in Alaska where the voting ends at midnight eastern time.

It is interesting to note that Paul received 41% of the vote in Virginia where only he and Romney were on the ballot.

I will put in my humble two cents in a couple of days on what the Ron Paul campaign should do next.  They have to realize that his chances of winning the Republican nomination are quite slim at this point.  This is not a criticism of Ron Paul or his campaign.  I think it is remarkable how much progress has been made in spreading the message of liberty.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Debt, Spending, and Monetary Policy

Frank Shostak of the Mises Institute has written a wonderful article.  He says that the economic problems are not really about the debt.  He says that the problem is monetary inflation.  As he concludes in his article, "the threat to the US economy is not the high level of debt as such but loose fiscal and monetary policies that undermine the pool of real funding."

I recommend that you read the whole article if you haven't already.  He has a very clear understanding of economics.

I don't think the U.S. debt is irrelevant.  There are consequences that will be felt from the high debt.  As I have written before, it isn't that our grandchildren will have to pay it.  Government debt hurts us right here and right now.  It takes away from savings and investment and diverts resources into ways that the market wouldn't have.  In other words, it misallocates resources.  The only reason the high debt hurts our grandchildren is because there is less capital investment taking place.  Our grandchildren won't have as much wealth as a result.

The other important thing to point out about the debt as it relates to Shostak's article is that the debt is one of the causes of monetary inflation, and spending is a cause of the debt.  If the government didn't spend so much money, then there wouldn't be a high national debt.  If the debt weren't so high, then the Federal Reserve would not have to create money out of thin air to monetize the debt.  The Fed and the government work hand-in-hand.  The Fed and its money creation is what allows the government to run such massive deficits.

One other important thing to note is that government spending also diverts funds and misallocates resources.  So whether it is the Fed's loose monetary policy or the government's profligate spending, it is diverting precious resources away from their ideal use as determined by the market.  It is misallocating resources and hurting savings and investment.  And as Shostak emphasizes in most of what he writes, savings and investment, or the pool of real funding, is what grows an economy.

In conclusion, the Fed's money creation and the government's spending make us worse off.  They lower  our standard of living in comparison to what it would be without their interference.  That is why we should do everything we can to reduce the power of the Fed and reduce government spending.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ron Paul and Winning the Presidency

There was an article posted on by Allan Stevo.  Actually, it is an excerpt out of a new book called How to Win America for Ron Paul and the Cause of Freedom in 2012.  The author is obviously a huge Ron Paul supporter and is a big supporter of liberty.  From that, I don't want to step on his toes and make an enemy out of someone who shares a similar philosophical outlook.  However, I do respectfully disagree with much of what he has said.

Stevo starts out (in this excerpt) by trying to motivate Ron Paul supporters.  He does it in an over-the-top way.  He says, "Working half-heartedly or ineffectively in these times that so matter is simply not enough, because victory is so close for a candidate who is so threatening to the forces that oppose freedom."

The author goes on to say that "Simply sharing links of Facebook and getting into online debates will do little to make Ron Paul president".  He is saying that Ron Paul supporters need to branch outside of the internet to be effective.  Perhaps he is partially correct here.

Then he really goes over-the-top.  He says that if you are staying online or just waving signs, then those actions are entirely ineffective in winning a campaign.  He says, "Do them and you are just as bad as any neo-con - because you have a chance to effectively fight for liberty, yet you do nothing."  A few sentences later, Stevo writes, "In fact, I'd say you're even worse than a neo-con, because a neo-con doesn't get it."

First, this is completely insulting.  I understand he is trying to motivate people, but you don't do it by throwing insults.  They are ridiculous insults too.  If someone is open-minded enough to come around to Ron Paul's viewpoints, you are going to say he is the villain just because he doesn't do everything you say he should do in campaigning?  This is absurdity.

Later in this excerpt, the author does some math.  He says that now 2 or 3 voters out of 20 trust Ron Paul.  Then he gets back to his attempts at motivation by barking orders at his fellow supporters.  He says, "If you are reading this right now, you need to personally deliver 10 votes for Ron Paul on election day.  You need to personally bring in 10 voters who otherwise wouldn't have voted for Ron Paul."

And what if I don't bring in 10 voters?  Am I a villain?  Are you going to steal Christmas from me?

The author makes it sound like it is quite feasible as long as you put in the time and effort.  But does he understand how hard it is to convince someone to vote for someone, particularly someone like Ron Paul who is completely different than the typical candidate?  If someone is familiar with Ron Paul and understands a little bit of his philosophy, what makes Stevo thinks that someone's mind can be changed so easily?  If the person is on the margin and already leans libertarian, perhaps it can be done.  But most people are not there yet.  And when they get there, it will be because of their own internal motivations.

As I've said before, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't force it to drink.  If someone is familiar with Ron Paul and his message and has access to all of the material on the internet that is out there, how much more can I do?  Am I going to call the person every day?  That will just be annoying and turn the person off.

If it were easy to bring 10 new voters for Ron Paul, then a lot of people would be doing it.  But it is very difficult.  It is naive to think that someone can just talk to people and bring them over to the libertarian side in the matter of weeks or days.  The people who are having online debates (who Stevo criticizes) are trying to do this very thing.

Here is the big thing with this excerpt and probably his new book.  Stevo's main goal is to win the presidency for Ron Paul.  That is actually not my main goal.  It is putting the cart before the horse.  You have to educate people on the benefits of liberty.  You have to persuade people that liberty is moral and that it leads to the most peace and prosperity for everyone.  You cannot skip this step.

Ron Paul could become president tomorrow, but if it was not the result of a change in the hearts and minds of the American people, then it would almost be pointless.  For long-term change in favor of liberty, there has to be a change in the mindset of Americans.  People have to stop believing that government is necessary to run their lives.  Only then can we have smaller government and more freedom.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March 1, 2012 Update of the Adjusted Monetary Base

I believe it is necessary to review the adjusted monetary base on occasion.  The money supply is a major factor in determining what happens in the economy and, therefore, your investments.  While it shouldn't be this way, that is the reality that we live in.

The money supply measure that the Federal Reserve controls is the adjusted monetary base.  You can view the latest short-term chart here:

You can also view a longer-term picture here:

You can see the large spike that took place in the fall of 2008.

Since QE2 ended last June, the monetary base has been pretty flat.  The Fed has not been doing much for the last 8 months.  However, in the last few weeks, you can see on the short-term chart that it has gone up and has even surpassed the mark from last June/ July.

We will have to see if this trend holds.  The Fed has not announced any official QE3 (yet).

Another interesting chart to look at is the excess reserves held by commercial banks.  The chart is here:

It has basically copied the monetary base since late 2008.  So while the Fed has more than tripled the money supply, most of this new money has gone into excess reserves with the banks.  This has kept the federal funds rate near zero because banks have no need to borrow overnight money.  Since the excess reserves are so high, most banks do not fall below the minimum reserve requirement that would require them to borrow.

The huge excess reserves has also helped keep a lid on price inflation.

The most important thing to remember is that all of this monetary inflation is not without a big price.  While we haven't seen huge price inflation to this point, it doesn't mean that there isn't severe damage being done.  All of that monetary inflation causes more misallocations.  Resources are not being put to their best use because of the distortion.  This is hurting savings and investment and it is the main reason for the struggling economy.

Until the Fed stops the monetary inflation and allows a severe correction to occur, the economy will continue to be damaged and will continue to struggle.  My best guess is that the Fed will not stop the monetary inflation until we see higher price inflation.