–Warren Mosler interview: What if China stops buying U.S. debt?

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

Warren Mosler is that rare individual who is both a successful businessman and an economist. He now is running for the Senate from Connecticut.

Warren has the ability to explain abstruse economic subjects in simple, illuminating ways. Here’s one excerpt from a recent interview. You can read the entire interview at Interview.

(Background: The Chinese buy U.S. T-securities by transferring U.S. dollars (not yuan) from their checking account at the Federal Reserve Bank to China’s T-security account, also at the Federal Reserve Bank. Later, when the Chinese redeem those T-securities, the money is transferred back to China’s checking account at the Fed. During the entire purchase and redemption process, the dollars never leave the Fed.)

Interviewer: “Money the Chinese earn by sending merchandise to the United States are credits in the U.S., and these credit units are nonredeemable, so Chinese owners can do nothing with these things unless they use them to buy American products, and if they do, those units become profits for American firms.

But there is also another possibility, which sometimes raises concerns in the larger public, and this is what happens if China should choose to get rid of these dollars by selling the U.S. securities they own.

While the amount of dollars owned by foreigners doesn’t change, the price of the dollar would in fact decline. If China sells off American debt, dollar depreciation may be substantial.”

Mosler: “Operationally, it’s not a problem because if they bought euros from the Deutsche Bank, we would move their dollars from their account at the Fed to the Deutsche Bank account at the Fed.

The problem might be that the value of the dollar would go down. Well, one thing you’ve got to take note of is that the U.S. administration is trying to get China to revaluate currency upward, and this is no different from selling off dollars, right?

So, what you are talking about (selling off dollars) is something the U.S. is trying to force to happen, would you agree with that?”

Interviewer: “Yes.”

Mosler: “Okay, so we’re saying that we’re trying to force this disastrous scenario—that we must avoid at all costs—to happen.

This is a very confused policy. What would actually happen if China were to sell off dollars? Well, first of all, the real wealth of the U.S. would not change: the real wealth of any country is everything you can produce domestically at full employment plus whatever the rest of the world sends you minus what you have to send them, which we call real terms of trade.

This is something that used to be important in economics and has really gone by the wayside.

“And the other thing is what happens to distribution. While it doesn’t directly impact the wealth of the U.S., the falling dollar affects distribution within U.S., distribution between those who profit from exports and those who benefit from imports.

And that can only be adjusted with domestic policy. So, number one, we are trying to make this thing happen that we are afraid of, and number two, if it does happen, it is a demand-distribution problem, and there are domestic policies to just make sure this happens the way we want it to be.”

So there you have it. All the hand wringing about what happens if China were to stop buying T-bills and instead buy some other country’s money is just a bunch of blah, blah, blah.

The relative value of U.S. dollars, compared with other money, would go down, which is exactly what the Federal government has been trying to effect — foolishly, I might add.

When China or any nation buys T-securities (aka “lends us money”), they must use dollars, and the dollars never leave the Fed.

Even if China were to buy another nation’s debt, using dollars it has earned from exports, the dollars still never would leave the Fed.

Think closely about this process and you will see why federal “borrowing” is a meaningless exercise.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity


–Why the slow recovery?

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

Recessions and recoveries ultimately are associated with money, and more specifically with money growth. In general, less money growth = less economic growth. (That actually is something of a tautology, since economic growth is measured in money.)

There are several definitions of money, most differing on the basis of liquidity, the ease of converting to currency. The most liquid form is called M1, which consists of currency and checking account deposits.

The government no longer measures the less liquid forms, M3, L and the most inclusive form: Debt of Domestic Non-Financial Sectors. And for many reasons, the supplies of the various money forms do not move together. For instance, there are periods when M1 goes up or down more than M2, even though M1 is part of M2.

I found an interesting pattern relative to recessions. In the following graph, you see a strong tendency for one form of money, Federal Debt Held by the Public, to grow more slowly before recessions, then grow quickly during recessions, then resume growing more slowly after recessions.

M1 exhibits a similar, though less consistent pattern, and M2 is less consistent yet. One consistency is: Following every recession, at least one of the money forms grows at an increasing rate — every recession except the most recent one:

Here, despite (or because of) worries about deficits, every measured form of money has shown a sharp decline in growth rate. Perhaps this overall decline in money growth is responsible for the slowness of the recovery — yet another bit of evidence that debt fear has hurt our economy, and increased federal spending is desperately needed.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity

–How President Obama’s National bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform could destroy America

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

Parade Magazine, in its 7/4/10 “Intelligence Report”, printed an interview by Steven Beschloss and Janet Kinosian titled, “Can These Men Fix the Deficit?” The men are Erskine Bowles, a former White House chief of staff, and Alan Simpson, a former Republican Senate whip. Today, Messrs. Bowles and Simpson are co-chairs of President Obama’s National bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Here, with my comments, are what they said:

BOWLES: “If we don’t solve the (federal) debt problem, we will be paying $1 trillion in interest in 2020. That’s money we can’t spend on Social Security, Medicare, education, infrastructure or innovation to make sure America is competitive in a global economy.”

RMM: “Of course, he’s dead wrong. America is a monetarily sovereign nation. Future spending is restricted neither by past spending, by debt, by deficits nor by tax collections. That $1 trillion in interest will function as an economic stimulus. This is classic cognitive inconsistency. Mr. Bowles believes the government cannot do what he sees with his own eyes, the government actually doing, i.e spending trillions on stimulus plans, despite debt that has grown more than 1,500% in only 30 years. In addition to cognitive inconsistency, he suffers from anthropomorphic economic disease – the mistaken belief that the government’s finances are like yours and mine.

BOWLES: “We’re looking at how we can reduce discretionary spending – things like education, transportation, the military, homeland security – and mandatory spending which includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We also need to raise revenue.”

RMM: He believes that cutting back on education, transportation, the military, homeland security, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while raising taxes, will “make sure America is competitive in a global economy.” The notion would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.

SIMPSON: “We’re not going to cut Social Security – we’re going to stabilize it. None of the ideas that have been presented will affect anyone over the age of 58.”

RMM: “Stabilize” is political double talk for, “We are going to cut Social Security for everyone 58 and younger.”

SIMPSON: “As it is, it (Social Security) can’t sustain itself.”

RMM: Ah, the old (and false) “unsustainable” claim.

BOWLES: “We’re going to work our hearts out succeed.”

RMM: In their world, “Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” are code words for austerity, which always causes recessions and depressions. Heaven help us from those who have power, yet cannot learn.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity