Focus on Minimum Wage is Misplaced

May 17, 2013

In spite of the abysmal unemployment problem in the United States, President Obama was in Texas last week touting his plan to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour.  Recently, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit have seen fast food workers walk off the job and strike demanding higher wages.  Specifically, in Detroit, the Michigan Workers Organizing Committee, a coalition of labor, religious and community organizers is calling for a national minimum wage of $15 an hour.

The common denominator for everyone who wants to raise the minimum wage is the claim that the current government mandated floor price for hourly workers is too low for them to make a decent living.  Then there are the recipients of low wages, who claim their value, after years of faithful service to an employer, is much higher than the wages they receive.  For them, raising the minimum wage is the only way they can potentially get what should be coming to them – a higher rate of pay.  At the end of the day, proponents of raising the minimum wage assert that it is simply a matter of fairness to give those at the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder a little more.

Well, there are a lot of problems with the above reasoning.  In the first place, only two percent of wage earners in America work for minimum wage.  While workers under 25 years of age account for just 20 percent of hourly paid workers, they make up close to 50 percent of those earning the federal minimum wage or less.  In other words, very few workers are affected by the minimum wage and those that are tend to be young, first time wage earners.  You know, the teenager working at McDonald’s after school.  Naturally, older folks with familial responsibilities should find it hard to live making the current minimum wage.  The system is not really set up for them.

Then there is the economic problem caused by the minimum wage, namely unemployment.  Now, I know that there have been studies on both sides of the issue.  But, it is an economic fallacy to believe that the minimum wage does not cause unemployment.  Basic supply and demand tells us that as the price for a good or service increases, demand decreases.  Conversely, as price falls, demand increases.  By its very definition, the minimum wage is a price fix for labor above the market rate.  Thus, as the minimum wage level is greater than the equilibrium wage or wage level where demand equals supply, fewer workers will be demanded and a consequent surplus of workers will result.  Put another way, unemployment caused by the minimum wage is the difference between the amount of workers demanded and the amount supplied at the minimum wage level.  To decrease unemployment (surplus of workers) wages have to drop, just like the price of a good, to reach the clearing equilibrium price.  Naturally, this is impossible under federal and state laws, so unemployment persists until the minimum wage is overtaken by the market wage rate.

Instead of raising the minimum wage to help the working poor make ends meet, the focus should be on the cause of price inflation – the Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed).  Since 1971, when President Nixon ended the convertibility of the dollar to gold that foreign creditors enjoyed, the Fed has monetized over $16 trillion in U.S. government debt and created trillions more dollars out of thin air helping the American banking cartel increase its profits.  The result has been an 82 percent loss in the value of the dollar and consequent general price inflation.  For instance, in 1971, a basket of groceries that cost $30 would cost $173 today.  It’s no wonder minimum wage workers are hard pressed to make ends meet.

In the final analysis, only a return to sound money will ultimately help those currently working for minimum wage.  It wasn’t perfect, but a return to the pre-1971 gold exchange standard would eliminate the need to constantly raise the minimum wage, cure our chronic youth unemployment problem, and be a “matter of fairness” for all wage earners.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina


Bernanke’s Publicity Stunt

March 23, 2012

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has taken his defense of the Federal Reserve System on the road.  In response to recent critics of the central bank, notably Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, Bernanke is scheduled to deliver four classroom lectures at George Washington University.  In his first discourse, Bernanke was Bernanke, extolling the virtues of the Fed while criticizing calls to return the dollar to a gold standard.

One of Bernanke’s criticisms of a return to the gold standard is that it is not practical.  By that he means “it can be a waste of resources to secure all the gold needed to back currency, moving it from South Africa to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s basement”.  But, the benefit of using gold to back currency is precisely because it is scarce and difficult to dig up and transport. Otherwise, it would have little value and be about as valuable as paper money.

A more significant criticism lodged by Bernanke against the gold standard is that it doesn’t prevent “short-term volatility”.  According to the Fed chairman, “Since the gold standard determines the money supply, there’s not much scope for the central bank to use monetary policy to stabilize the economy”.  By short-term volatility, Bernanke must be referring to those periods in the 19th Century when the Second Bank of the United States and the federal government from time to time allowed banks to suspend payment in species thus enabling widespread currency inflation and financial volatility.  The fact is that under a true gold standard short-term volatility would not exist.  Prices would be stable and the artificial booms and inevitable busts caused by Fed monetary price fixing would not happen.

