A Basis for Agreement (Ending the Qs)

It has been eight months since I last set foot in the socio-economic world. So much of what we explored came to fruition the writing was becoming repetitive. Today there is much chatter about the role of the Fed, its Q program, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, guarantees of mortgage paper; an opportunity for the Tea Party to meet and agree with the Liberal thinking folks; a topic on which both worlds can meet without collision. Why?

The Q program and government monetary policy generally has accomplished little more than the transfer of taxpayer money to the banks, create an extra $4 trillion of government and quasi-government debt, and distort the economic future of the United States. It has not had a material effect on a recovery of the economy. In the Q purchase program of government and quasi-government debt, the Fed, while maintaining unsustainably low interest rates, has transferred more than $75 billion from taxpayer coffers to banking interests. Zero interest lending to these same banking interests accounts for multiples of the $75 billion. The explicit and implicit guarantees of mortgage, student loan, and other debt account for multiples again of banking profits even larger than the combined Q program and 0% lending. The folly of misguided monetary policy designed to save our financial system has masked the reality that all of the large banks remain underwater, or close, if their assets were marked to market. Q and present monetary policy has done little more than increase outstanding government debt, mask the reality of the sickness of the banking system, and enable speculation at levels beyond those we experienced at the time of the great transgression of 2007-2008. No, this monetary folly has not solved the banking crisis.

It is accepted common knowledge that low interest rates and the Q program have stimulated, and are stimulating, the economy in general. However, that “accepted common knowledge” is misguided. The stock markets have certainly responded well, but whether up or down, stock markets have little to do with stimulating the overall economy. A small percentage of the population actually benefits from profits gained in the stock market because theses profits are not spent on goods and services and do not increase the velocity of money, or the continued circulation of money entering the economy which is actually spent on goods and services. From 2008 to 2013 the velocity of M2 money has declined by about 20% and rests on its low point.* At no time since 1959, the time at which velocity of M2 was first measured, has the index fallen as low as it is now, in 2013. Clearly the stock market gains fueled by monetary policy have not acted as a stimulant to economic growth. Simply put, the wealthier segment of our society does not spend its stock market profits.

It is accepted common knowledge that higher housing prices are good for the economy and that the low rates and various guarantees of mortgage debt aid the economy. Hogwash! Homeowners do not, and cannot, spend the increases in the value of their homes – read no increase in the velocity of money in the appreciation of residential real estate. The magic ascension of the prices of homes has enabled lenders to bail out of some, not much, of the residential real estate problem they confront. Of course, at the same time the still unregulated “too big to fail” banks have been given a license to speculate in mortgage and interest rate derivatives. The total derivatives portfolio held by banks is now at a level above that of the 2007 high. We are told that these are modest risk portfolios designed to hedge out risk not to speculate. Witness the London Whale. Though responsible lending on the part of the banks would increase the velocity of money, speculation in derivatives will not.

For all of these and many other reasons the right wing of the political spectrum should eschew this massive giveaway of taxpayer money with the accompanying bloated U.S. balance sheet forced upon us by Q and other policies.

What has the Q program and other monetary policy done for the middle, lower, and no income classes? If it hasn’t exacerbated the pain, it certainly hasn’t produced relief.

“Real” unemployment has remained at its highest level since the Depression with few inroads made on any front.

Average family income is at about the same level as in 1988. That would not seem spectacular except the “average” includes the enormous gains of income in the top ten percent of the population masking the significant losses to middle class families. In New York City alone more than 40% of the populace lives below the official poverty line. Similar figures pervade the landscape of the United States.

Our education system, raped by bureaucracy, Congress, and a majority of America’s state and city legislatures, was once among the best in the world.

Infrastructure, degraded throughout the country, is sinking us into third world status as to municipal and other services available to the population.
Children of the poor go malnourished and uneducated.

Homelessness is at its highest point since the Great Depression, with more than 50,000 people  homeless in New York City alone.

Is the collapse of the middle and lower classes attributable to a disinterest in working, a poor work ethic, or laziness? I don’t think so. Those who do remind me of the crazed junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, who saw a communist behind every tree. Are the “entitlements” really “entitlements” or do they provide a necessary safety net which aids the whole of the population?

The Liberal Left should support a change in monetary policy because the enormous transfer of capital from government to the banks has lead the Right to believe the nation is going bankrupt and to shout at each and every expenditure other than the giveaways engendered by Q and other misguided monetary policy. Simply put, the Left should support the end of monetary folly to get some of these wasted funds to work in the economy in a way that will engender growth, income, velocity of money, legitimate lending, and fund programs which will recreate the great and giving society that once was America.

Four trillion of government debt created by, and now owned by the government. Close to a trillion of gifts to the banking system, all of which could have gone a long way towards engendering a growing economy. Let’s end the monetary folly and put this money to work productively, a no brainer basis for agreement.

Asher Edelman

* There are several components of the money supply,: M1, M2, and MZM (M3 is no longer tracked by the Federal Reserve); these components are arranged on a spectrum of narrowest to broadest. Consider M1, the narrowest component. M1 is the money supply of currency in circulation (notes and coins, traveler’s checks [non-bank issuers], demand deposits, and checkable deposits). The broader M2 component includes M1 in addition to saving deposits, certificates of deposit (less than $100,000), and money market deposits for individuals.


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