Folderflation

One way to stay organized is to place cables and other miscellanies in hanging folders within a lateral filing cabinet. So that small items don’t fall out, pocketed folders are ideal. I bought 10 in July 2022 for $34.97:

Today they’re $40:

That’s an inflation rate of more than 15 percent annually. The government, however, assures us that these folders have inflated to only $35.63 (BLS calculator).

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Have we had enough inflation to get rid of the penny?

How are folks feeling after today’s inflation report? The Wall Street Journal:

Core prices, a measure of underlying inflation that excludes volatile energy and food categories, increased 5.6% in March from a year earlier, accelerating slightly from 5.5% the prior month. Core inflation, which economists see as a better predictor of future inflation, has stayed stubbornly high in part because of inflationary pressures from shelter costs.

(The journalists don’t speculate on what might be causing shelter costs to rise. It couldn’t be a shift in the demand curve from 175 million post-1965 immigrants and their descendants (half of these folks are already in the U.S. housing market and the other half are forecast to arrive soon), could it?)

The month-to-month chart shows reasonably stable core price inflation of close to 0.5 percent per month.

We, via Congress and the Fed, can’t resist trying to cheat our way to economic prosperity. The deficit spending and quantitative easing aren’t going to stop, in other words, and therefore the steady erosion of the dollar’s purchasing power won’t stop. But maybe we can adapt in a small way….

As the price of a crummy apartment trends toward $2000/month, can we let go of the pennies that litter our floors and clog our vacuum cleaners? The BLS CPI calculator goes back only to 1913, but it shows that the economy functioned just fine back then with the smallest coin being worth more than today’s quarter:

Given that most transactions are via credit card anyway and that we expect continued Bidenflation, why not declare that the smallest coin going forward will be the quarter? While we’re at it, we can decree that all quarters must be from the American Women Quarters Program, e.g.,

The next step up from quarters would be a $1 coin with a picture of (cloth-masked) Dr. Fauci on one side and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla holding a positive COVID-19 test result.

Today’s $5 bill is worth less than a quarter was in 1913 so we’d get rid of it in favor of a $5 coin showing the legitimate government’s victory over the January 6 insurrection (Jacob Angeli, the QAnon shaman; obverse) and Joe Biden’s victory over Corn Pop (reverse).

Paper money would start with the $10 bill, which is worth a little more than the 1913 quarter.

Any better ideas for streamlining the use of cash?

Inflation anecdote: Chewy shipped Mindy the Crippler’s food recently. It was $2.97 per pound in September 2019. The same brand/variety food is $5.13/lb. today. That’s 73 percent inflation over a 42-month period…. roughly 17 percent compounded annual inflation. We are informed by the BLS that the price should have gone up to $3.48/lb. I.e., the government says that inflation is 17 percent and Chewy says it is 73 percent.

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Argentina investor looks at another government that can’t resist spending beyond its means

A recent Wall Street Journal interview with a guy who made $billions in Argentine bonds… “Paul Singer, the Man Who Saw the Economic Crises Coming”. First, let’s check his track record as a prophet:

“Men and nations behave wisely,” the Israeli statesman Abba Eban observed, “when they have exhausted all other resources.”

In an interview for these pages in 2011, he warned about the broad discretion the then-new Dodd-Frank law gave government officials to deal with what they deem systemic risks. The “atmosphere of unpredictability” doesn’t “make the system any safer,” he said. “This is nuts to be identifying systemically important institutions.”

A dozen years later, he still thinks it’s nuts: “As we’ve seen with SVB and Signature, virtually any institution can be deemed systemically important overnight and seized, with the government then completely empowered to determine what happens to various classes of creditors.”

The result is to destroy market discipline and encourage bankers to behave recklessly. He recounts a conversation on the trading desk at his firm following the recent weekend of bank bailouts. “If they hadn’t guaranteed all the deposits,” a colleague said, “things would’ve gotten very ugly in the markets on Monday.”

Mr. Singer replied: “That is entirely true. Things would’ve been ugly. But is that what regulation is supposed to be? Wrapping all market movements in security blankets?”

What about the most significant economic phenomenon of the moment?

Mr. Singer saw inflation coming at the start of the Covid pandemic. “We think it is very unlikely that central bankers will move to normalize monetary policy after the current emergency is over,” he wrote in an April 2020 letter to investors. “They did not normalize last time”—meaning after the 2008 crisis—“and the world has moved demonstrably closer to a tipping point after which money printing, prices and the growth of debt are in an upward spiral that the monetary authorities realize cannot be broken except at the cost of a deep recession and credit collapse.”

Mindful of the history of the 1970s, when inflation retreated several times only to come roaring back, Mr. Singer figures short-term declines will convince policy makers that they’ve slain the beast. They’ll “probably go back to their playbook,” resuming the policy of easy money.

The guy’s remedy is one that will never fly with the American voter:

How do we chart a course back toward sound money and long-term prosperity? “The optimistic scenario,” Mr. Singer replies, “would entail pro-growth reforms across the board, including tax reductions, entitlement reforms, regulatory streamlining, encouraging energy development including hydrocarbons . . . cutting federal spending, selling the asset holdings on central bank balance sheets.”

(see quote from Abba Eban, above)

Let’s assume that Congress and the Fed are never going to change. How does an individual investor protect him/her/zir/theirself from the doom that Singer predicts? That’s where it gets tough! The guy is bearish on nearly all assets, especially crypto. His $55 billion Elliott Management fund can do things that none of us can do, e.g., buy a big stake in Salesforce and get the company to fire 10 percent of its employees to boost profits (and therefore stock value).

A friend who has done some co-investing with Paul Singer’s fund points out that “talk is cheap” and he won’t accept Singer as a prophet without evidence that he made huge money in inflation swaps after that April 2020 newsletter to his clients. Wikipedia points out that Singer was predicting doom in 2014:

In short, if this smart and experienced fund manager is right, U.S. and European assets will be eroded by inflation for the next few years and returns to investors will be minimal.

In a November 2014 investment letter, Elliott described optimism about U.S. growth as unwarranted. “Nobody can predict how long governments can get away with fake growth, fake money, fake jobs, fake financial stability, fake inflation numbers and fake income growth,” Elliott wrote. “When confidence is lost, that loss can be severe, sudden and simultaneous across a number of markets and sectors.”

Anyone who acted on that advice would have done quite poorly until 2022!

Maybe the take-away should be that Americans today aren’t smarter than Americans were in the 1960s and 1970s. Inflation jumped dramatically in 1966 as Lyndon Johnson and Congress spent like alimony plaintiffs on (1) the Great Society programs of Medicare, Medicaid, etc., and (2) the Vietnam War. The inflation rate did not come down to the pre-1966 level until 1998. Maybe we could argue that inflation was finally whipped by 1992 (chart):

If we’re expecting at least 26 years of elevated inflation, what do we do? For a person who doesn’t already have a house, one reasonable response is for him/her/zir/them to try to get a 100 percent mortgage at today’s 6.5-7 percent 30-year rates. Put some stocks in as collateral as necessary to hit the 100 percent number. If Paul Singer is right that the D.C. technocrats won’t be able to resist inflation-as-usual policies, inflation will render the real cost of borrowing almost $0. If Paul Singer is wrong, there is no prepayment penalty so just refinance if rates fall dramatically.

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Inflation chronicles: car insurance going up 30 percent

We have two cars. They’re older than they were a year ago and presumably less valuable. We have had no tickets, accidents, or claims. Progressive is bumping the rate by 30 percent. I talked to a friend in Austin, Texas. His rate is also going up 30 percent.

Readers: What are you seeing for car insurance rate increases? What’s the explanation for this in what we are informed is a market economy? Most of the premium is for collision, right? Have body shop rates gone up 30 percent now that Americans realize it is more pleasant to relax on the sofa than to work in a body shop?

Separately, the news is not all bad. When one goes to the Progressive web site, the first and most prominent link is to learn about the company’s “commitment to diversity and inclusion” (not their actual diversity and inclusion, but their commitment to the religion).

What if we follow the link?

For years, we’ve been saying there’s a very real and important business case for DEI. It’s been proven time and time again that a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization drives profit and productivity by creating brands, products, and services that are more relevant and desirable in our competitive and multicultural marketplace.

It was almost impossible for a DEI champion such as Silicon Valley Bank to fail, in other words.

How about over at State Farm? Instead of being at the very top of the homepage, Diversity & Inclusion is relegated to the footer, under Careers:

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Inflation chronicles: 11 percent inflation from ADT for doing nothing

The question for today is whether we’re in a wage-price spiral. If everyone’s monthly bills are being bumped 5-15% annually because of the inflation that happened over the past year, shouldn’t we expect continued inflation because workers will need salary bumps of 5-15% and then the monthly fees will go up 5-15% in 2024?

Anecdote: When we moved in a year ago, ADT bamboozled me into signing up for a three-year monitoring contract for the alarm system that was already installed in the house. Apparently buried in the fine print is a clause that allows them to raise the rate as much as they want. It is going up 11 percent. Here’s the email:

For the percentage calculation:

ADT did not get the memo from Joe Biden, Janet Yellen, and Jerome Powell that inflation has been whipped?

On the bright side, our lawn care monthly fee recently was bumped up by only 5 percent. The letter from the owner explains that his break-even rate is $30 per hour per person. Where are the low labor costs for laptop class members that open borders was supposed to deliver? (Harvard study)

Readers: Are we in a fully-established wage-price spiral?

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Post #2 on The Lords of Easy Money (inflation and the Federal Reserve)

With April Fools’ Day coming up, a look at the second half of The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy (2022) by Christopher Leonard… (the first post: A book about the Federal Reserve and inflation)

The book covers the pointless nature of the Fed’s hyperinflation program, which Fed insiders sold to each other with good intentions. The author points out that one reason the Fed’s easy money program didn’t create jobs or boost the real economy is that corporate CEOs can boost their own compensation most effectively by using free money to fund stock buybacks. If a CEO’s pay is based on earnings per share or stock price, he/she/ze/they will enjoy an instant pay boost following a stock buyback.

One thing that the government never lost was faith in itself. Tom Hoenig, who moved from the Fed to the FDIC, was one of only a handful D.C. insiders who imagined that there were limits to what D.C. insiders could accomplish via regulation.

Hoenig said [in 2012] they should tear up the very complicated rules they’d been negotiating for years (called the Basel III accord). When he spoke to a group of bank lobbyists and journalists, he told them the banks should be broken up rather than regulated, and monitored under the new Dodd-Frank Act, which was roughly 850 pages long.

The Obama administration took a different approach. It is true that Congress passed bank reform laws, and even created a new regulatory agency, called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, that had a real impact. But rather than restructure the banking system, the government chose to create a hyperdense web of new rules that would be layered over the big banks, allowing them to remain big but subjecting them to scrutiny and micromanagement. It was the regime spelled out in the hundreds of pages of the Dodd-Frank law in the United States and the international banking agreement called the Basel III accord.

Hoenig argued that this was a losing game. He said that bank rules needed to be simple in their aims, easy to understand, and straightforward to enforce. He argued that the banks should be broken up again as they had been under the New Deal. Banks should once again be divided up by their function, with commercial banks handling insured customer deposits, while other banks did riskier things like trade derivatives contracts. This division would help ensure that taxpayers were on the hook only to insure deposits at commercial banks (which would still be covered by FDIC insurance), instead of extending that safety net to megabanks that held deposits and also engaged in riskier speculation. Once the banks were broken up, Hoenig believed, they needed to live by simple rules that determined how much capital they should keep on hand in case of an emergency.

The key idea behind the Hoenig rule was breaking the riskier parts of banking away from the economically vital parts (like making business loans), so that the riskier banks could fail without taking down the rest of the system if they made bad bets. The financial columnist Allan Sloan, who wrote for Fortune and The Washington Post, published a widely read column after Hoenig’s Senate hearing that said the Hoenig rule is exactly what Wall Street needed. “It’s so simple, it’s brilliant,” Sloan wrote. “It’s a smart separation of high-risk from low-risk activities.”

While the taxpayers have taken a beating from Dodd-Frank recently, maybe it helped some folks previously?

The very complexity of Dodd-Frank, while vexing for the banks, became helpful to the biggest institutions. The law spawned about four hundred new rules, and each rule became a small regulatory quagmire of battles as it passed through a long process to become finalized by agencies like the FDIC. This gave the banks numerous chances along the way to dispute every detail of the rules. One rule, on the regulation of derivatives, received 15,000 public comments. Some agencies were so overwhelmed that they missed deadlines to put the law into effect. By 2013, only about one third of the law’s rules had been implemented. The banking lobby didn’t let up. It spent about $1.5 billion on registered lobbyists alone between 2010 and 2013, a figure that didn’t include the money that went into public campaigns or think-tank papers. The Dodd-Frank system tried to manage the risk inside big banks while allowing them to grow bigger. One of the key ways it did this was through something called a “stress test,” a procedure championed by Obama’s Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner. The stress tests required banks to pretend that they were facing a crisis, and then to explain, in writing, why they would survive it. To pass a stress test, the banks had to prove that they had enough capital on hand to cover losses during a hypothetical crisis. But this just opened a lot of debate over what counted as capital and even what counted as a crisis.

Basel III was a similar fraud, according to the author, allowing banks to hold minimal reserves on the theory that Greek government bonds could never default. JPMorgan Chase had a capital ratio under Basel III of 12 percent, but that could also have been as low as 4 percent under conventional accounting rules.

The Fed printed money every day that these debates were going on.

Between 2007 and 2017, the Fed’s balance sheet nearly quintupled, meaning it printed about five times as many dollars during that period as it printed in the first hundred years of its existence. All those dollars were forced into a zero-interest-rate world, where anybody was punished for saving money.

The McKinsey Global Institute, for example, determined that the Fed’s policies created a subsidy for corporate borrowers worth about $310 billion between 2007 and 2012 alone, by pushing more money into corporate bonds. During the same period, households that tried to save money were penalized about $360 billion through lost earnings on interest rates. Pension funds and insurance companies lost about $270 billion during that time, and that was just the beginning of the ZIRP [zero interest-rate policy] era.

The Fed’s policies created such an intense and broad-based search for yield that the risks were building up all over the place.

One hedge-fund trader, who was a bit more caustic by nature, described the frothy stock market of 2016 as being like the crowded deck of the Titanic as it sank. The deck wasn’t getting crowded because it was a great place to be. It was getting crowded because people had nowhere better to go.

Every bad and money-losing idea got funded, thanks to Uncle Fed’s cheap money. Hoenig pointed out that unwinding would be almost impossible because all of the investments and decisions that had been made on the basis of cheap money forever.

It is fashionable in corporate media (as Ron DeSantis likes to call legacy journalism that is aligned with our rulers) to blame SARS-CoV-2 for our woes. Since #Science requires us to shut down our economy, print/borrow $20 trillion, etc., any time that a new virus appears, Congress and the Fed cannot be blamed. “What Really Broke the Banks” (Atlantic, March 23, 2023) is typical: “The Fed, among others, is blameworthy. But the ultimate culprit is COVID-19.”

The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy shows that our overlords were eagerly printing and borrowing before governors ordered lockdowns (except of marijuana stores, of course!) and school closures and before Congress created the $600/week Xbox Corps:

Between September 2019 and February 2020, the Fed created about 413 billion new dollars in the banking system, judging by the increase of its balance sheet. This was one of the largest financial interventions of any kind in many years.

The author reminds us that, although the governors and most Americans were willing sheep, it was the CDC that shepherded young Americans into cowerhood:

On February 26, a U.S. health official turned this concern into a panic. Her name was Nancy Messonnier, and she worked at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During a conference call with reporters, Messonnier said that the virus was spreading quickly, humans had no natural immunity to it, and there was no vaccine. The United States was probably going to have to do things like close schools and keep people at home.

When confronted by a novel virus, the Fed acted like our 7-year-old when the 5-year-old plugged his ears and said that he didn’t want to hear the same story over and over: “Okay, I’m just going to tell it to you louder.”

Powell’s Fed [in a March 15, 2020 meeting] would do virtually everything that Ben Bernanke’s had done in 2008 and 2009, but this time did it in one weekend, rather than over several months. It slashed interest rates to near zero. It opened up their “swap lines” with foreign central banks, flooding them with dollars in exchange for their local currencies (this was important because so much global debt is denominated in dollars). It executed a new round of quantitative easing, worth a total of $700 billion, and bought the bonds at a faster rate than before. The Fed would buy $80 billion worth of bonds before the following Tuesday, meaning that it pushed as much money into the banking system in forty-eight hours as it had done in the span of a month during earlier rounds of QE. It gave forward guidance, promising to keep rates pinned near zero as long as necessary. And it launched all of this in one day.

But by Friday evening, March 20, a week of financial carnage proved that the Fed’s actions weren’t enough to stem the panic. By this point, Powell was already designing the next phase of the Fed’s bailout, which would push the central bank into areas it had never been to before. The bank would, for the first time, directly purchase corporate bonds, CLOs, and even corporate junk debt. This would expand the Fed Put to entirely new realms of the economic system, changing the debt markets from that point forward.

The author describes how the Fed created $3 trillion in 90 days, a full three hundred years of money printing prior to 2008. What about Congress’s great works under the #coronapanic rubric?

… more than half of all the PPP money went to just 5 percent of the companies that received the loans. Even that figure understated the narrowness of the impact. Fully 25 percent of all the PPP went to 1 percent of the companies.

About $651 billion of the CARES Act was in the form of tax breaks for businesses, which were often complicated to obtain. This meant that the tax benefits went largely to the big companies that could hire the best tax lawyers. The Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain, for example, claimed a tax break of $50 million, even as it furloughed 41,000 people. About $250 billion of the tax breaks were given to any business in any industry, without regard to how much they might have been hurt by the pandemic. People who owned businesses were given tax breaks worth $135 billion, meaning that about 43,000 people who earned more than $1 million a year each got a benefit worth $1.6 million.

The rich hadn’t been getting rich enough during 20 years of mostly-free money and 30 years of open borders providing $500 billion/year (pre-Biden dollars) in transfers from the working class.

I kept wondering in this blog how the numbers could be real. With Americans paid to sit at home playing Xbox, their out-of-school-for-12-to-18-months (Boston, San Francisco, LA, NYC, etc.) kids moping around the house, how were rising stock market and GDP numbers believable? The author points out the same apparent contradiction:

As always, asset price inflation was portrayed in the media as a boom. And this time the boom was so intense that it was almost surreal. Millions of people were

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A book about the Federal Reserve and inflation

A timely book… The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy (2022) by Christopher Leonard.

Motivation…

First, since this is a political book let’s look at the author’s background politics. He is particularly hostile to the Tea Party,

If the Tea Party had a single animating principle, it was the principle of saying no. The Tea Partiers were dedicated to halting the work of government entirely.

An aging population relied more and more heavily on underfunded government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security,

The existence of these Deplorables kept the reasonable Democrats and Republicans in Congress from doing great work via government spending, thus putting pressure on the Fed to act. The Fed’s rash actions may thus be laid at least partly at the doors of the haters. Also, the best characterization of the world’s most expensive health care programs, as a percentage of GDP, is “underfunded”. Without the Tea Party, every Medicaid beneficiary would get a weekly gender reassignment surgery? The author expresses his dream that more American workplaces would become unionized.

What’s the scale of the Fed’s recent money-printing?

Between 1913 and 2008, the Fed gradually increased the money supply from about $5 billion to $847 billion. This increase in the monetary base happened slowly, in a gently uprising slope. Then, between late 2008 and early 2010, the Fed printed $1.2 trillion. It printed a hundred years’ worth of money, in other words, in little over a year, more than doubling what economists call the monetary base.

The amount of excess money in the banking system swelled from $200 billion in 2008 to $1.2 trillion in 2010, an increase of 52,000 percent.

Maybe the author and Simon and Schuster are using coronamath? What if they’d asked Wolfram Alpha about this ratio? The answer would be a 600 percent ratio or 500 percent increase, not 52,000 percent.

Whatever the percentage might have been, quantitative easing was going to be good news for the rich:

The FOMC debates were technical and complicated, but at their core they were about choosing winners and losers in the economic system. Hoenig was fighting against quantitative easing because he knew that it would create historically huge amounts of money, and this money would be delivered first to the big banks on Wall Street. He believed that this money would widen the gap between the very rich and everybody else. It would benefit a very small group of people who owned assets, and it would punish the very large group of people who lived on paychecks and tried to save money.

Perhaps no single government policy did more to reshape American economic life than the policy the Fed began to execute on that November day, and no single policy did more to widen the divide between the rich and the poor. Understanding what the Fed did in November 2010 is the key to understanding the very strange economic decade that followed, when asset prices soared, the stock market boomed, and the American middle class fell further behind.

According to the book, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen (U.S. Treasury Secretary today, at least until my prediction of Sam Bankman-Fried taking over comes true) were the Fed’s biggest cheerleaders for quantitative easing while Thomas M. Hoenig was the biggest opponent, partly due to concerns about inflation, but mostly because the “allocative effect” in which money would move from working class to rich and from people who did productive things to Wall Street.

[Bernanke is most notable for his 2007 statement: “We believe the effect of the troubles in the subprime sector on the broader housing market will likely be limited and we do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy or to the financial system.”]

How does QE work?

The basic mechanics and goals of quantitative easing are actually pretty simple. It was a plan to inject trillions of newly created dollars into the banking system, at a moment when the banks had almost no incentive to save the money. The Fed would do this by using one of the most powerful tools it already had at its disposal: a very large group of financial traders in New York who were already buying and selling assets from the select group of twenty-four financial firms that were known as “primary dealers.” The primary dealers have special bank vaults at the Fed, called reserve accounts.II To execute quantitative easing, a trader at the New York Fed would call up one of the primary dealers, like JPMorgan Chase, and offer to buy $8 billion worth of Treasury bonds from the bank. JPMorgan would sell the Treasury bonds to the Fed trader. Then the Fed trader would hit a few keys and tell the Morgan banker to look inside their reserve account. Voila, the Fed had instantly created $8 billion out of thin air, in the reserve account, to complete the purchase. Morgan could, in turn, use this money to buy assets in the wider marketplace.

Bernanke’s initial goals were to create $600 billion via QE, with the justification that this would bring down unemployment. “Before the crisis [of 2008], it would have taken about sixty years to add that many dollars to the monetary base.”

The Fed’s own research on quantitative easing was surprisingly discouraging. If the Fed pumped $600 billion into the banking system, it was expected to cut the unemployment rate by just .03 percent.

Who had the best crystal ball?

Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Richmond Fed, said [in 2010] the justifications for quantitative easing were thin and the risks were large and uncertain. “Please count me in the nervous camp,” Lacker said. He warned that enacting the plan now, when there was no economic crisis at hand, would commit the Fed to near-permanent intervention as long as the unemployment rate was elevated. “As a result, people are likely to expect increasing monetary stimulus as long as the level of the unemployment rate is disappointing, and that’s likely to be true for a long, long time.”

[Richard] Fisher, the Dallas Fed president, said he was “deeply concerned” about the plan. Of course, he didn’t let pass the chance to use a nice metaphor: “Quantitative easing is like kudzu for market operators,” he said. “It grows and grows and it may be impossible to trim off once it takes root.” Fisher echoed Hoenig’s warnings that the plan would primarily benefit big banks and financial speculators, while punishing people who saved their money for retirement. “I see considerable risk in conducting policy with the consequence of transferring income from the poor, those most dependent on fixed income, and the saver to the rich,” he said.

What’s wrong with massive asset price inflation, as the Fed was trying to achieve? The author says that asset price bubbles are the typical drivers of both banking and market collapses. Example from the 1980s:

When Paul Volcker and the Fed doubled the cost of borrowing, the demand for loans slowed down, which in turn depressed the demand for assets like farmland and oil wells. The price of assets began to converge with the underlying value of the assets. The price of farmland fell by 27 percent in the early 1980s; of oil, from more than $120 to $25 by 1986. The collapse of asset prices created a cascading effect within the banking system. Assets like farmland and oil reserves had been used to underpin the value of bank loans, and those loans were themselves considered “assets” on the banks’ balance sheets. When land and oil prices fell, the entire system fell apart. Banks wrote down the value of their collateral and the reserves they were holding against default. At the very same moment, the farmers and oil drillers started having a hard time meeting their monthly payments. The value of crops and oil were falling, so they earned less money each month. The banks’ balance sheets, which once looked stable, began to corrode and falter.

This was the dynamic that so often gets lost in the discussion about the inflation of the 1970s and the collapse and recession of the 1980s. The Fed got credit for ending inflation, and for bailing out the solvent banks that survived it. But new research published many decades later showed that the Fed was also responsible for the whole disaster.

Why don’t people get nervous when an asset bubble is inflating?

When asset inflation gets out of hand, people don’t call it inflation. They call it a boom. Much of the asset inflation of the late 1990s was showing up in the stock market, where share prices were rising at a level that would have been horrifying if it was expressed in the price of butter or gasoline. The entire Standard & Poor’s stock index rose by 19.5 percent in 1999. The Nasdaq index, which measured technology stocks, jumped more than 80 percent.

When asset bubbles burst, the Fed is right there:

Over the next two years [after the dotcom crash of 2000], the Federal Reserve’s state of emergency became almost permanent. The rate cuts of 2001 remained in place, with the cost of short-term loans staying below 2 percent until the middle of 2004.

As with coronapanic, dramatic efforts for short-term relief lead to long-term disaster:

If there was one thing Hoenig had learned, it was that the Fed’s leaders, who were only human, tended to focus on short-term events and the headlines that surrounded them. But the Fed’s actions were expressed in the real world over the long term, after they had time to work their way through the financial system. When there was turmoil in the markets, the Fed leaders wanted to take immediate action, to do something. But their actions always played out over months or years and tended to affect the economy in unexpected ways.

The book was written before the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, but does this sound familiar?

The Fed was essentially coercing hedge funds, banks, and private equity firms to create debt and do it in riskier ways. The strategy was like a military pincer movement that closes in on the opponent from two sides—from one direction there was all this new cash, and from the other direction there were the low rates that punished anyone for saving that cash.

Before the financial collapse that started in 2007, the reward for saving money in a 10-year Treasury was 5 percent. By the autumn of 2011, the Fed helped push it down to about 2 percent.I The overall effect of ZIRP [zero-interest-rate policy] was to create a tidal wave of cash and a frantic search for any new place to invest it. The economists called this dynamic the “search for yield” or a “reach for yield,” a once-obscure term that became central to describing the American economy.

Then, as now, the nation’s problems started in San Francisco:

One of Bernanke’s secret weapons in the lobbying effort was his vice chairwoman, Janet Yellen, the former president of the San Francisco Fed. Yellen was an assertive and convincing surrogate for Bernanke, and she championed an expansive use of the Fed’s power.

“Janet was the strongest advocate for unlimited” quantitative easing, [Elizabeth] Duke recalled. “Janet would be very forceful. She is very confident, very strong in promoting the point of view.” Yellen and Bernanke were convincing, and their argument rested on a simple point. In the face of uncertainty, the Fed had to err on the side of action.

If it is any comfort, the Europeans are even dumber and more devoted to cheating with money instead of working harder than we are:

In Europe, the financial crisis of 2008 had never really ended [by 2012]. The debt overhang in Europe was simply astounding. Just three European banks had taken on so much debt before 2008 that their balance sheets

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Can we all agree on a $15 minimum wage now that it is worth $11?

Various state governors are arguing for a $15 per hour minimum wage. Examples:

and

Wikipedia says that the 15 number was put forth in 2012. How much are 15 of today’s Bidies worth in 2012 dollars? $11!

Let’s assume that these $15 minimum wage laws finally get implemented all around the U.S. What will happen to labor force participation? Some of the advocates for this higher minimum wage say that it will go up, which seems like a safe bet if we just expect regression toward the mean (see chart below).

Speaking of minimum wage, a reader sent me “Spanish husband is ordered to pay his ex-wife £180,000 for 25 years of unpaid housework based on minimum wage throughout their marriage” (Daily Mail). Divorce lawsuits aren’t lucrative in Europe compared to in the UK/US (see Real World Divorce) and the statutes reflect the assumptions that (1) that people of all gender IDs are capable of working for wages, and (2) a person who gets hold of children should not expect to support him/her/zir/theirself off those children. Because of these assumptions, alimony may not exist and child support profits are limited. Constrained by these new laws, a judge in Spain figured out that she could order a divorce lawsuit defendant to pay his plaintiff under a back wages theory.

Judge Laura Ruiz Alaminos, sitting at a court in Velez-Malaga in southern Spain, calculated the figure based on the annual minimum wage throughout the couple’s marriage…

The separated couple share two daughters and the ruling states that Ivana had spent almost all of her time looking after their family and working as a housewife during their marriage.

The mother-of-two, who wed her ex in 1995 before asking for a divorce in 2020, has said she is happy with the payout after years of hard work.

The couple’s marriage was governed by a separation of property regime, which Ms Moral’s husband had asked her to sign at the start of their marriage.

It specified that whatever each party earned was theirs alone, with them only sharing possessions.

She told [the reporter] that she has now spoken out about her case as she wants women to know what they are entitled to.

Minimum wage seems insulting for the work of being married!

(Note the misleading language in the above. Spain is a “no-fault” or “unilateral” divorce jurisdiction. Once the wife had decided to divorce her husband, she was guaranteed to get her wish and the husband’s wishes were irrelevant. But the legal proceeding is characterized as a request in which the defendant had some agency and control. The most common example of this is in the American media in which a court order following a trial is characterized as a “divorce settlement”, as though the parties had negotiated and come to a mutually satisfactory agreement.)

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How the economy looks to a yacht broker

One of our neighbors refused to go to medical school and be like everyone else in the neighborhood. He needs to earn money without practicing medicine, so he sells yachts. I found him putting his new Porsche 911 GTS ($200,000 and 1.5-year wait) away in his garage and asked if the wind had gone out of the yacht world’s sails. “Yachts that cost under $2 million have taken a big hit from rising interest rates,” he responded. “They’re down about 25 percent from their peak a year ago. Anything over $5 million is steady. Those are cash buyers and prices haven’t moved.”

Let’s poke into the market for “mega yachts”… Here’s one whose price was cut by 10 percent in December:

Very few of the listings show price drops, however. Or the price drop isn’t enough to pay for floor mats:

The $1 million yachts for kulaks, however, seem to be trending down:

I sorted by “old to new” for listings and found a classic that had dropped from $2.6 million to $1.7 million:

(The ship was fully restored about 10 years ago.)

What if you want to buy a Porsche instead, just like our neighbor’s? There are none available within 500 miles of South Florida:

Maybe there is still some room for inflation, at least for Porsches.

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The folks who borrowed $31 trillion did not destabilize the American financial system…

… it is the folks who don’t want to borrow another $31 trillion who are guilty of destabilization.

October: “U.S. National Debt Tops $31 Trillion for First Time” (nytimes)

This month: “Speaker Drama Raises New Fears on Debt Limit” (nytimes)…

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California finally secured the House speakership in a dramatic vote ending around 12:30 a.m. Saturday, but the dysfunction in his party and the deal he struck to win over holdout Republicans also raised the risks of persistent political gridlock that could destabilize the American financial system.

Economists, Wall Street analysts and political observers are warning that the concessions he made to fiscal conservatives could make it very difficult for Mr. McCarthy to muster the votes to raise the debt limit — or even put such a measure to a vote. That could prevent Congress from doing the basic tasks of keeping the government open, paying the country’s bills and avoiding default on America’s trillions of dollars in debt.

The only way to stabilize our economy and currency is to borrow and spend more!

Speaking of the economy, here are a few photos from my old neighborhood in Cambridge, Maskachusetts. The marijuana stores are thriving while the bicycle shop went bankrupt:

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