Power & Market
Last month, we reported that money-supply growth accelerated for the first time after a year-long period of falling growth rates, at the end of which money-supply growth fell to a near-ten-year low of 2.6 percent, year over year.
In March of this year growth rates had headed upward, rising to a year-over-year growth rate of 5.1 percent.
In April, however, growth rates lessened again, coming in at a rate of 4.3 percent, year over year.
(The money-supply metric used here — an "Austrian money supply" measure — is the metric developed by Murray Rothbard and Joseph Salerno, and is designed to provide a better measure than M2. The Mises Institute now offers regular updates on this metric and its growth.)
Meanwhile, the more commonly used measure of money supply, M2, continued to experience falling growth rates through the first part of this year. In April, M2 increased 3.7 percent, year over year, making it the smallest increase in M2 since 2011.
Part of what has pushed the Austrian measure of money supply above growth rates from last year was an increase in treasury deposits at the Fed.
The inclusion of deposits at the Fed is a key difference between M2 and the Austrian measure of the money supply, and growth in these deposits has added to the differences seen in growth between M2 and the Austrian measure.
In April, treasury deposits at the Fed hit a 16-month high, rising to $324 billion. The highest level for treasury deposits ever reported occurred in November of 2016, at a total of $394 billion.
What does the trend in money supply indicate?
Historically, a sizable drop in money supply growth rates suggests that a recession is on the horizon — but not on the immediate horizon.
In this graph, provided by RealForecasts.com, we see how dips in the money supply growth rate often precede recessions, but with a lag period of a year or so. In many cases, money supply growth is trending upward again by the time the recession officially begins.
Moreover, if we look at TMS totals (in terms of dollar amounts) we can see that flattening in the money supply has occurred to varying degrees on three occassions over the past 20 years. There was a slight flattening leading up to the 2001 recession, and then another in the lead up to the 2008 financial crisis. And we are experiencing some flattening now — although to a lesser extent. It's unknown if this trend will continue or if growth will pick up again.
So does the recent downturn and subsequent uptick indicate a recession?
It's difficult to say how long the current boom period will last. Home prices continue to sail upward for now, although we do see volatility in the stock market. Unemployment data doesn't point to anything catastrophic at this time.
Some indicators suggest problems, however. Delinquencies in auto-loan debt continue to trend upward, household formation is stagnating, and growth in commercial loans — a factor in expanding the money supply — remains near multi-year lows:
Last year I noted that America would benefit from Trump acting more like Putin - at least in terms of military spending. After all, while Trump and Republicans were pushing for a $80 billion increase in the
defense war budget, Putin's government had reduced their's to a total of around $50 billion.
As Frank Weir notes at the Christian Science Monitor, Putin appears prepared to continue that trend:
It may sound contrary to Western perceptions of Russia's global intentions. But the priorities listed in the new Kremlin strategic program suggest that Mr. Putin has decided to use what seems likely to be his final term in office to cement his already substantial legacy as a nation-builder.
The projected surge in spending on roads, education, and health care will have to be paid for. A key source of that funding will be the military budget, which had been growing by around 10 percent annually for much of the Putin era.
“The times when the external threat was used to make cuts in social expenditures palatable has passed. We can't go on like that any longer,” says Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy director of the Institute of USA-Canada Studies (ISKRAN), which is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “A lot of the goals of military modernization have already been accomplished, so we can afford to slow it down, make selective cuts to fund social goals, while continuing the basic path.”
Weir goes on to note that along with a desire to focus more on their domestic economy, Putin's actions may be influenced by Russians growing tired from war:
Recent opinion polls suggest that Putin's priority shift coincides with a war weariness on the part of Russians, who have indulged their president as he shored up Russia’s great power status in the face of Western hostility and sanctions, by annexing Crimea and intervening in Syria. A survey last month by the independent Levada Center found that at least half of Russians appreciate their country’s return to great power status. But 45 percent fault Putin for “failing to ensure an equitable distribution of income in the interests of ordinary people,” up from 39 percent in March 2015 when the last survey was conducted.
