–There is no wasteful federal spending

The debt hawks are to economics as the creationists are to biology.

As usual, some stimulus spending has been criticized because it is “wasteful” and doesn’t create jobs. Here are a couple examples published recently:

$1.9 million spent to photograph ants has created two jobs.. Other ant research stimulus projects: $451,000 has created one job, $276,000 created six one-hundredths of a job, and $800,000 created no jobs. The $144,000 spent to study the behavior of monkeys on cocaine created four-tenths of a job. To study why monkeys respond to unfairness cost $677,000 – and has created no jobs yet.”

I am reminded of former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. William Proxmire, who published his monthly “Golden Fleece” awards for what he considered wasteful spending. He often was criticized for opposing basic research he did not understand, for instance NASA, SETI and the Aspen Movie Map. Many worthwhile, federal research projects have been killed because some politician thought they were frivolous. This is especially true of basic research, where the ultimate benefits are yet to be determined.

The notorious Mansfield Amendment prohibited the Defense Department from carrying out “any research project or study unless such project or study has a direct and apparent relationship to a specific military function.” Such Congressional meddling in research virtually eliminates discoveries based on serendipity.

Whether or not you consider ant research to be wasteful, it is highly unlikely that $1.9 million created only two jobs. Let’s speculate on where that $1.9 million might have gone. Photographers, photographic equipment, rent, researchers, travel, computers, chemistry equipment – all of which helped various businesses and people. Then those businesses and people spent the money they received on things like food, clothing, shelter and transportation, all of which helped more people and businesses. And on and on and on. In a similar vein, the monkey research expenses were paid to people and businesses.

In short, when the government spends money, that money costs you nothing. (Taxes do not pay for the spending of a monetarily sovereign nation.) In fact, that spending adds money to the economy, and that money circulates throughout the economy, stimulating as it goes. Every time the federal government spends, people and businesses benefit, and in turn these people and businesses spend, which benefits more people and businesses. Ultimately, all federal spending creates jobs.

There always will be a politician who tries to look heroic and prudent, by pointing out what he considers to be wasteful spending. While state and local governments, which do not have the unlimited ability to create money, can spend wastefully, it almost is impossible for any federal spending to be wasteful, even in cases where the original expenditure seemed frivolous in some eyes. Even spending for the notorious Alaskan “Bridge to Nowhere” would have benefitted the economy by pumping money into the hands of people and businesses.

Good rule of thumb: The more federal spending, the healthier the economy. Reduced growth in federal spending has resulted in nearly every recession and depression, and increased federal spending dragged this economy out of the recession.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity

–What the Wall Street Journal editors want

An alternative to popular faith

Today (6/26/10), in an editorial titled, “The Keynesian Dead End,” the Wall Street Journal editors said, “. . .$1 in (federal) spending has to come from somewhere, which means in taxes or borrowing from productive parts of the private economy.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. Federal spending relies neither on taxes nor on borrowing. For today’s monetarily sovereign nations, federal spending neither is constrained nor facilitated by any form of income, either from taxes or borrowing. Federal spending is accommodated by the simple device of crediting bank accounts, which the government can do endlessly. If taxes and borrowing were reduced to $0, this would not affect by even one penny, the federal government’s ability to spend.

Further, “. . . borrowing from the productive parts of the private economy” implies that T-bill purchases somehow remove money from the private economy. In fact, T-bill purchases merely are an exchange of money within the private economy. When you buy a T-bill, your checking account at your local bank is debited and your savings account at the Federal Reserve Bank is credited. (Yes, by virtue of your T-bill purchase, you have a savings account at the Fed.)

No money is lost. It merely is moved from your checking to your savings account. Actually, money is gained, because when the T-bill matures, the money will be moved back to your checking account, plus interest.

The Journal editors also said, “Now the political and fiscal bills are coming due even as the U.S. and European economies are merely muddling along,” as a prelude to several references equating the U.S. with the EU. The editors do not know something so basic as the difference between monetarily sovereign nations and nations not monetarily sovereign. Without this knowledge, any understanding of economics is impossible.

The WSJ editors claim to favor lower taxes, less spending and lower deficits. At various times, the editors also have preached in favor of a stronger army, better schools, federal supervision of banks and other financial firms, better roads, defense of our borders, defense against terrorism, safer food, better retirement, better unemployment insurance, police, health care, rescue from hurricanes, oil spills and other disasters, more jobs, a better environment and a long list of other benefits. (One is reminded of the confused Tea Party platform).

The WSJ editors are like the person who says, I want to eat more, exercise less and lose weight. Let’s be clear. Under the current system, if you cut taxes you increase the deficit, unless you cut spending even more, which means you can’t have the stronger army, better roads et al. Of course, there is one solution, which the editors don’t even consider. If you eliminate borrowing, you can cut taxes without increasing the deficit. Without borrowing, there is no debt or deficit, and as we’ve shown many times previously, government spending does not require government income.

Finally, the WSJ editors said, “The Reagan and Clinton-Gingrich booms were fostered by a policy environment for most of that era of lower taxes, spending restraint and sound money.” Spending restraint?? Have the editors forgotten how Reagan began the largest debt growth in post WWII history, and how Clinton’s surplus introduced the 2001 recession?

