Our central bankers are intellectually bankrupt

According to Ron Paul, the current financial crisis has exposed the intellectual bankruptcy of the world's central bankers. He goes on to say that interest rates are prices and the manipulation of those will have a serious negative impact on the economy.

By Ron Paul
May 2, 2012 7:54 pm
Financial Times

The financial crisis has fully exposed the intellectual bankruptcy of the world’s central bankers.

Why? Central bankers neglect the fact that interest rates are prices. Manipulating those prices through credit expansion or contraction has real and deleterious effects on the economy. Yet while socialism and centralised economic planning have largely been rejected by free-market economists, the myth persists that central banks are a necessary component of market economies.

These economists understand that having wages or commodity prices established by government fiat would cause shortages, misallocations of capital and hardship. Yet they accept at face value the notion that central banks must determine not only the supply of one particular commodity – money – but also the cost of that commodity via the setting of interest rates.

Printing unlimited amounts of money does not lead to unlimited prosperity. This is readily apparent from observing the Fed’s monetary policy over the past two decades. It has pumped trillions of dollars into the economy, providing money to banks with the hope that this new money will spur lending and, in turn, consumption. These interventions are intended to raise stock prices, lower borrowing costs for companies and individuals, and maintain high housing prices.

But like their predecessors in the 1930s, today’s Fed governors behave as if the height of the credit bubble is the status quo to which we need to return. This confuses money with wealth, and reflects the idea that prosperity stems from high asset prices and large amounts of money and credit.

The push for easy money is not new. Central banking was supposed to have ended the types of periodic financial crises the US experienced throughout the 19th century. Yet US financial panics have only got worse since the centralisation of monetary policy via the creation of the Fed in 1913. The Depression in the 1930s; the haemorrhaging of gold reserves during the 1960s; the stagflation of the 1970s; the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s; and the current recession all have their root in the Fed’s loose monetary policy.

Each of these crises began with an inflationary monetary policy that led to bubbles, and the solution to the busts that inevitably followed has always been to reflate the bubble.

This only sows the seeds for the next crisis. Lowering interest rates in an attempt to forestall a recession in the aftermath of the dotcom bubble required massive credit creation that led to the housing bubble, the collapse of which we still have not recovered from today. Failing to learn the lesson of the bursting of both the dotcom bubble and the housing bubble, the Fed has pumped trillions of dollars into the economy and has promised to leave interest rates at zero through to at least 2014. This will only ensure that the next crisis will be even more destructive than the current one.

Not content with its failed attempts to prop up the US economy, the Fed has set its sights on bailing out Europe, too. Through currency swaps, it has committed to offering potentially hundreds of billions of US dollars to the European Central Bank and we cannot rule out the possibility of direct intervention.

The Fed’s response to the crisis suggests that it believes the current crisis is a problem of liquidity. In fact it is a problem of poorly allocated investments caused by improper pricing of money and credit, pricing which is distorted by the Fed’s inflationary actions.

The Fed has made banks and corporations dependent on cheap money. Instead of looking for opportunities to invest in real products that will serve the needs of consumers, Wall Street awaits the minutes of each Federal Open Market Committee meeting with bated breath, hoping that QE3 and QE4 are just around the corner. It is no wonder that long-term investment and business planning are stagnant.

We live in a world that seems to have abandoned the concept of savings and investment as the source of real wealth and economic growth. Financial markets clamour for more cheap money creation on the part of central banks. Hopes of further quantitative easing from the Fed, the Bank of England, or the Bank of Japan – or further longer-term refinancing operations from the ECB – buoy markets, while decisions not to intervene can cause stocks to plummet. Policy makers focus on spurring consumption, while ignoring production. The so-called capitalists have forgotten that capital cannot be created by government fiat.

Control of the world’s economy has been placed in the hands of a banking cartel, which holds great danger for all of us. True prosperity requires sound money, increased productivity, and increased savings and investment. The world is awash in US dollars, and a currency crisis involving the world’s reserve currency would be an unprecedented catastrophe. No amount of monetary expansion can solve our current financial problems, but it can make those problems much worse.

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