It's also worth noting that the Kremlin's strategic plan also includes a desire to "speed up the introduction of digital technologies in the economy and the social sphere."
For the past year the Russian government has continued to show interest in blockchain technology, including Putin sitting down with Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin last June. Others in the Russian government have made it clear that they see blockchain technology as a sphere important to Russia's long term economic interests.
This does not mean, however, that Russia will follow the lead of countries like Japan and Estonia in liberating cryptomarkets, which they view as distinct from blockchain itself. While Russia sees the potential for a crypto-ruble to help them navigate past international sanctions, they are unlikely to embrace the freedom true monetary competition would allow its citizens. If Russia does indeed launch their own digital currency, don't be surprised to see it escalate their crackdown of private cryptocurrencies.
Back in the 2008 presidential race, I explained to then-candidate Rudy Giuliani the concept of “blowback.” Years of US meddling and military occupation of parts of the Middle East motivated a group of terrorists to carry out attacks against the United States on 9/11. They didn’t do it because we are so rich and so free, as the neocons would have us believe. They came over here because we had been killing Muslims “over there” for decades.
How do we know this? Well, they told us. Osama bin Laden made it clear why al-Qaeda sought to attack the US. They didn’t like the US taking sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict and they didn’t like US troops on their holy land.
Why believe a terrorist, some responded. As I explained to Giuliani ten years ago, the concept of “blowback” is well-known in the US intelligence community and particularly by the CIA.
Unfortunately, it is clear that Giuliani never really understood what I was trying to tell him. Like the rest of the neocons, he either doesn’t get it or doesn’t want to get it. In a recent speech to the MeK – a violent Islamist-Marxist cult that spent two decades on the US terror watch list – Giuliani promised that the Trump Administration had made “regime change” a priority for Iran. He even told the members of that organization – an organization that has killed dozens of Americans – that Trump would put them in charge of Iran!
Giuliani shares with numerous other neocons like John Bolton a strong relationship with this group. In fact, both Giuliani and Bolton have been on the payroll of the MeK and have received tens of thousands of dollars to speak to their followers. This is another example of how foreign lobbies and special interest groups maintain an iron grip on our foreign policy.
Does anyone really think Iran will be better off if Trump puts a bunch of “former” terrorists in charge of the country? How did that work in Libya?
It’s easy to dismiss the bombastic Giuliani as he speaks to his financial benefactors in the MeK. Unfortunately, however, Giuliani’s claims were confirmed late last week, when the Washington Free Beacon published a three-page policy paper being circulated among National Security Council officials containing plans to spark regime change in Iran.
The paper suggests that the US focus on Iran’s many ethnic minority groups to spark unrest and an eventual overthrow of the government. This is virtually the same road map that the US has followed in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and so on. The results have been unmitigated disaster after disaster.
Unleashing terrorists on Iran to overthrow its government is not only illegal and immoral: it’s also incredibly stupid. We know from 9/11 that blowback is real, even if Giuliani and the neocons refuse to understand it. Iran does not threaten the United States. Unlike Washington’s Arab allies in the region, Iran actually holds reasonably democratic elections and has a Western-oriented, educated, and very young population.
Why not open up to Iran with massive amounts of trade and other contacts? Does anyone (except for the neocons) really believe it is better to unleash terrorists on a population than to engage them in trade and travel? We need to worry about blowback from President Trump’s fully-neoconized Middle East policy! That’s the real threat!
Originally posted at the Ron Paul Institute
To travel from the Pacific Northwest all the way to College Station, Texas, without experiencing more of the "Lone Star State" was not an option.
So, after driving from Austin eastward to College Station (where I was hosted by two exceptional young, Southern gentlemen), I headed south-west to San Antonio. There I lingered long enough to conclude:
The Republic of Texas is a civilization apart.
Ordinary Texans—from my brief travels—tend to be sunny, kind and warmhearted. Not once did I encounter rude on my Texas junket.
On the Pacific Coast, however, kindness and congeniality don't come naturally. Washington-State statists are generally aloof, opprobrious, insular. And, frankly, dour.
Southern historian Dr. Clyde N. Wilson tells of receiving "a package containing a chamber pot labeled 'Robert E. Lee's Soup Tureen.'"
It came from … Portland, Maine.
Unkind cuts are an everyday occurrence around here, where the busybody mentality prevails.
Stand still long enough, and they'll tell you how to live. They'll even give chase to deliver that "corrective" sermon. A helmeted cyclist once chased me down along a suburban running trail.
My sin? I had fed the poor juncos in the dead of winter. (Still do).
Having caught up with me, SS Cyclist got on his soap box and in my face about my unforgivable, rule-bending. Wasn't I familiar with the laws governing his pristine environmental utopia?
Didn't I know that only the fittest deserved to survive? That’s the natural world, according to these ruthless, radical progressive puritans.
Yes, mea culpa for having an exceedingly soft spot for God's plucky little creatures.
When a Washington statist gets wind of your core beliefs—why, even if your use of the English language irks His Highness—he will take it upon himself to fix your "flaws," try to make you over in his sorry image.
For the distinct cluster of characteristics just described, Dr. Wilson aforementioned uses the term Yankee.
The professor, whose métier is American intellectual history, was described by Eugene Genovese as "an exemplary historian who displays formidable talent." Another stellar scholar, Thomas Landess, lauded Wilson as "a mind as precise and expansive as an encyclopedia."
Duly, Dr. Wilson makes the following abundantly clear: By "Yankee," he does not mean "everybody from north of the Potomac and Ohio.”
“The firemen who died in the World Trade Center on September 11 were Americans. The politicians and TV personalities who stood around telling us what we are to think about it are Yankees."
"Yankee" as a designation belongs to "a peculiar ethnic group descended from New Englanders, who can be easily recognized by their arrogance, hypocrisy, greed, lack of congeniality, and a penchant for ordering other people around."
"A perversity of character," said Thomas Jefferson succinctly of the Yankee character.
Indeed, "Puritans long ago abandoned anything that might be good about their religion but have never given up the notion that they are the chosen saints whose mission is to make America, and the world, into the perfection of their own image."
The cover of Wilson's "The Yankee Problem: An American Dilemma" is bedecked with the quintessential Yankee mugs of Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and John Brown, each a murderer in his or her own right. The one butchered with his bare hands. The other two killed by proxy.
The contemporary face of the fanaticism alluded to here is pundit Richard Painter, who is the spitting image of Brown. A Republican until Trump, Painter is now a member of the anti-Trump high-command at MSNBC.
In zealotry, Painter could pass for the terrifying Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens.
A broader truth hit me in the solar plexus during the sojourn from the American Deep North to The South. On hand to better contextualize it is my friend, Clyde Wilson:
“Texas is still a Red State, despite a large number of minorities. That is because Texas, as you observed, Ilana, has a real culture. That means that there is a reality there that minorities can identify with and assimilate to. Unlike, say, Chicago or New Jersey or L.A., where they simply become aggrieved ‘victims,’ clamoring for special benefits, that being the only culture present."
"The peculiar character of the Yankee was observed by Tocqueville in the 19th century and Solzhenitsyn in the 20th. The first great American novelist, James Fenimore Cooper, wrote a whole series of books about the New England Yankees who spread into and destroyed the unique culture of his home country of Upstate New York.”
“Plenty of Northerners, like Governor Horatio Seymour of New York and Governor Joel Parker of New Jersey, blamed the War between the States on New Englanders, and not the South, which simply wanted to be let alone."
"One cannot really grasp American history unless you understand how Yankees have dominated and distorted it since the late 18th century.”
Austrian economists have an great frustration of not being able to quickly change public policy in the short run despite having great theoretical insights on economics and policy. However, we know that in the long run that we can help change public policy when we can use scientific insights and theories to change public opinion or ideology which in turn changes public policy. A good case in point is cannabis or marijuana which has been illegal nationally since the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which became a prohibition and eventually landed cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug in the same class as heroin. America was exposed to a century of propaganda against cannabis. Most famously, movies in the 1930s such as Reefer Madness made fictional claims that consuming cannabis could turn good people into murderers, drive them insane and result in their death. In 1972 only 12% of Americans supported legal cannabis. This experience has ruined millions of lives and it will surely go down in history as one of the greatest blunders in human history.
Of course more recently many states have legalized medical and recreational cannabis. Now more that 62% of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana and almost no one opposes medical marijuana. Scientists have long been leery to weigh in on this issue. Dr. Sanjay Gupta reversed his position to endorse cannabis and that probably changed many peoples minds. Today we have the announcement that Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the prestigious British Medical Journal confirmed the journal's position that illegal drugs should be legalized and regulated from a public health perspective. I chronicle economists written views on drug policy here.
Her statement in full:
Some numbers in this week’s journal bear reflection. The war on drugs costs each UK taxpayer an estimated £400 a year. The UK is now the world’s largest exporter of legal cannabis, yet recreational and medicinal use are criminalised. Scotland has the EU’s highest rate of drug related deaths, double that of 10 years ago. The global trade in illicit drugs is worth £236bn, but this money fuels organised crime and human misery. Why should it not instead fund public services?
A growing number of countries are taking a more enlightened route, say Jason Reed and Paul Whitehouse (doi:10.1136/bmj.k1999). In Portugal, where non-violent possession of drugs has been decriminalised, consumption hasn’t increased but drug related deaths have fallen considerably. In the Netherlands, the USA, and now Canada, regulated markets for the sale of cannabis generate substantial tax revenues.
Meanwhile, in the UK vast sums are spent on prosecuting individuals and trying vainly to interrupt the flow of drugs into cities, carried along “county lines” by vulnerable children. Reed and Whitehouse speak for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which calls for legalisation and regulation. They say that the money could instead be spent on quality control, education, treatment for drug users, and child protection. Revenues could be diverted from criminal gangs into government coffers.
When law enforcement officers call for drugs to be legalised, we have to listen. So too when doctors speak up. Last month the Royal College of Physicians took the important step of coming out in favour of decriminalisation, (doi:10.1136/bmj.k1832) joining the BMA, the Faculty of Public Health, and the Royal Society of Public Health in supporting drug policy reform (doi:10.1136/bmj.j3461.)
This is not about whether you think drugs are good or bad. It is an evidence based position entirely in line with the public health approach to violent crime. In their Editorial, John Middleton and Jonathan Shepherd say that the UK’s epidemic of gun and knife crime is in part due to the increased availability of fentanyl and crack cocaine (doi:10.1136/bmj.k1967). The UK government’s newly released Serious Violence Strategy acknowledges the link between drug prohibition and violence, but it proposes spending £40m on prohibition related policies. Reed and Whitehouse say it will do nothing to tackle drug related crime.
The BMJ is firmly behind efforts to legalise, regulate, and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use. This is an issue on which doctors can and should make their voices heard.
Secrecy is a knavery entitlement program. Thanks to the ludicrously named Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, victims of alleged sexual harassment by members of Congress receive secret taxpayer-funded settlements. That means constituents rarely learn that their tax dollars underwrite their representatives’ allegedly roaming hands. More than $17 million has been spent in payoffs to congressional employees who filed workplace grievances.
At the same time an iron curtain of secrecy descended on much of official Washington, the feds multiplied their intrusions against everyone else. While the National Security Agency is vacuuming up Americans’ private data, federal agencies made the decision more than 50 million times to classify documents in 2016. The Freedom of Information Act, one of the underrated bulwarks of self-government, has become largely a mirage in recent decades.
The more information the government withholds, the easier it becomes to manipulate public opinion. By revealing only details that buttress the administration’s policies, citizens are prevented from assessing the latest power grabs or interventions. As a federal appeals court warned in 2002:
“When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation.”
Trump won the presidency in 2016 in part because of Americans’ disgust and distrust for Washington. By perpetuating the vast majority of official secrecy and creating new cloaks, Trump is missing his best shot against what he calls the Deep State. Sunlight would be far more effective at draining the swamp than Trump’s huffing and puffing.