But, to his credit, Bernanke did acknowledge that historically countries using the gold standard have experienced long periods of price stability.  In fact, in the United States from the mid-Nineteenth Century until 1940 prices in the United States actually fell on average from year to year – the main exceptions being during war years.

So while even Bernanke admits that the gold standard is an effective means to produce stable prices which after all benefit the poor, the elderly, and others on fixed budgets, why is he still so resistance to a return to the gold standard?  The key is in the answer he gave to one student’s question about why Fed critics are pushing hard to return to a gold standard. Bernanke indicated that they want to remove some “discretion” the Fed has over the economy.  It is this “discretion” that Bernanke and his monetary oligarchs used to dole out trillions of dollars in secret loans to their bank buddies who nearly brought the whole financial system to its knees.  Many of them got a piece of the action – Citigroup – $2.513 trillion, Morgan Stanley – $2.041 trillion, Merrill Lynch – $1.949 trillion, Bank of America – $1.344 trillion, Barclays PLC – $868 billion, Bear Sterns – $853 billion, Goldman Sachs – $814 billion, Royal Bank of Scotland – $541 billion, JP Morgan Chase – $391 billion, Deutsche Bank – $354 billion, UBS – $287 billion, Credit Suisse – $262 billion, Lehman Brothers – $183 billion, Bank of Scotland – $181 billion BNP Paribas – $175 billion, Wells Fargo – $159 billion, Dexia – $159 billion, Wachovia – $142 billion, Dresdner Bank – $135 billion, and Societe Generale – $124 billion.  You see with a gold standard these loans and other Fed schemes to benefit the bankers would not be possible.  Thus, when Bernanke criticizes the gold standard it is more than just professorial theorizing, it is a defense of the current corrupt banking cartel in America.

In the final analysis, Bernanke’s lecture series at G.W. is nothing more than a publicity stunt and not a very good one at that.  The Federal Reserve is an indefensible institution.  Compounding his problem are arguments he is attempting to make against the gold standard which served our country well for so long.  Anything he says cheats the students of valuable educational time.  Perhaps the powers that be at G.W. should invite Ron Paul to debate Bernanke.  Only then will the students get their money’s worth.

Article first published as Bernanke’s Publicity Stunt on Blogcritics.


Romney is Focusing on the Wrong Mechanism

February 14, 2012

Coming off derogatory remarks he recently made about the underclass in America, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney apparently felt the need to throw them a bone. Last week, he reaffirmed his support for linking regular increases in the minimum wage to the rate of inflation. Given that Romney has held this position since he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, one could assume that he really believes the proposal would go a long way to helping the working poor. But, what he is really doing is focusing on the wrong mechanism to help them.

On the surface, Romney’s proposal seems reasonable. As prices increase, so should wages. After all, aren’t Social Security benefits indexed for price inflation?

However, the first realization that must be acknowledged is that government economic policy causes the price increases that allegedly make the minimum wage necessary for some to live a minimal existence. In other words, if the federal government would simply live within its means and cease using the Federal Reserve to monetize huge amounts of debt and maintain artificially low interest rates there would be little or no need for a minimum wage.

As the late, Austrian economist, Murray Rothbard pointed out in his book, The Mystery of Banking, from the mid-eighteenth century until 1940 prices in the United States actually fell on average from year to year with the exception being during war years. Since 1940, the Federal Reserve which became responsible for maintaining price stability and the value of the dollar through monetary policy oversaw a decline in the dollar’s value by more than 93 percent. That calculates to a 1506% annual rate of inflation change! It’s no wonder we have become a society with a low savings rate and two partners working to make ends meet.

What was the difference between these two economic epochs in our nation’s history? The first had a Gold Standard and the second was based on a fiat dollar standard.

The bottom line is that minimum wage laws are a reaction by politicians to their own historical bungling of the economy. If Mitt Romney and his ilk really wanted to help the working poor in America they would endorse a sound money policy instead. In particular, a gold backed currency that would alleviate the ability of politicians and central bankers to devalue the dollar and cause price inflation by printing money and running deficits. In short, a return to the Gold Standard would stabilize and eliminate the need for a minimum wage.

The Gold Standard would Prevent Economic Bubbles

October 25, 2011

By just about every measure the U.S. economy continues to be mired in a depression.  Unemployment remains high.  Housing prices are still falling. Retail sales are lackluster.  Since Barack Obama became president in 2009 the national debt has ballooned by about $4 trillion with very little to show for it – unless you consider the rebound and hearty growth of the stock market.

Yes, while Main Street continues to struggle to make ends meet, Wall Street is prospering.  After losing more than half of its value due to the financial crisis of 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has bounced back brilliantly recapturing more than 75 percent of its value lost.  The numbers are enough to make even a casual observer of the markets sit up and take notice.  The big question is why the disconnect between a significantly rising stock market on the one hand and a depressed economy on the other?

When the Dow was making its precipitous decline in November 2008 Ben Bernanke and his Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) announced Quantitative Easing 1 (QE1).  From November 25, 2008 to March 31, 2010 the Federal Reserve Bank pumped about $1.5 trillion into the economy by purchasing treasury bonds from its primary dealers (banks such as Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan).  After bottoming out at 6626 in March 2009, the Dow went up a remarkable 65 percent to 10927 by the end of March 2010.

After QE1 ended, the markets began to drop once again.   In August 2010 Bernanke formally announced that QE2 would start in November.  On August 27, 2010 the Dow closed at 10150. When QE2 concluded at the end of June 2011 after close to $700 billion more was pumped into the economy through treasury purchases the Dow closed at 12582 – a 24 percent increase.

When QE2 ended the Dow experienced a 15 percent drop in value.  But In the last two weeks with no fan fair, the Fed has purchased $39.9 billion of treasuries from banks in the same fashion it did during QE1 and QE2.  Needless to say, stocks made an about face and have rebounded higher by about 9 percent.

So what does all this tell us?  It tells us that the boom and bust theory of the Austrian School of Economics is vindicated.  That is to say that monetary policy conducted by the Federal Reserve (low interest rates, monetizing federal debt, and asset purchases) causes artificial booms (bubbles) in the economy.  There is no economic reason for the stock market to be up in the current economy except for the aforementioned correlation between Fed asset purchases and rising stock prices.  It is clear over the long haul that the current stock market cannot maintain its price level without the Fed propping it up. Similar to the and housing bubbles before it, when the Fed pulls support from the current stock market bubble it begins to burst.  It is only a matter of time before a permanent bursting of the bubble happens.

There is only one way to prevent the Fed from inflating the dollar to benefit its member banks and therefore wreak havoc on the rest of us.  There is only one way to prevent the Fed from inflating the dollar thereby causing financial bubbles which have contributed greatly to the widening gap between rich and poor.  A gold backed dollar would restrict the Fed’s ability to manipulate the currency.  It would protect savings and purchasing power.  And in the above case it would have prevented the current stock market bubble which when it bursts will devastate millions of Americans who will then realize how phony their financial health actually was.

A Return to the Gold Standard is a Must

September 21, 2011

Money printer extraordinaire and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is at it again.  He and several of his central banking buddies in Europe and Asia are going to lend dollars to non-U.S. banks that lack adequate liquidity to operate.  Many of the recipient banks are feeling the pinch because of their exposure to the Greek debt crisis.

Of course this isn’t the first time the Fed has lent our money to foreign banks to stave off their insolvency.  In July of 2009, Bernanke testified in front of Congress that the Fed had loaned over $550 billion to foreign banks during the height of the financial crisis in 2008.  And thanks to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act a one-time General Accounting Office audit uncovered a remarkable $16.1 trillion in Fed loans to various banks including non-U.S. ones during the same time frame.

Now, it’s bad enough the Fed has and will again use our money to bailout foreign banks that were irresponsible.  But, the latest round of foreign bailouts comes at a time when it is being reported that tent cities filled with homeless folks are becoming commonplace across America and some Americans are resorting to dumpster diving to feed their families.  Is this what America is coming to?  Our central bank helps Greek citizens retire at fifty while our citizens live in nylon igloos while wallowing in trash dumpsters for their next meal?  Worse yet, besides Ron Paul, no member of Congress or the Obama Administration has expressed any outrage over the foreign bailouts.

The whole sordid affair is yet another reason why we need to return to a gold standard to protect the integrity of the dollar.  As Congressman Paul has stated many times, we must return to the constitutional mandate requiring gold and silver be used as money.  Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1 of the Constitution states in part, “No State shall…emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts…”

Many anti-constitutionalists will argue that the clause only applies to the states and the federal government can use what it wants for money.  Thus the current fiat dollar system is legal.

But upon closer examination of history the anti-constitutionalists are proven wrong once again.  During the colonial period of our country’s history, the Spanish milled (silver) dollar was the predominant medium of exchange in the original Thirteen Colonies.  .  In July of 1785, Congress voted unanimously to make the dollar the monetary unit of the United States to emulate the Spanish milled (silver) dollar.  On August 8, 1787, Congress resolved that the new American dollar would contain three hundred and seventy-five grains and sixty-four hundredths of a grain of fine silver.  This measure of silver made the new American dollar equal in value to the Spanish dollar.

At the same time in Philadelphia, the Constitution was being written by many of the same people who adopted the silver dollar standard for the country in the Continental Congress.  Thus, these men as well as their Constitutional Convention colleagues were well aware that the silver dollar had become and was the official monetary unit of the United States. As a matter of fact, the term “dollar” is referred to twice in the Constitution – Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 and in the Seventh Amendment.

Where it is not mentioned is under Congress’ powers in Article 1 Section 8.  Additionally, gold and silver are not mentioned there either.  The only requirements for money in that section are that Congress has the power “…to coin money and regulate the value thereof…”  And a month before the Constitutional Convention adjourned Congress did just that by making the silver dollar with three hundred and seventy-five grains and sixty-four hundredths of a grain of fine silver the monetary unit of the country.

Thus Ron Paul is correct when he says the Constitution calls for the federal government to use gold and silver money.  It was implied in Article 1 Section 8 Clause 5 because that is what existed at the time of the writing of the Constitution.  Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1 was a reaffirmation of that fact and a prohibition for states to use anything but gold and silver in payment of debts.  After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  Why would the states be prohibited from using non-gold and non-silver coins when the federal government isn’t?  That would make no sense.

So now that we have ascertained that the current fiat currency system in the U.S. is unconstitutional, so what?  The question is, how would a gold and/or silver backed dollar protect our currency from the Fed’s reckless lending overseas?  With a gold standard the Fed would be prevented from doing this because every Tom, Dick, and Harry who holds dollars could redeem them for gold.  If enough money printing took place, U.S. gold reserves would run dry and the dollar would be backed by nothing -making it worthless.  No responsible leader would let this happen.  In fact, this system worked well at preventing high inflation and huge debt accumulation until 1971.  However, increased spending on the Vietnam War and Lyndon Johnson’s so-called “Great Society” caused the dollar to lose value.  Instead of cutting federal spending to remedy foreigners redeeming their dollars at an alarming rate for our gold, President Nixon ended dollar to gold convertibility altogether.  You be the judge, since that fateful event in 1971 our national debt has soared and general prices in the U.S. have skyrocketed by 435 percent!  It’s no wonder the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.

And Bernanke’s current lending to foreign banks will only exacerbate the situation.  The supply of dollars will continue to increase and at some point soon prices will go much higher.  The bankers who represent the rich will be okay while the poor will be devastated by inflation.  All because our dollar is not backed by gold.  Let’s hope that grocery stores continue to throw away expired food into dumpsters and the price of nylon tents do not increase.

Article first published as A Return to the Gold Standard is a Must on Blogcritics.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

In Defense of Capitalism

September 20, 2008

September 20, 2008

The economy of the United States is not a pure capitalist system.  We operate economically under what economists like to call a “mixed system”.   This is a system that combines elements of a market economy with elements of a planned economy.  It is because of this mixed economic approach that Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke determined that it was within their authority to nationalize Freddie, Fannie, and AIG in the name of stabilizing the financial markets.  In a purely capitalist system, these bailouts would have been impossible.  Quite frankly, the crisis that caused those bailouts to happen in the first place would not have happened if we were a pure capitalist country.

That is not to say that capitalism is perfect.  But, in the current environment we must brace ourselves against the endless onslaught against the system which has made our country number one economically for some time now.  You see the politicians are really just poor sports that have never grown up and never like to admit fault for anything.  McCain, Obama, members of Congress, and the Administration will babble on about how the greed and unbridled actions of others are the culprits for the subprime crisis.  They will talk tough about how they are going to go after the bad guys and bring them to justice.  They will propose new regulations to prevent this from ever happening again.  In short, they will attempt to socialize us to believe that only a capitalist system with the ruling elite (themselves) in charge is good for the country.  They are all liars and are hereby permanently banned from the shrine of Free Market Economics.

Throwing out accusations and speaking in vague generalities is easy.  That is what the politicians do all the time.  So instead, let’s look at some examples of where capitalism has been blamed for a crisis that the politicians actually started.  We have all heard about the greed and lack of regulations that caused the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.  But, it is never mentioned by the politicians how the crisis came to be in the first place.  For that we go back to the year of my birth, 1964.  Lyndon Johnson, the patron saint of the welfare/ warfare state, had just begun to rebuild that institution on our shores.  With the passage of his so called “Great Society” and increased funding for a military conflict in Southeast Asia, the United States government, through the Federal Reserve Bank, printed money over and above the limit mandated by the gold reserves held by the government at the time.  By the late 1960s, foreign holders of U.S. dollars realizing that their asset would soon be worth much less, demanded, as they were entitled to, an exchange of their devalued dollars for American gold.  The hemorrhaging of U.S. gold reserves that ensued was so great that Richard Nixon closed the gold window in 1971 to prevent a default.  He effectively opened the door to future wild spending by Uncle Sam. 

These actions by our leaders: increased spending and lifting the last vestige of the gold standard would set the stage for the savings and loan crisis.  Little did policy makers know at the time, that printing money to monetize debt was addictive and would eventually lead to inflation.  This was probably because most of them had never heard of the Austrian School of Economics and because some years later Richard Nixon declared that “we are all Keynesians now”.  Nonetheless, savings and loan banks through the 1970s played by the rules paying interest on savings accounts and providing mortgages to borrowers.  The problem came in the late 1970s when faced with high inflation from the spending binge the Fed had to increase interest rates to 21 percent in an attempt to control rising prices.  This hurt the savings and loan banks in two ways.  First, a government regulation that placed a ceiling on the interest rates savings and loans could offer to their depositors caused a transfer of funds from low rate savings and loan savings accounts to new higher rate money market accounts in other banks.   Second, savings and loan banks had much of their money tied up in low, fixed rate, long term mortgages.  As the Fed increased interest rates it made these mortgage backed assets virtually worth nothing.  Thus, government spending which forced the Fed to raise interest rates ultimately caused the savings and loan crisis.  By 1980, before deregulation, many savings and loans were already insolvent.  Politicians are disingenuous when they say the savings and loan crisis was caused by the greed of the bankers; it was caused by the misguided policies of the politicians of the time.

Now, flip the calendar forward a decade to the 1990s.  Through the decade, the “Maestro” Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, had kept interest rates artificially low while continuing to pump more dollars into the economy to keep the good times rolling.  By the end of the decade, we had the bubble.  Of course, we were told by Washington that this was the fault of greedy techies who were corrupt and had unbridled behavior.  At the end of the day, I didn’t expect Washington to come clean and admit culpability, but I did expect them to learn from their mistake so it wouldn’t happen again.

Then, it did happen again.  The “Maestro” lowered interest rates to one percent to stimulate the economy after 911.   In the meantime, Congress revised the Community Reinvestment Act, which cajoled community banks to make loans to bad risk borrowers.  With an implicit guarantee from Uncle Sam, Fannie and Freddie took on more and more mortgage loans.  With more money in the pipeline, laws forcing banks to make at least some bad loans, and moral hazard, the federal government had tied and given the noose to the financial community to hang itself. 

Again, like in the 80s and the 90s, the cause of the crisis according to the ruling elite is with those greedy bankers.  Again they are being disingenuous.  In the 1980s, Congress instituted the Resolution Trust Corporation to liquidate the bad assets of the insolvent savings and loans.  In the end it cost the taxpayers $150 billion.  Today, Congress is considering a similar approach to liquidate the bad assets of the insolvent financial institutions.  This time the costs will be in the trillions. 

The capitalist system is not perfect, but it is eons better than the bastardized economic system Washington has given us.  History has proven that the price of money is better determined by the market than a central bank.  History has also proven that a commodity backed currency not the political whims of politicians and financial bureaucrats is the best way to rein in the size of government, protect purchasing power and asset value, and in the end avoid catastrophes like the one we are about to encounter.