I should commend the WSJ editors for one statement: “ . . . much of the U.S. stimulus went for transfer payments such as Medicaid and unemployment insurance . . . “ True, and a perfect reason why taxes ostensibly “for” Medicaid and unemployment insurance should be eliminated. Federal taxes do not pay for federal spending.

The balance of the editorial contained the usual fulmination about the size of the federal debt and deficits, with also, as usual, no facts showing how debt and deficits harm the economy. They end their editorial this way: “With the economy in recession in 2008 and 2009, we argued that some stimulus was justified and an increase in the deficit was understandable and inevitable.”

So, to summarize the WSJ position: Deficits were justified when times were bad; they are not justified when times are good. Today, times are bad and deficits are not justified.

Do you wonder why our politicians are confused?

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity

–Anthropomorphic economics disease

An alternative to popular faith

Fundamental to debt hawk beliefs is the idea that monetarily sovereign nations are like you and me. Thus, debt hawks practice “anthropomorphic economics.”

A monetarily sovereign nation is the monopoly supplier of its currency, which currency is not tied to any asset (like gold) or to a foreign currency. A monetarily sovereign nation has the unlimited ability, and the monopoly power, to create its currency.

The U.S., Canada, Australia, China and India are monetarily sovereign. The EU nations are not. That is why so many of the comparisons between Greece and the U.S. are false.

Specifically, here are a few of the assumptions debt hawks have about the U.S. — assumptions that might be correct for individuals, but not for the U.S.

1. The U.S. government must borrow or tax in order to spend.
You and I must obtain money, either by borrowing or by income, before we spend. The reverse is true for the U.S. government. U.S. spending creates money. So-called federal “borrowing” is not like personal borrowing. The U.S. creates T-securities from thin air, then exchanges them for dollars it previously created from thin air. Then it destroys the dollars. When the government repays its ‘debt,” the situation is reversed. It creates dollars, which are exchanged for T-securities, and the T-securities are destroyed. The whole process became obsolete in 1971.

2. Servicing the federal debt is a burden on the U.S.
Because the U.S. pays all its bills by creating money ad hoc, paying its debts never is a burden. Unlike you and me, the government simply credits the bank accounts of its creditors and debits its own balance sheet, which it can do endlessly. The “debt” carried on the government balance sheet is an accounting of the T-securities created by the government. Rather than “debt,” this balance sheet entry should be called “T-securities open.”

3. Federal debt is a burden on future taxpayers
Unlike you and me, the government does neither needs nor uses income in order to spend. There is no relationship between federal taxes and spending. Even were taxes dropped to zero or raised to $100 trillion, neither event would affect the federal government’s ability to spend by one penny. In fact, tax money is destroyed upon receipt, as a credit in a government balance sheet. The government does not spend tax money.

4. Federal surpluses are more prudent than deficits
For you and me, net income is more prudent than net outgo. Not so for the U.S. government. Federal taxes destroy money; federal spending creates money. To grow, an economy must have a growing supply of money. Federal spending is the most reliable, controllable source of money. Federal surpluses are imprudent, because by destroying money, they create recessions and depressions.

5. If U.S. debt is “too big,” nations will refuse to lend to us.
A credit rating is based on the past and future ability and willingness to service debt. You and I need a good credit rating in order to borrow. But, the federal debt has grown 1500% in only 30 years, and no nation has refused to buy our T-securities (not that it would matter, because we no longer need to sell T-securities).

Debt hawks have made the intuitive argument that federal debt is like personal debt – anthropomorphic economics – but are unable to supply data to substantiate their intuition. One person told me the proof is that costs have risen (inflation) and the federal debt also has risen, therefore federal debt must cause inflation. The problem with this cause-effect conclusion is that through time, many things in addition to debt have risen: population, real GDP, the miles of paved roads, satellites in orbit, M3, the number of schools in the Big Ten, the number of cell phones and the years since the Cubs won the World Series. For example:

rising thingsGRAPH

If federal debt caused inflation, we would expect to see greater inflation when deficits are greater and less inflation when deficits are smaller. But, as we have seen at INFLATION there is no historical relationship between deficits and inflation.

In short, debt hawks suffer from anthropomorphic economic disease, the unsubstantiated intuition that the federal government’s finances are like personal finances, where debt must be minimized and spending must follow the acquisition of money.

As I have so often in the past, I again suggest you write to one of the debt hawk web sites – Concord Coalition, the Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget et al – and ask for data to substantiate their claim that federal debt has an adverse effect on our economy. In the unlikely event they answer you, they will supply data showing the debt is large and growing, but no data showing it hurts then economy. The reason: No such data exists. Growing federal debt is economically necessary.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity

–Taxing banks to pay for bailouts

An alternative to popular faith

“By MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger, WASHINGTON – Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the world’s major economies disagree over taxing banks to pay for future bailouts.”

Thank goodness this “one-size-fits-all” idea isn’t flying. The EU nations, which are not monetarily sovereign, use tax money to pay for bail outs. The monetarily sovereign nations — U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, China, South Korea et al — do not use tax money, but rather pay for bailouts by creating money ad hoc.

A tax, specifically to pay for bailouts, may make sense for the EU, but not for the others. Of course, this all begs the question of whether banks should be bailed out, or whether bank creditors should be saved, while the banks are allowed to fail.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity