In the formation of the United States the English crown sought to limit the fiscal ability and prosperity of the colonies by limiting their capacity to print colonial scrip. Additionally, following the imposition of a Stamp Tax the colonies went to war with England to gain their independence. When the United States obtained this independence from England, a debate about a central bank occurred. The purpose of this central bank was to repay the war debts which were then mostly owed to France (“U.S. Debt and Foreign Loans, 1775–1795” 2015). In 1811, the charter for the First American Bank expired and Congress refused to renew it with a tie-breaking vote by the Vice President Clinton. Shortly after and not so coincidentally a war with England followed. Some believed the war of 1812 was a banking war (Rivero 2013). A few years following the Bankers War the Second US Bank was chartered and it too was created as a private bank. The charter of this second bank ended in during the presidency of Andrew Jackson in what was called the bank war but was more political than the military conflict between the US and England in 1812. Jacksonian Democrats inferred that this central bank gave special privilege to banking elites and created social inequality. These Democrats sought to ensure that the charter was not renewed and during the 1832 election succeeded in getting Jackson re-elected to fulfill this campaign promise. Jackson’s opponent reacted like a scorned child and using the banking resources at their disposal retracted credit in the country and created a terrible recession that became known as the Panic of 1837 (“Andrew Jackson, Banks, and the Panic of 1837” 2015). Jackson’s campaign against the bankers was successful and for a generation Americans prospered even despite debts that would be incurred by a civil war that tore the country apart. The money supply in the United States favored only the equality of industry and honest labor for labor.
The current central bank of the United States, the Federal Reserve, was instituted just prior to Christmas in 1913 by a bill called Glass-Owen, after the Congressmen who had introduced it and worked for its passage. Its establishment was not any less controversial than the previous two national banks and was put into place during the Wilson administration. Griffen noted in his work on the subject of the Federal Reserve, that powerful industrialists with banking and financing from powerful banking interests in Europe secretly met in Jekyll Island, Georgia to create this bank (Griffin 2010). Griffen even alluded that the name Federal Reserve was a marketing gimmick to have the public think that it was a governmental body and not a privately run monopolistic central bank. In creating this central bank, it required all banks in the US to become members of this bank in which it functions like a cartel (Mullins 2008). To ensure that it did not have to go through a charter renewal every few years as the previous banks, Congress amended the Federal Reserve Act in 1927 to have the charter automatically renewed unless dissolved by Congress. In 1933 the Act was updated again when the nation faced a several financial crises from not being able to pay its debts and the issuance of credit by the Federal Reserve was based fully upon the faith and credit of the American people to repay it. One perspective claims that in essence the creation of this bank made indentured servants of all.
The Federal Reserve remained a monopoly and a usurpation of Constitutional authority for a Congress had the power to coin money (Mullins 2008). Born out of controversy this organization continues to fuel as much controversy in the world markets. Its formation was done without a Constitutional Convention and by mere fiat was able to print money on a whim. This power was delegated to this central bank to which the employees of the bank work for the Federal Government including the board of governors. The Federal Reserve pays no income tax to the Federal Government for its existence nor has ever been audited by Congress. With exception, Congressman Ron Paul helped a bill pass the House of Representatives before he left (Bendery 2012). A similar bill in the Senate never made it out of committee. Critics of the Federal Reserve noted that the existence of money in circulation are first borrowed by the very people it is issued to and that while the US Treasury prints the money the Federal Reserve creates this money out of thin air as an instrument of debt. The purpose of this arrangement is to insulate the Federal Reserve from political aspects of the Federal Government while limiting the influence of private banking interests over the Federal Government. In this juxtaposition the Federal Reserve purportedly attempts to speed up or slow down the economy by regulating the money supply. The end goals of this process are to ensure maximum employment and price stability by regulating the supply of money (“What Is the Purpose of the Federal Reserve System?” 2015). The Federal Reserve also supervises and regulates banks and other financial institutions to ensure the safety and soundness of the banking and financial system. Furthermore, it purportedly protects the credit rights of the consumers and lastly, the Federal Reserve maintains the stability of the financial system by containing risk and providing some financial services for the US government (“What Is the Purpose of the Federal Reserve System?” 2015).
The Federal Reserve is headed by a board of governors that meets almost every six weeks or eight times a year. During these meetings this board decides on the interest rates at which the Federal Reserve will conduct its three areas of business: (1) open market operations, (2) the discount rate, (3) and reserve requirements. Open Market Operations are a function of the Federal Reserve when it purchases stocks, bonds, or options (“Open Market Operations” 2015). The Discount Rate is the rate at which the Federal Reserve loans to its member banks using three types of loans and interest rates: (1) primary and (2) secondary credit and (3) seasonal (“The Discount Rate” 2015). Reserve Requirements are what the Federal Reserve requires member institutions to maintain against loans or specified deposit liabilities (“Reserve Requirements” 2015). When the Federal Reserve meets this meeting is called the Federal Open Market Committee or FOMC (“Federal Open Market Committee” 2015).
Critics of this central bank contend that since its inception the Federal Reserve has depreciated the value of the US dollar by 97% (Black 2014). An example of this change can be seen in the purchase of an item that was available in 1900 and also in 2015. A horse cost $20 in 1900 and could be bought in 2015 for about $1600. Similarly an ounce of gold in 1900 and an ounce of gold in 2015 performed the same task. Others contend that it is a debt instrument since the Federal Reserve charges 6% for each note created (Lee 2013). The Federal Reserves fiscal responsibility has also lacked as much as the Congress who has given each taxpayer a 1.1 million-dollar debt on their head (Matthews 2013). In a 2010 address to Congress, the Inspector General of the Federal Reserve could not explain where nine trillion dollars went (9 Trillion Dollars Missing from Federal Reserve, Fed Inspector General Can’t Explain 2010). In 2011, she came back to the committee and noted that the Federal Reserve gave hundreds of billions in secret bailouts to banks on Wall Street during the financial crisis of 2008 (Cardinale 2011). This enraged populists, libertarians and socialists in the US Congress who never saw a bailout for what they called main street or equality in monetary policy where small business bore the brunt of this financial prejudice in the wake where their dollars bought less (Brown 2011).
Following a major correction in China, on September 17, 2015, Federal Open Market Committee chose to leave interest rates near zero (Lam 2015). What does this ‘cheap money’ do for the economy? How does it benefit the stability of the currency or employment as mandated in the Federal Reserve Act? Is this decision for the domestic market or are there bigger ends to consider?
Thesis: The discount rate of zero will not ensure economic growth in the United States or abroad.
Analysis and Findings
When the state intervenes via regulation, “the government proscribes a certain use of certain resources, typically not a use the citizens would have chosen (regulation would be pointless otherwise) and proclaims itself the co-owner of these resources,” (“Intervention” 2015). Von Mises viewed interventionism as a failure of the state because in order to successfully do this, the government must limit the action of a freely associating economic party and in doing so take from that productive aspect of an economy to redirect it toward a less productive aspect of the economy (Mises 1947). If this was not, true regulation would not be necessary. Von Mises argued the state remained unable to limit is interference and described a slippery slope of government when considering targeted interventions when he asked:
It then becomes logically impossible to oppose tendencies which want to subject all activity of the individual to the care of the state. Why only protect the body from the harm caused by poisons or drugs? Why not also protect our minds and souls from dangerous doctrines and opinions imperiling our eternal salvation? Depriving the individual of the freedom of the choice of consumption logically leads to the abolition of all freedom (Mises 1940).
It is noted that the state in this instance cannot perform this intervention on the basis of voluntarism which would be a contractual basis. It is in fact coerced and perceived as a moral hazard (“Intervention” 2015). What happens when this financial instrument of the state is used to expand or contract economies, some money becomes worth more than others. The value of a currency in the market deals with the ability of mankind to trade their time and services for value and when money is used its implication is that equal value is traded for equal value (Rand 1957). When the Federal Reserve creates more money in the marketplace, some agents in the souk have more access to this credit and thus have purchasing power that others do not. It increases the cost of services and goods in the market considering the laws of supply and demand and through this manipulation drives prices up through scarcity. It also distorts the market by putting investment not where the market demands but where this excess capital obtained at ultra-low interest rates and given to cronies of the creditors goes. These upticks in prices are commonly called bubbles and at some point in the future these distortions will correct themselves.
This is important for the board of governors of the Federal Reserve because the creation of wealth cannot come from this form of an economic stimulus and in the short term will likely result in other bubbles that will make economic conditions worse. At some point that loan will have to be repaid. While credit in an economic state can allow the acquisition of something in the short term, the funds necessary to repay that debt will reallocate future resources in the form of interest that would have otherwise been spent elsewhere in the economy. This is problematic because of the unrealized potential of the marketplace and because it doubles down on goods and services in these bubbles.
For example, when a builder of homes must utilize short-term credit to purchase goods and materials for a building project, they utilize a mechanism such as a revolving credit card. When many builders have this same practice across a marketplace, the availability of this credit affects the supply and demand in the market. Thus it drives up the price from a scarce resource and requires the developer to pass on that increased expense to their customer. When the customer must secure credit to purchase the developed property, they often incur a mortgage and as a result of the availability of credit to other buyers make the cost of the property more expensive. In this example the financiers secure not only the interest of the short term credit from the developer but secure more interest because the availabilities of this credit in turn drive up the price and the effect of the inflation is compounded at multiple levels of the transaction.
While this example is a practical application of this principle, that on its surface may have ethical implications, other realities in the market drive finance to collect in pools that perform a similar function. When many investors try to buy a stock as it goes up and up, this is called overvaluation and many stocks of sound companies will lose that value when the over-valuation of that product corrects itself with a sell-off and a lowering of their stock price. When this happens across a sector, this is called a bubble.
When considering the importance of the discount rate and raising or lowering of rates, for much of 2015 many expected the Federal Reserve to raise rates. In June, the Federal Reserve hinted that it would not raise rates in but alluded to the possibility that it would in September (Gillespie 2015). Time Magazine surveyed 80 economists in August of 2015 who predicted that the Federal Reserve would likely raise rates twice in that year (Cassella 2015). Easy money fails to encourage long term investment. It increases risk. Consumers drain their savings when money is readily available. Notably, the same rating agencies that failed to rate properly and predict the financial crisis in 2008 are still at work and giving triple ‘a’ rating to bonds that are probably not the best investment.
When the Federal Reserve monetized debt it borrowed from individuals, corporations and even foreign governments when it auctioned bonds and Treasury bills. The Federal Reserve turned this money around and took those treasuries out of circulation which made the remaining treasuries more valuable (“How Is the Fed Monetizing Debt?” 2015). When the Federal Reserve printed money for today by paying debt on money it will purportedly pay back in the future, it created inflation in the money supply (Schultz and Grenke 2013). The money supply according to economist Martin D. Weiss increased from $850 billion to $2.1 Trillion in the days following the crisis of 2008 and in what previously took 13 years to double the base of the money supply, the Federal Reserve did in 112 days following that crisis (Weiss 2015). The creation of that much wealth in that short of time was unprecedented!
With this kind of cash and minimal reserves, the economy remained highly exposed to risk. Bubbles formed as cash flowed into these higher risk investments. Just before the 2008 crashes there were fluctuations in the market where prices of bonds fell and yields skyrocketed. Since the beginning of 2009, corporations issued more than $9.3 trillion in bonds (Martens and Martens 2015). Bonds topped out at $100 trillion and in July of 2015, it appeared that the bond bubble began to burst (Zerohedge 2015). As this bubble burst, the Federal Reserve remained unable to continue to monetize its debt by selling to foreign governments without raising interest rates to make those junk bonds more attractive (Klein 2015). In August of 2015, it was reported that China had sold off a significant portion of its long-term US debt to address cash flow problems for its stock market crashing (Forsyth 2015). Since many of the baby boomers in the US are in retirement and are on fixed incomes much of their lifetime savings and investment portfolios are in bonds (Bresiger 2012). By the end of August 2015, 23 emerging economies had major stock market crashes (Snyder 2015). This is likely the largest correction in the history of the world.
If the Federal Reserve board of governors understood this, what was going on?
Since the creation of the European Union and the valuation of the Euro, many governments around the world asserted that the Euro could be an alternative to the dollar as a world reserve currency (Looney 2005). The threat to the US dollar in this regard was not taken lightly by Wall-street and this could be considered a currency war. Investors moved away from the Euro even as the economic crisis in Greece sought to potentially unravel the European economic union (O’Brien 2015). Wall street banks like Goldman Sachs helped engineer the crisis in Greece by showing them how to hide debt off their books and maintain compliance with the European Union’s banking requirements (Balzli 2010). Ukrainians rioted in the streets when their government chose not to join the EU (Sodel, Kudymets, and Garanich 2014). Many of the political and economic changes in Ukraine have been an assertion of US influence in the region (Parry 2014).
Some even saw the conflicts over oil in Iraq and Iran as an extension of this divergence with the US invading Iraq only six months after it started to trade its oil for Euros in 2003 (Heard 2003). A year later, Iran built an oil bourse and attempted to sell its oil in Euros as well (Clark 2004). While it was originally viewed as a threat to the hegemony of the US dollar (Whitney 2008), the bourse failed as several attempts to keep it running were thwarted by the undersea cable being cut (“Fourth Cable Cut – Iranian Oil Bourse Sabotaged” 2008). Even a staunch US ally Saudi Arabia diversified its petrodollars portfolio away from US dollars as oil prices were cut in half from what they were a year ago. Bloomberg News reported, “foreign exchange reserves fell by $20.2 billion in February, the biggest monthly drop in at least 15 years, according to data from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency,” (Caivano 2015).
To further the idea that it was a currency war, other countries saw China passing the US as the world’s largest economy this past year (Halbert 2015) and thought it to be a sign to move away from the Petrodollar towards the Yuan (Leverett and Leverett 2014). They ignored fiscal tensions and rumors of shadow banking in China as its credit bubble burst (Global Research 2014). China, India, Brazil, Russia and South America attempted to collaborate in the formation of a world bank that would compete directly against the International Monetary Fund (Associated Press 2013). The market velocity and capitalization of this bank was simply amazing as one of their first projects was to build a communications network that were impervious to US National Security Agency wiretapping and spying (Watson 2013). Following this major correction in September, 23 emerging economies– including the BRICS— had major stock market crashes (Snyder 2015).
Following these major corrections and crashes, from this perspective the Federal Reserve and the US dollar have assumed dominance again amongst the majors (Shenker 2005) and signalled that this has been a conflict for dominance of a currency rather than a domestic perspective of heavily influencing a national economy or increasing domestic manufacturing production. Since the stated outcomes of the US Federal Reserve are not considered economic weapons, it must be said that the strength of the US dollar as the reserve currency and the fact that it might be the last man standing in this currency war, denotes the lengths that a central reserve bank will go to great lengths to dominate the world.
There are problems with the US being the last man standing in the currency war. Many of our trading partners buy American goods and with credit markets tightening across the globe, the ability of these countries to purchase those goods and services will be limited. To coin a twist of a presidential campaign phrase, if you like your dollars you can keep your dollars. The problem with this scenario however, is that many of the institutional investments of the United States will continue to find themselves eroded by the continued printing of bills and their entrance into the market with inflation disguised as quantitative easing. If this is coupled with the unplayable $16 trillion national debt, the average worker in the United States is presented with significant challenges (Hendrickson 2013). The average American corporation will face a similar fate with increased burden on an already heavily taxed corporate environment. The value of that money will continue to be eroded by the monetary policy to finance a trade deficit between the US and other economies around the world (Nash-Hoff 2015). In that regard the idea that the IMF will continue to place the people’s of the world in debt and that interest will directly benefit the banking oligarchy that also has the power to print a hundred trillion in bonds, the average citizen and their investments will be confiscated to pay the national debt and the hangover from this credit binge may require generations to pay off these losses as it has in all the banana dictatorships the US used the IMF to borrow money to for (Perkins 2007). This is a real tragedy of American imperialism that can be avoided.
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