–Should we take the government out of energy?

The debt hawks are to economics as the creationists are to biology. Those, who do not understand monetary sovereignty, do not understand economics. Cutting the federal deficit is the most ignorant and damaging step the federal government could take. It ranks ahead of the Hawley-Smoot Tariff.

In today’s Washington Post, I saw an article that could get some traction within three debates: deficit, energy and climate/ecology:

To save the planet and the budget, cut energy off the dole
By Jeffrey Leonard, (chief executive of a private equity investment firm), Friday, January 14, 2011

President Obama promised in the fall that a top priority of his legislative program for 2011 would be an energy policy “that helps us grow at the same time as it deals with climate change in a serious way.” With global warming deniers now in charge of the House of Representatives, there would seem to be little hope for major legislation on clean energy or climate in this Congress. Even a member of his own party, West Virginia’s new senator, Joe Manchin, has boasted of extracting “a deep commitment and personal commitment” from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “that cap-and-trade is dead.”

But all is not lost. If Obama wants to set us on a path to a sustainable-energy future – and a green one, too – he should propose a very simple solution to the current mess: eliminate all energy subsidies. . . And with anti-pork Tea Partyers loose in Washington and deficit-cutting in the air, it’s not as politically inconceivable as one might think.

As long as current energy subsidies stay in place, and K Street lobbyists have sway over what interests deserve congressional favoritism, American tax dollars will continue to retard the market forces that are pushing the United States toward energy independence and a greener future.

RMM: Deficit cutting is the last thing the U.S. should do, and since tax dollars do not pay for federal spending, this part of his thesis is suspect.

Major changes in the picture of domestic energy supply make it possible to sweep away decades of accumulated subsidies without seriously threatening the affordability of energy . . . The real game-changer among several major trends is the discovery in recent years that America is sitting on many decades’ worth of exploitable natural gas. Natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal. Other long-term market trends complement the availability of cheaper, abundant natural gas: the growing likelihood in 2011 of more expensive oil; the extended life of existing nuclear facilities, adding thousands of megawatts of unexpected power to American generating capacity; the increasing competitiveness of solar and wind power coupled with state mandates for utilities to adhere to renewable portfolio standards; and the slow but steady electrification of transportation. The U.S. energy market, if left to its own devices, without distortions or subsidies, will provide plentiful and affordable energy while gradually evolving away from oil and coal as the primary fuel sources.

RMM:The reality is that natural gas is not a suitable substitute for oil, under current or even projected technology, and we are decades away from the time when nuclear, solar and wind can take over from coal and oil. I see no way that reduced federal subsidies would not increase the price of energy.

The federal government . . . should invest heavily in long-term research and development to hasten the progress of new commercially viable energy technologies.

RMM: Agreed.

It should stiffen regulations on coal use so that the fuel’s environmental and health costs are borne by industry and reflected in its price.

RMM: The rise in energy prices is the prime motivator for inflation. See: Inflation. Rather than raising the price of coal, the government should help the industry be “cleaner.” Subsidies, not penalties, may be more productive.

Eventually, when the political climate is right, it should impose some form of tariff on carbon and other greenhouse-gas emissions to ensure that the market internalizes the global “costs” of threats to the planet’s life-giving atmosphere.

RMM: All taxes are anti-stimulus. The market cannot “internalize” anything. All costs are passed on to the consumers (aka the taxpayers).

Is eliminating all energy subsidies politically possible? There have always been libertarian elements in the Republican Party that have railed against “corporate welfare,” including the massive tax expenditures that favor oil production. Now they are joined by many Tea Party sympathizers who, appalled by the bailouts of the big banks and automakers, instinctively share the same hostility toward subsidies of big business. Though progressives are inclined to forget, Sarah Palin imposed a steep tax on oil companies’ windfall profits while serving as Alaska’s governor.

RMM: Again, they aren’t “tax expenditures.” Mr. Leonard has no understanding of monetary sovereignty, And, if the Tea Party and Sarah Palin are proposed as experts in this debate, one has to wonder.

Nevertheless, the energy debate is one of our most important. What do you think of the fundamental idea that the federal government should get out of the energy business and allow the market to dictate where we should go and what we should do?

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity. Those who say the stimulus “didn’t work” remind me of the guy whose house is on fire. A neighbor runs with a garden hose and starts spraying, but the fire continues. The neighbor wants to call the fire department, which would bring the big hoses, but the guy says, “Don’t call. As you can see, water doesn’t put out fires.”

–Why the crazy stock market fall

An alternative to popular faith

I recently read an article containing wonderment that despite good news (the April jobs report showed payrolls grew by 290,000) the stock market crashed. The author, John Curran, speculated: “One reason is that the Euro crisis in spite of all efforts remains very much a crisis, and that threatens the global economy. The second reason is that Thursday’s stock market blowout pointed up a dangerous vulnerability in the financial markets, one that we’ve known of (high frequency trading) but sort of forgotten. Third, the Labor Department’s jobs report while positive in some respects also contained a bit of negative news […] (increased unemployment).

While the Greek/EU situation is serious, it will not seiously affect the U.S. economy, so long as our government continues to deficit spend. Second, while high frequency, automated trading can cause short term, manic effects on the stock market, the longer term effects are minimal. Finally, the way unemployment is calculated (only those looking for a job are counted), makes it inevitable that when times improve, unemployment statistics rise. People who had given up, start again to look for jobs. So from that standpoint, the stock market is wrong.

There is one other scenario, that could have far greater significance than any of the above: The off shore oil well blowout. Not only will it cause enormous destruction in of itself, but it will prevent further offshore drilling for an unknown time. Weeks? Certainly. Months? Possibly. But weeks and months are no big deal.

Perhaps even years, and that is a big deal for our economy. For the past few decades, inflation has been caused, not by deficit spending, but by Oil Prices.

Even with the worst case scenario, the actual supply loss won’t be felt soon, but if the projected loss of oil production is significant, it will cause oil prices to rise, thus causing inflation. The debt hawks will assume (wrongly) the inflation is caused by deficits, and will demand that taxes be increased and spending decreased — either of which will stall economic growth and move us into a recession.

And that will drop the stock market.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity

–Federal deficit spending doesn’t cause inflation; oil does

An alternative to popular faith

Ask a debt hawk why he hates federal deficits and he will give you four main reasons:

1. Federal debt must be paid back by taxpayers. (But, because the federal government has the unlimited power to create the money to pay its bills, taxpayers do not fund federal spending.)

2. Federal debt adds to the government’s interest-paying burden. (Again, interest is no burden to a entity having the unlimited ability to create money.)

3. Federal debt uses up lending funds that otherwise would go to private needs. (But, federal spending adds money to the economy, making more, not less, funds available for private lending.)

4. By increasing the money supply, federal deficits reduce the value of money, thereby causing inflation. Readers of this blog have seen the graph (below) which shows no relationship between federal deficits — even large federal deficits — and inflation.

Note how the peaks and valleys of deficit growth do not match the peaks and valleys of inflation growth:

If deficits don’t cause inflation, what does? In a previous post “Is inflation too much money chasing too few goods”, we answered that question (“No.”), and we presented a graph indicating the real cause of inflation may be energy prices, more specifically, oil prices. See below:

The extreme movements of energy prices corresponding with the more modest movement of overall inflation, seem to indicate that energy costs “pull” inflation in either direction.

We can see this parallelism better by magnifing the CPI movement with a different vertical axis:

Monetary Sovereignty

Now here is another graph that may substantiate the hypothesis that energy prices pull CPI:

monetary sovereignty

It compares inflation movements (red line) with the movement of energy prices less the movement of inflation (blue line). Notice how closely the two lines correspond.

Compare that graph with the graph below. This graph is the same as the one above, except rather than comparing energy price changes with inflation, it compares food price changes. See how there is much less correlation.

monetary sovereignty

Food price changes do not seem to be the key inflation-causing factor. In fact, energy price changes seem to cause food price changes:

monetary sovereignty

Inflations are not caused by too much money. Inflations are caused by shortages.

Energy, and more specifically oil is, aside from food and water, the one universal need. It is the only commodity, the shortage of which, affects the prices of all other goods and services.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity. Those who say the stimulus “didn’t work” remind me of the guy whose house is on fire. A neighbor runs with a garden hose and starts spraying, but the fire continues. The neighbor wants to call the fire department, which would bring the big hoses, but the guy says, “Don’t call. As you can see, water doesn’t put out fires.”

–Danger sign?

An alternative to popular faith

Do we see the first hint of another recession?

In other posts, I have called to your attention the coincidence of reduced federal deficit growth and the start of recessions. History shows this repeated coincidence dates back even to the 1800’s, which arguably indicates a cause/effect relationship.

I also have noted that reduced deficit growth can continue for several years before a recession begins. I searched for a factor, that, when added to reduced deficit growth, would trigger the recession. One such factor seems to be rising energy prices, perhaps more specifically, rising oil prices.

Economics, like meteorology, is complex, so perfect correlations seldom are found, but this correlation is striking:

Debt and energy

The graph shows that when reductions in deficit growth are added to oil price increases, there is a strong incidence of recession.

An exception might be in 1981, though this may have more to do with the arbitrary definition of “recessions.” The recessions of 1980 and 1982, may more realistically be considered one long downturn.

I mention this, because today (Feb., 2010) we see the first hints of reduced deficit growth accompanied by increased energy prices, a possible danger signal. If these mini-trends continue, we may find ourselves on the cusp of yet another recession.

The U.S. government may have two options for preventing the next recession: Keep oil prices from rising, or increase deficit growth. The former might temporarily be accomplished by executing a release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The later can be accomplished in myriad ways, though I tend to favor the elimination of the FICA tax as described at http://rodgermitchell.com/reasons-to-eliminate-FICA.html.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell