Monday, April 13, 2009

The Good Old Days

The following was sent to the Raleigh News & Observer:
Paul Krugman is pining for the old days when the banking industry was boring. His analysis is flawed, however, because the New Deal Era regulations were changed, not because of some conspiracy, but because they were dysfunctional in the face of 1970s inflation.

One aspect of the regulations limited what banks could pay out as interest on deposits. In an era when prices are rising 10% a year, a bank paying out 3% can't compete with other investments. It was the Carter Administration (yes, the Carter Administration) that first acted to undo the vaunted New Deal regulations allowing more competition among financial institutions.

The current regulatory environment may not be optimal, but going back to a highly regulated system isn't the panacea that we are being sold.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Wartime stimulus?

Sent to the Raleigh News & Observer
I'm confused. Recently, letter writers as well as last year's Nobel Laureate in economics have pointed to the experience during World War II to justify an expensive stimulus package to get the economy out of recession. We have been told that the wartime spending created a thriving economy.

Yet, Sally Buckner, writing about her experience growing up during the war, said of the time, “Americans adapted to rationing of food, tires and gasoline; saved bacon grease, scrap metal and aluminum foil.” Hence my confusion. How is it that the government spending during World War II created a supposedly wonderful economy, yet citizens had to endure such privations? I am not doubting the veracity of Ms. Buckner's comments because her experience is backed by historical evidence. (In fact, she neglected to mention that it was also a time of wage and price controls.)

Historical evidence also suggests that it wasn't until after the war, when government spending was cut dramatically, that the economy returned to one that would be considered normal (i.e., production and consumption driven by consumers and not wartime needs). This occurred even as certain economists were claiming that the reduced spending would cause another Great Depression.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


  • Irony
  • The government will get you coming and going
  • A politician not living up to a campaign promise. Yawn.
  • So, if I'm normally frugal and should start spending when should I stop spending? If I'm normally a spendthrift and should save now, when should I start spending again? If I am neither what should I do? And economists wonder why they are looked upon with such contempt.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Visible and Invisible Hands

The Visible Hand:
As President Obama and Congress barrel toward the latest emergency program to resuscitate the American economy, one question is looming over their search for a cure: Can the government fashion a fast and efficient economic stimulus while also seizing the moment to remake America?

For now, Mr. Obama and his aides are insisting they can accomplish both goals, following their mantra of using the urgency of the economic crisis to accomplish larger — and long-delayed — reforms that never garnered sufficient votes in ordinary times.

The Invisible hand:
All recessions have cultural and social effects, but in major downturns the changes can be profound. The Great Depression, for example, may be regarded as a social and cultural era as well as an economic one. And the current crisis is also likely to enact changes in various areas, from our entertainment habits to our health.

First, consider entertainment. Many studies have shown that when a job is harder to find or less lucrative, people spend more time on self-improvement and relatively inexpensive amusements. During the Depression of the 1930s, that meant listening to the radio and playing parlor and board games, sometimes in lieu of a glamorous night on the town. These stay-at-home tendencies persisted through at least the 1950s.

In today’s recession, we can also expect to turn to less expensive activities — and maybe to keep those habits for years. They may take the form of greater interest in free content on the Internet and the simple pleasures of a daily walk, instead of expensive vacations and N.B.A. box seats.


When all is said and done, something terrible has happened in the United States economy, and no one should wish for such an event. But a deeper look at the downturn, and the social changes it is bringing, shows a more complex picture.

In addition to trying to get out of the recession — our first priority — many of us will be making do with less and relying more on ourselves and our families. The social changes may well be the next big story of this recession.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Importance of Savings

Letter sent to the Raleigh News & Observer
In a recent editorial, Paul Krugman continues his cheerleading for the economic stimulus package by disparaging the idea of tax cuts. He says that the money will simply be saved, but savings has an important social function – it provides capital that helps create a progressing economy and gives people resources to weather economic storms. It makes me wonder if Krugman really understands the nature of savings.

He also claims that "when it comes to economic stimulus, public spending provides much more bang for the buck than tax cuts." Even if this magic government multiplier idea is correct, is it really wise to attempt to maintain consumption at levels that many agreed were unsustainable during the boom? If Democrats are so eager to use this crisis to remake society, why not let society adjust to a new consumption/savings pattern that allows for sustainable growth?

Krugman wants to claim that arguments against the stimulus package are fraudulent. Some of them may be, but some of his claims in support of the package are baffling, especially coming from an economist.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


  • The wish list for remaking society. "Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before." How lovely.
  • Here is a way to keep track of some of that "stimulation"
  • "Congress gave final approval on Tuesday to a civil rights bill providing women, blacks and Hispanics with powerful new tools to challenge pay discrimination in the workplace." No, just the same old tool - the gun.
  • Ok, here are some kudos
  • Star Wars told by someone who never saw Star Wars

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama the Great

The inauguration coronation of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States is done. While I can appreciate the significance and history of this moment, it seems that people need to be reminded that Obama is still mortal. Heck! Obama probably needs to be reminded that he is mortal.

Is it just me or has everyone come to believe that this man is omniscient, omnipotent, and every other omni-* you can think of? Every ill in the country world long history of human existence seems to have an Obama solution. I mean, how could you not get behind a man who will be able to definitively determine the champion of Division I College Football?

I think the history of his presidency is already in rough draft form and he will be considered one of the top four. He will be considered a great president because of his rhetoric, his ability to inspire people, and his “courage” to propose bold initiatives. If need be, the actual effects of his policies can be rationalized later by the court intellectuals.

It could be said that there is no way for Obama to rise to these high expectations, and that he is being set up for a big let down. I don't think, however, that the kind of mass orgasm we have seen over the past several months will be tempered by anything that will occur over the next few years. Like the gods of religion who continue to exist even in the face of the science that makes them irrelevant, the cult of Obama will outweigh any rational argument.

For how could any problem be the fault of Obama when he has staffed his administration with the brightest among us? Wise technocrats will be creating policy and the “right” people will now be in charge. Any difficulties we may face will inevitably be the result of some deficiency in ourselves.

Maybe I'm just too cynical. If so, Obama should be able to fix that as well.

Some other musings:
Alternate titles for this post: Omni-bama, The Great and Powerful Oz-bama, Oh, bama!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Failed Ideology

Sent to the Raleigh News & Observer
In advocating Obama's stimulus package, Paul Krugman takes another swing at Milton Friedman by comparing Friedman's monetary theory to the fiscal policy theory of John Maynard Keynes (i.e., large-scale deficit spending by government). Krugman says that “[t]he failure of monetary policy in the current crisis shows that Keynes had it right the first time.” This does not logically follow, however, because the failure of one theory cannot prove the validity of another. Maybe both theories are wrong.

The evidence showing that the large-scale government spending of the 1930s did not get us out of the Depression should show that Keynes' theory was flawed. Claiming, as Krugman has done in the past, that it was the massive spending during World War II that ended the Depression is a flawed notion as well because a command-and-control economy of rationing, price controls, and military production is not economic prosperity. In fact, it wasn't until the dramatic drop in spending after war that the economy got back to normal.

Krugman has claimed that it was a failed ideology that got us into the current situation. I’m afraid that Krugman’s ideology may make matters even worse.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

No Herbert Hoovers

Paul Krugman, in his quest to justify increased government spending, claims that “the nation will be reeling from the actions of 50 Herbert Hoovers — state governors who are slashing spending in a time of recession, often at the expense both of their most vulnerable constituents and of the nation’s economic future.” This statement, however, is deceptive because every year of the Hoover administration saw an increase in federal spending.

One program, in particular, that the Hoover administration created was the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The RFC gave billions of dollars in aid to state and local governments, banks, railroads, farms, and other businesses. It also provided funds for public works projects.

Now, it is true that Hoover attempted to balance the budget, but he did so by raising taxes. Claiming that he “slashed spending” is deceptive, and coming from Paul Krugman, it is most likely purposefully deceptive.

HT: Steve Horwitz