-Warren Mosler for president Friday, Oct 9 2009 

An alternative to popular faith

Warren Mosler, economist, perturbed by the misunderstanding of monetary policy by the current and past administrations, is running for President in 2012. He has been speaking at the Tea Parties, explaining to taxpayers that Washington is either at best ignorant of economic policy or at worst deceptive.” By Barry Ritholtz – The Big Picture, October 7th, 2009, 11:00AM

Warren Mosler has a better understanding of the economy than almost anyone I have known. If you want to see the real facts, in plain, clear English, go to http://www.moslereconomics.com/ and click the “7 Deadly Innocent Frauds” box on the left side of the page. I promise, you will learn something important.

In 2008, Warren helped edit an article I had written earlier. The article, endorsed by a number of eminent economics professors, is as follows:

Is It Time For a FICA Holiday?

Traditional thinking has produced an economic disaster, which the same traditional thinking cannot solve. As the U.S. and world economies slip into recession, we must remember this ultimately is a bookkeeping crisis. The housing “market” was destroyed, but not the actual houses. They still exist. Nothing real has been destroyed. Instead, we are starved for money.

This problem should be easier to remedy than a food shortage, water shortage or wartime destruction, because a money shortage can be cured by the simple expedient of adding money – something the federal government is uniquely empowered to do.

We propose a FICA payroll tax “holiday,” whereby the U.S. Treasury will make our Social Security and Medicare payments for us. This will add about $10 billion per week to our take-home pay, and another $10 billion to business income, both of which urgently are needed. When we eliminate this partly double, severely regressive tax, we will give consumers the income they need to make mortgage payments, to pay bills, and to do the shopping American business craves. The FICA holiday also will provide business with money for jobs and investment.

In contrast, the “top down” approach (saving Fannie Mae, buying toxic mortgages), while necessary, does not directly address consumer/business money needs, and has had only modest effect.

Common knowledge holds that Social Security and Medicare will face bankruptcy even with FICA. So proposed fixes invariably include benefit cuts, reducing consumer incomes, or tax increases, cutting consumer and business spending power – the opposite of what our economy requires.

Many people fear federal deficit spending when it supports Social Security and Medicare, but not when it supports the military. Social Security spending for 2008 is approximately $600 billion, about equal to the defense budget. Ironically, both candidates for President believed Social Security will run out of money and the military will not. The $1 trillion in “stimulus” spending was authorized without increased taxes. Both candidates advocated tax cuts.

Even during the darkest days of the Great Depression, the federal government never ran out of money. Massive government spending, before and during World War II, helped lift us from the Depression.

In 1971 President Nixon eliminated any risk of government insolvency by ending the last vestiges of the gold standard. At the stroke of a pen, he assured that neither the government, nor any of its agencies, could run short of money. Social Security and Medicare, being two of those 400+ agencies, are immune from bankruptcy.

If Congress authorizes the Treasury to make our Social Security and Medicare payments for us, thus allowing our take-home pay to rise, the economy will begin to recover. The elimination of FICA deductions would provide consumers and business with more than a trillion additional dollars annually, exactly what a healthy economy needs.

Won’t this increase the federal deficit? Yes, but President Nixon’s signature guaranteed the government never will run short of money to service its debts. This act removed taxes as a necessary source of federal money. Together with federal spending, taxation became a mere tool to create optimal output and employment. Whatever deficit accomplishes that goal is the right size.

Doesn’t a large deficit cause higher interest rates? No, interest rates are set by the Federal Reserve. The government can set rates at any level it wishes.

Doesn’t a large federal debt create a shortage of lending funds? No, the more money the government pumps into the economy, the more lending funds are created.

Won’t our children have to pay for the increased deficit? No, the government owes the debt and easily services a debt of any size. Our children are not the debtors. (In many cases, they even are the creditors.) Because the “right” size debt will continue to grow forever as our economy grows, it never should be reduced or paid back.

Meanwhile, each year the increased debt will help keep output high and unemployment low, benefiting our children with additional income, goods and services.

Won’t increasing the deficit by eliminating FICA, cause inflation? President Carter had modest deficits and high inflation. President Reagan had the highest deficits in American history and modest inflation. Contrary to popular faith, federal debt has not caused inflations, recessions, high interest rates or any other negative economic effects. On the contrary, large deficits have been associated with economic growth.

In summary, we offer new thinking – an accounting fix to an accounting problem: Eliminate FICA and pay for Medicare and Social Security the same way we pay for Congress, the military, the Supreme Court and every other federal agency, by functionally folding these two agencies into the general fund. The economic crisis has presented us with the rare opportunity to accomplish two important goals: Permanently fix the seemingly intractable Social Security and Medicare problems, and energize our economy.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

-What triggers recessions and depressions? Thursday, Oct 1 2009 

An alternative to popular faith

        Readers of this blog know debt growth is necessary for economic growth. The graphs and data in the various posts, for instance The federal debt and federal deficit are necessary for economic growth, show that surpluses preceded every depression in U.S. history, and reductions in debt growth preceded every recession in the past 50 years.
        While this degree of correspondence transcends coincidence, it leaves a troubling question: What is the trigger? The recession of 2001 was preceded by ten years of deficit growth reductions, while the recession of 2007 was preceded by only three. Other recessions also were preceded by varying periods of reduced deficit growth or surpluses. Similarly, the 1929 Great Depression was preceded by nine years of surpluses, while the 1819 depression was preceded by only two.
        This makes predicting a recession difficult. While running a surplus seems to be a fairly prompt causative agent for recessions or depressions, debt growth can decline for several years before a recession begins. Reduced deficit growth is a necessary detonator of recession or depression, but some other event must serve as a more immediate signal, a trigger. For example:

*The recession of 1960 may have been triggered by the Vietnam war, which began in 1959
*The 1970 recession: Possible trigger: Also may have been the Vietnam war, this time by the protests and the public realization the war was going poorly.
*The 1973 recession: Possible trigger: The first Arab oil embargo
*The 1980 recession: Possible trigger: The Iranian revolution causing another oil crisis
*The 1990 recession: Possible trigger: Desert Storm
*The 2001 recession: Possible trigger: The bursting of the “dot.com” bubble.
*The 2007 recession: Possible trigger: Collapse of the subprime mortgage market
        All recessions and depressions share one factor – reduction in debt growth – but all have had different triggers. It appears if we have only reduced deficit growth without the trigger, no recession or depression will result. And, a trigger event, without reduced deficit growth, will not cause a recession. The recession/depression bomb requires both a detonator (reduced debt growth) and a trigger.
        Triggers are difficult to evaluate (i.e., how serious they are), but as one small step toward predicting recessions we should keep in mind that a recession is far more likely during federal deficit growth rate decreases.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

-When is a recession? Tuesday, Sep 29 2009 

An alternative to popular faith

        Readers of this blog and of the summary are familiar with the fact that all six depressions in U.S. history immediately were preceded by extreme reductions in federal deficits (aka “surpluses”):

1817-1821: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 29%. Depression began 1819.
1823-1836: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 99%. Depression began 1837.
1852-1857: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 59%. Depression began 1857.
1867-1873: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 27%. Depression began 1873.
1880-1893: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 57%. Depression began 1893.
1920-1930: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 36%. Depression began 1929.

        You also are familiar with the following graph showing that the last nine recessions began with reductions in federal debt growth and were cured with increases in federal debt growth.
Fed debt private investors 50-09

Note how debt growth declines before recessions and increases to cure recessions

In 1996, the prelude to Free Money, titled “The Ultimate America” predicted future recessions would follow decreases in debt growth. Since then it happened again, twice.

        Six depressions and nine recessions — a total of fifteen out of fifteen times at which federal debt growth declined and the economy fell — is an amazing, almost unheard of, correlation in a complex science like economics.
        Even more startling, the first edition of Free Money was published in 1996, and it predicted future recessions would be precipitated by decreases in debt growth. This would be akin to finding it has rained all day in Chicago every June 1st, following sunshine all day every May 30th, for the past fifteen years, and accurately predicting it would happen, again — twice more.
        A sharp-eyed reader, who may be associated with the Concord Coalition, (the group claiming federal debt must be reduced, but which never provides evidence) pointed out two recessions, in 1981 and in 1991, where federal debt growth seemed to move up in advance.
        While even thirteen out of fifteen is a remarkable correlation in a science that seldom sees such correlations, the reader’s concern was understandable.
        As you can see on close inspection, federal debt growth did decline in advance of the 1981 recession – not terribly significant, but a decline nonetheless. (The 1981 recession should be considered a continuation of the recession twelve months earlier — caused by the Iranian Revolution which took place in 1979, with its increased oil prices — from which we didn’t fully recover.)

Debt growth declines in advance of 1981 recession

        With regard to the 1991 recession, we come up against the definition of the word “recession.” The media arbitrarily say a recession is a decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for two or more consecutive quarters, which means you can’t identify a recession until it is more than six months along . Look at the following graph:

        GDP growth (blue line) turned down in 1989, while debt growth was falling. Why did the government say the recession began in 1991? Hard to say. Perhaps it was due to the very slight bump at the end of 1989.
        This graph indicates the increase in federal debt growth was beginning to cure the 1989 recession, and the momentum of continuing increased debt growth finally cured the recession in 1991.
        A strong correlation between federal debt growth and GDP growth seems to exist.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
P.S. You might try this experiment. Ask Diane Lim Rogers (drogers@concordcoalition.org), the Concord Coalition economist, for evidence to support her claim the debt is too large. I predict she either will not answer you, or she will tell you the debt is too large and “everyone knows” it should be reduced. “Everyone knows” is what passes for evidence at Concord.

-New thinking from the New America Foundation Monday, Sep 28 2009 

An alternative to popular faith

        Here is the text of an Email I sent to Steve Coll, President and CEO of the New America Foundation (http://newamerica.net/) (Offices in Washington, DC and San Francisco, CA). According to their web site, “The New America Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States.” They publish 12 “Principles” by which they live.

Dear Steve;
        Your principle #10, “Do not perpetuate budget myths” is excellent. In that regard you might wish to reconsider certain statements on your web site:

“In reality, the availability of debt financing is far from unlimited; in fact Japan and China have already begun to slow their purchasing of U.S. debt.”
        A myth. The federal government does not need to sell U.S. debt to Japan, China or to any other country or person. The government creates debt (T-securities) out of thin air, collateralized only by full faith and credit. It just as easily could create money out of thin air, also collateralized by full faith and credit, and eliminate the debt creation and sales step. Debt creation and sales is a relic of the gold-standard days.
See: How to eliminate federal debt, deficits and interest payments

        “While deficits can spur consumption and thus improve the immediate economic situation when there is slack in the economy, they lead to slower growth in living standards over the long run.”        
A myth. Federal deficits are necessary both for short term and long term growth. A growing economy requires a growing supply of money. Where else will the money come from to grow our economy?
See: I believe

        “Moreover, high deficits increase interest payments, which crowd out important tax and spending priorities and leave the budget with far less flexibility than it would otherwise.”        
Partly true, partly a myth. High deficits can increase interest payments. However the conclusion is circular reasoning. Interest payments can “crowd out” spending priorities only if the government is precluded from running deficits. To date, despite massive deficits for the past 30 years, interest payments never have crowded out anything.

        “Lastly, deficits shift the burden of paying for today’s spending to future generations, which may cause over-consumption by present generations at the expense of consumption by future generations.”
A myth: Today’s deficits are paid by future generations only if the future generations decide to run surpluses. When any generation runs a deficit, it’s tax payments do not even cover its current expenses, let alone past expenses. Deficits do not cost taxpayers money. Only surpluses cost taxpayers money.
See: It isn’t taxpayers’ money

        I have suggestions for a 13th and 14th principle:
13. Base all suggestions on supporting data, not on popular faith.
14. To accept new thinkers and new ideas, be prepared to let go of old thinkers with old ideas.”

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

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