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Drain-O vs. Bernanke

Imagine a depression without any creative destruction. Not hard today, is it...?

BEN BERNANKE's price-fixing scheme ran over a speed bump this week, writes Bill Bonner in his Daily Reckoning.

The Dow dropped hard. Just a jolt, for now. The brick wall is still ahead. But we will try to give the devil his due.

First, this from our own right-hand man, Chris Hunter (investment director for the Bonner & Partners Family Office) with a more generous assessment of Fed policy:

"I'm not sure it's right to say that the Federal Reserve has been retarding a recovery...If you look at the US, things aren't perfect, but they're a hell of a lot better than they are in Europe, where the ECB is not engaged in QE..."

Well, maybe. Almost the entire difference in performance from Europe to America can be explained by the way they jiggle and jive the numbers...and the rigidity of the European labour market...but let's move on. More from Chris:

"I think it's more accurate to say that the Federal Reserve money printing is unable to get credit into the hands of those who need it – small businesses...

"But do lower interest rates make it harder for small businesses to access credit? Surely, it's more a case of banks being unwilling to lend... not lower rates making credit harder to access..."

Why are the banks unwilling to lend? Because there is a Great Correction going on...long, drawn-out...and delayed by the Federal Reserve.

Lending money to small businesses is risky, particularly in a correction. Big businesses, on the other hand, are protected by the Federal Reserve.

Fixing prices always results in shortages. Artificially low interest rates – the price of credit – stifle real savings and real credit. Fed credit – phony savings – goes only to the largest borrowers, especially the US government and government-owned borrowers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Chris continues:

"What's notable is that when central banks are running loose monetary policy during a deleveraging (US in 1933-37, Britain in 1947-69 and US from March 2009 to present), we see:

1. Positive GDP growth

2. A drop in debt-to-GDP levels.

But during deleveragings when central banks ran tight monetary policy (US in 1930-32, Japan 1990 to 2013 and pre-QE US 2008-09), we see:

1. Negative GDP growth

2. A rise in debt-to-GDP levels.

"I think it's valid to argue that the Federal Reserve is overstaying its welcome with QE...But the evidence suggests that monetary easing can prevent depression-like phases in the US economy..."

We'll hold our disagreement for a moment while another central bank fan has his say. Here's Martin Wolf at the Financial Times, who thinks the Federal Reserve has prevented 'depression-like' conditions in the US:

"Central banks, including the Federal Reserve, are doing the right thing. If they had not acted as they have over the past six years, we would surely have suffered a second Great Depression. Avoiding such a meltdown and then helping economies recover is the job of central banks..."

Are you convinced, dear reader? We're not.

First, because the comparisons offered purporting to show that loose monetary policy works better than tight policies are not persuasive. This isn't science.

This isn't even pseudoscience. This is just pure guesswork based on half-baked conclusions that themselves are grounded in dubious statistics and improbable assumptions.

Second, unless this really is a new era, it is still impossible for professors of finance to do a better job of setting prices than the market system. These guys had no idea what would happen. They had no idea what was happening when it happened. And they had no idea what to do about it after it happened.

And now Ben Bernanke sets the price – as near as he is able – of short-term credit. Using his ZIRP and QE, he aims to set prices for stocks and bonds too.

Housing, too, is sensitive to Bernanke's heavy-handed interventions. Trying to raise the CPI, he is explicitly working to raise prices for all consumer items. Did price fixing work for Diocletian? Nixon? Hitler? Stalin? Peron?

Show us the case in which price setting by government hacks has outperformed a market system. Show us the hack who is smarter and better informed than 300 million consumers, investors and businesspeople. Show us a single instance in which the hacks have actually made people better off.

Third, the great claim made by both our own colleague and by Martin Wolf, not to mention Mr.Central Banker himself, is that central bank economists have avoided depression-like conditions.

Well, if you were one of the 3 million Americans whose job doesn't exist, you might think that depression-like conditions weren't avoided at all. Stocks went up. Housing is going up. But the US economy?

Do the math correctly – GDP and unemployment – and you see conditions that look 'depression-like'.

What the Federal Reserve has produced is depression-like conditions without the salutary effects – the creative destruction – of a real depression. A depression is like Drain-O. It's a good thing when it is short, swift and thorough. It flushes the gunk out of the economy's pipes.

But the Fed didn't permit a real depression. It stopped the cleansing...and then dumped more goo down the kitchen sink. Deadhead bankers got more grease. So did big corporations and the government. And now, for six years, the system has been blocked up with yucky stuff, retarding real growth.

New York Times best-selling finance author Bill Bonner founded The Agora, a worldwide community for private researchers and publishers, in 1979. Financial analysts within the group exposed and predicted some of the world's biggest shifts since, starting with the fall of the Soviet Union back in the late 1980s, to the collapse of the Dot Com (2000) and then mortgage finance (2008) bubbles, and the election of President Trump (2016). Sharing his personal thoughts and opinions each day from 1999 in the globally successful Daily Reckoning and then his Diary of a Rogue Economist, Bonner now makes his views and ideas available alongside analysis from a small hand-picked team of specialists through Bonner Private Research.

See full archive of Bill Bonner articles

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